Author Philip Wylie's dystopian final work, The End of the Dream, published in 1972, looked ahead to the world of 2023, which Wylie imagined would be a shell of its former self, having been ravaged in the intervening half-century by a bewildering variety of ecological catastrophes, its population decimated. Most of the novel consisted of describing these catastrophes. They included (as summarized by the NY Times reviewer): "Lethal inversions, volcanic aberrations, exploding rivers (from industrial waste), exploding people (from combustible flatulence), isotopes on the Spuyten Duyvil, sea leeches in the Gulf Stream, plagues of insects, failure of the earth's crust, epidemics of blue haze, green slime, black blight."
Here's a snippet from the book that details the combustible flatulence:
Father Trentchel, pastor emeritus of the Elk Hill Episcopal church... had recently been aware of abdominal discomfort—gas, he called it. He did not associate these unpleasant symptoms with the diet that Emily, his daughter and housekeeper, had recently been giving him. For at the supermarket Emily had discovered the new Master Mixfrozen Foods, so cheap, so tasty, so easy. It was a pity Father Trentchel didn't put two and two together, for one day he eased his flatulence by breaking wind as he was standing with his back to a blazing fire and... he blew up. When Emily, alarmed by the noise, ran into the room, his entrails were running down the walls.
The ecological apocalypse that Wylie imagined hasn't arrived quite yet, but who knows what the next fifty years might bring.
Future homes will be able to face in any direction—turned from hour to hour or season to season by your electricity. Electrically operated climate-conditioned extensions will permit "spring or summer terraces" all year round—enjoy swimming, winter fun and gardening all at once, if you wish.
I imagine a house like this might be possible to build nowadays, but the monthly electric bill would be a small fortune.
In 1953, Dr. Wilton Krogman of the University of Pennsylvania used his skills as a physical anthropologist (and his knowledge of human evolution) to predict what humans will look like five million years in the future. He decided that humans will evolve into a species he called Homo cerebrointricatus, meaning super-brained man. Our descendants will have telepathic brains, no stomachs, and "flat, round, pedestal-like feet."
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any illustrations of Homo cerebrointricatus.
Part of his prediction reminds me of the mentats in Frank Herbert's Dune:
Besides supplanting radio and radar, the super-brain will do away with electronic computing devices, because there will be no problem too complex for it to solve. It will be a storehouse of facts and memory as well as a powerhouse for constructive thinking.
Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson envisioned our Solar System being explored by "Astrochickens." As described in his 1992 book From Eros to Gaia:
Probably both nanotechnology and genetic engineering will have an important role to play in space science. The two technologies are likely to grow together and ultimately merge, so that it will be difficult to tell which is which. In the end, nanotechnology will give us scientific instruments having the alertness and agility of living creatures, while genetic engineering will give us living creatures having the sensitivity and precision of scientific instruments. The spacecraft of 2018 may well be a hybrid, making use of nanotechnology for its sensors and communications, genetic engineering for its legs, wings, and brain.
Here is a rough sketch of one possible shape that the 2018 spacecraft might take. I call this model the Astrochicken because it is about as big as a chicken and about as smart. It is a product of genetic engineering. It does not look like a chicken. It looks more like a butterfly. It has wide and thin solar sails instead of wings, and a high-resolution spectroscopic imaging system instead of eyes. With its solar sails it flies around the inner solar system as far as the main belt of asteroids. At any one time there will be hundreds of such birds flying, programmed to make specialized observations of Earth, Moon, Sun, planets, and asteroids as well as of the heavens beyond. Other cousins of the Astrochicken will have legs for landing and hopping around on asteroids, or solar-powered ion-jet engines for exploring the outer solar system as far as Pluto.
Wikipedia notes: "As a noted author of essays on the possibilities of science in the future, Dyson's theories, such as the Dyson sphere and the Dyson tree, have become popular in the scientific and science fiction communities. The more whimsically named 'Astrochicken' has not achieved this same level of fame."
By the year 2022, the cumulative effects of overpopulation, pollution and an apparent climate catastrophe have caused severe worldwide shortages of food, water and housing. There are 40 million people in New York City alone, where only the city's elite can afford spacious apartments, clean water and natural food (at horrendously high prices, with a jar of strawberry jam fetching $150). The homes of the elite are fortressed, with private security, bodyguards for their tenants, and usually include concubines (who are referred to as "furniture" and serve the tenants as slaves).
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.