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Visions of 1991 from 1970

by Buck Hardcastle about a month ago in science fiction
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A sample of the history of the future

From LOOK

"The prophets, the messenger angels of the Gospels, Delphic oracles, Arab stargazers, Tibetan lamas, medieval astrologists, wandering Gypsies, saints, poets and charlatans--all have tried their hand at probing the future. Then came the science-fiction writers, plagues of them, and they are still coming. Is, then, another book devoted to this overworked subject worthy of special note? Yes, if it is unique."

So begins an article by George St. George (Seriously? And I thought my pen name was absurd) in the July 14, 1970 issue of Look magazine. It is a review of Notes from the Future by Nikolai M. Amosoff, a Soviet writer of numerous accolades. I use the word "review" generously as St. George is the owner of the translation rights of the book. Let's look at some of the predictions made.

Healthcare

Do give you an idea of how different health care was in 1970, here is an ad from the same magazine.

Be thankful?

Wow, people were complaining about hospital stays that cost $65 a day. These days 10 minutes with a specialist will probably cost you $100, if you have insurance. An overnight stay at hospital can vary wildly in price but an average estimate is $11,700. The cost of healthcare doesn't come up in the article, presumably because the idea that healthcare would become prohibitively expensive didn't occur to anyone.

The premise of the book is that the protagonist has leukemia, puts himself in anabiosis (suspended animation) and is woken up 20 years later when a cure is found. Anabiosis is of course not available now, let alone in 1971. There are effective treatments for leukemia, but it has has not been conquered. For people diagnosed with leukemia the 5 year survival rate is about 60%.

There is also mention of a "electronic artificial-blood-circulation machine." If he is just predicting a machine that can pump blood, it's not much of a prediction, the first protypes of those were invented in 1885. If he's predicting the existence of artificial blood, then nope, we've got nothing like that. Though it is fun to imagine a future that has artificial blood and there is a day in middle school where kids are freaked out to learn about the blood drives of the past.

The widest miss goes to existence of "sex suppression pills" people of 1991 take voluntarily--"invaluable when one has to concentrate on some work." Of course society went the complete opposite direction with the invention of boner pills. There is an implication here that Amosoff was so relentlessly horny that he had a hard time getting his work done. Though I suppose we do have to consider the society he lived in:

Tech

Of course there are predictions about technology "The pocket videophone is quite common... cities and towns are tied together by millimeter waves, space communication satellites and lasers which have have erased time and space." These predictions, if premature, are some of the most accurate given in the article. However, these forecasts are also not that novel by this point. St. George notes that the idea of a world full of gadgets and automation is "predictable" in sci-fi. A more interesting question is what does Amosoff say will be the effect of all this tech?

"Have people become much happier than before? They have undoubtedly become less emotional and more self-assured... They have become accustomed to prosperity, good health, freedom. They take them for granted." Yeah, no, that's not what the world is like. You only take those things for granted if you're rich. The predictions just get worse from there. "People have become generally more honest... fear has been almost eliminated." Except instead we are living in a world where we are lied to incessantly and the liars don't even make an effort to be believable.

New York

The story goes through New York and has a lot to say about it. "Gone are the slums, replaced by parks. Gone are the bridges, replaced by tunnels connecting the city with new garden suburbs. Elevated moving sidewalks leave streets to vehicular traffic. Artificial 'aromatization' and electric automobiles--the only ones allowed in the city--have done away with gasoline fumes. The old subway has been completely rebuilt." I mean, I haven't been to New York in awhile, but I think he nailed it.

American Society

Oh man, he's got so much to say about how American society is organized and it's all so wrong. Trade unions are a dominating force in America and are now fighting for a 25-hour work week instead of the present 30. Material abundance has eliminated class and social strife. "But the race problem, so acute here during my last visit, is being gradually solved-by biological integration. The government grants a special tax relief to all interracial married couples, and there are very many dark-skinned children everywhere, and some of them are real charmers." Though I would like someone to propose giving tax breaks to interracial couples just to see the collective aneurysm it would give MAGA types.

Parenting

Back in the Soviet Union (which is not at all collapsing 1991) the State Child Service has advanced to scientific perfection. "Automation all but replaces the mother. A contraption called 'the automatic nanny' feeds the baby, puts her to sleep, watches her health and even educates her; the child's cortex, it has been discovered, should be stimulated from birth. Pediatricians and mechanics supervise everything; parents are constantly reminded that the child belongs to society."

This is not just wrong but displays a complete lack of understand of how children work. It sounds like Amosoff is describing the the mechanization of growing crops rather than child raising.

Crime and Punishment

A man is proclaimed cured from his insanity, released from an asylum, immediately goes and kills his estranged wife, then turns himself in and is sent back to the asylum.

I'm not even sure if approach to crime is supposed to be positive or negative. Either way, I hate this part of the story. It relies on perceptions about mental health that were bad then and bad now.

The popular belief is that people with mental illness are more prone to commit acts of violence and aggression. The public perception of psychiatric patients as dangerous individuals is often rooted in the portrayal of criminals in the media as "crazy" individuals. A large body of data suggests otherwise. People with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.

From LOOK

And the other

-Every country has basically become socialist, even if they don't call it that.

-Japan has developed artificial intelligence which they call "Mister Omyokone."

-Having already given his own life an artificial 20 year extension, the protagonist plans to develop full on immortality, but his ideas are rejected.

-Drug induced dream trips are used as therapy.

-The presence of computers is constantly mentioned, my favorite being an "electronic computer." As opposed to what?

This issue of LOOK also included a completely separate prediction about 20 years into the future which you can read here.

science fiction

About the author

Buck Hardcastle

Served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine, 2005-07.

Viscount of Hyrkania and private cartographer to the house of Beifong.

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