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William Gibson: Sci-Fi Writers Are Almost Always Wrong in Predicting the Future and That's Actually a Good Thing

Photo: Jason Redmond/Wired

"The thing that Neuromancer predicts as being actually like the internet isn't actually like the internet at all!" exclaims William Gibson, the famous science fiction author whose novel is synonymous with cyberpunk (he coined the word "cyberspace," mind you.)

In this interview with Geeta Dayal over at Wired's Underwire blog, Gibson claimed that sci-fi writers are actually almost always wrong in predicting the future, and that's actually a good thing:

I think the least important thing about science fiction for me is its predictive capacity. Its record for being accurately predictive is really, really poor! If you look at the whole history of science fiction, what people have said is going to happen, what writers have said is going to happen, and what actually happened — it’s terrible. We’re almost always wrong. Our reputation for being right relies on some human capacity to marvel at the times when, yay, you got it right! Arthur Clarke predicted communications satellites and things like that. Those are marvelous — it’s great when someone gets it right, but almost always it’s wrong.

If you’ve read a lot of vintage science fiction, as I have, at one time or another in my life, you can’t help but realize how wrong we get it. I have gotten it wrong more times than I’ve gotten it right. But I knew that when I started; I knew that before I wrote a word of science fiction. I knew that about science fiction. It just goes with the territory.

In a sense, if you’re not getting it wrong really a lot when you’re creating imaginary futures, then you’re just not doing it enough. You’re not creating enough imaginary futures. Because if you create enough of them, you’d better get it wrong — a lot.


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