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TMT Predictions: too much sci-fi?

The other day my boss was talking about this blog. “It’s great,” he said, “but I wish we had more content from seminal Canadian-based cyberpunk science fiction (SF) authors.”

Well…that didn’t actually happen. But wouldn’t it be cool if it did?

*****

Although William Gibson (the guy who coined the phrase “cyberspace” in his 1984 novel Neuromancer) was born in the US in 1948, he’s lived in Canada since 1968. So while not exactly a native, he is about 63% Canadian content by now. In a lengthy-but-worthwhile interview in the Paris Review, the visionary touched on a few themes that caught my attention: 1) how hard it is to predict the future, and 2) the complexity of the future.

On SF writers trying to predict the future, Gibson says: “The record of futurism in science fiction is actually quite shabby, it seems to me. Used bookstores are full of visionary texts we’ve never heard of, usually for perfectly good reasons.”

We remember the things that come true, like Arthur C. Clarke predicting the communication satellite in1945. On the other hand, his predictions that a race of super-intelligent dolphins from Sri Lanka would take over the United Nations are not nearly as well remembered. (That last bit is an inside-SF joke, by the way. He never said that. Or at least he was smart enough to never write it down.)

This is why we try to be totally transparent with Deloitte TMT Predictions. Every year, we show the full list of the previous year’s predictions – so both our successes and our failures are obvious to everyone. To be immodest, our record is not shabby at all: we were 68% accurate in 2009, 72% accurate for 2010, and 84% accurate in 2011. View our report card.

Next, at the very end of the interview, Gibson touches on the complexity of the future. Or should I say the complexity of the present?

GIBSON
If you’d gone to a publisher in 1981 with a proposal for a science-fiction novel that consisted of a really clear and simple description of the world today, they’d have read your proposal and said, Well, it’s impossible. This is ridiculous. This doesn’t even make any sense. Granted, you have half a dozen powerful and really excellent plot drivers for that many science-fiction novels, but you can’t have them all in one novel.

INTERVIEWER
What are those major plot drivers?

GIBSON
Fossil fuels have been discovered to be destabilizing the planet’s climate, with possibly drastic consequences. There’s an epidemic, highly contagious, lethal sexual disease that destroys the human immune system, raging virtually uncontrolled throughout much of Africa. New York has been attacked by Islamist fundamentalists, who have destroyed the two tallest buildings in the city, and the United States in response has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

INTERVIEWER
And you haven’t even gotten to the technology.

GIBSON
You haven’t even gotten to the Internet. By the time you were telling about the Internet, they’d be showing you the door. It’s just too much science fiction.

Science fiction novels – in order to sell, and in order not to overwhelm readers – are usually based on a single “what if” proposition. Whether space travel, colonies on the moon, evil robots, overpopulation or whatever, the author starts out with that one prediction and then runs with it, and tries not to introduce any other macro trends.

The real world doesn’t work that way. In the almost-three decades since Neuromancer was published, there have been multiple science-fiction-worthy developments… and they are all happening at the same time. They all interact with each other. I would call that “synchronous synergistic convergence” if I worked for a consulting firm. Oh wait…

Our TMT Predictions face the same challenge. It isn’t enough for us to forecast the success of tablets in the enterprise: we also need to (correctly) make calls on storage costs, cellular technology, spectrum shortages, cloud reliability and privacy laws.

That may sound daunting, and it is. But the next time somebody calls our Predictions “too much science fiction,” I will remember William Gibson’s imaginary 1981 SF book pitch… and take it as a compliment.

Now back to you, are TMT Predictions too much sci-fi?

Duncan

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Duncan Stewart
Duncan Stewart
Director of Deloitte Canada Research

Duncan is a member of Deloitte’s national TMT executive team and a co-author of the annual TMT Predictions reports.

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