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Geoengineering: Our Last Hope, or a False Promise?

Geoengineering: Our Last Hope, or a False Promise? | Sci-Fi and fantastic | Scoop.it

THE concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere recently surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time in three million years. If you are not frightened by this fact, then you are ignoring or denying science.

Relentlessly rising greenhouse-gas emissions, and the fear that the earth might enter a climate emergency from which there would be no return, have prompted many climate scientists to conclude that we urgently need a Plan B: geoengineering.

Geoengineering — the deliberate, large-scale intervention in the climate system to counter global warming or offset some of its effects — may enable humanity to mobilize its technological power to seize control of the planet’s climate system, and regulate it in perpetuity.

 

But is it wise to try to play God with the climate? For all its allure, a geoengineered Plan B may lead us into an impossible morass.

While some proposals, like launching a cloud of mirrors into space to deflect some of the sun’s heat, sound like science fiction, the more serious schemes require no insurmountable technical feats. Two or three leading ones rely on technology that is readily available and could be quickly deployed.

Some approaches, like turning biomass into biochar, a charcoal whose carbon resists breakdown, and painting roofs white to increase their reflectivity and reduce air-conditioning demand, are relatively benign, but would have minimal effect on a global scale. Another prominent scheme, extracting carbon dioxide directly from the air, is harmless in itself, as long as we can find somewhere safe to bury enormous volumes of it for centuries.

But to capture from the air the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by, say, a 1,000-megawatt coal power plant, it would require air-sucking machinery about 30 feet in height and 18 miles in length, according to a study by the American Physical Society, as well as huge collection facilities and a network of equipment to transport and store the waste underground.

 

The idea of building a vast industrial infrastructure to offset the effects of another vast industrial infrastructure (instead of shifting to renewable energy) only highlights our unwillingness to confront the deeper causes of global warming — the power of the fossil-fuel lobby and the reluctance of wealthy consumers to make even small sacrifices.

Even so, greater anxieties arise from those geoengineering technologies designed to intervene in the functioning of the earth system as a whole. They include ocean iron fertilization and sulfate aerosol spraying, each of which now has a scientific-commercial constituency.

 

How confident can we be, even after research and testing, that the chosen technology will work as planned? After all, ocean fertilization — spreading iron slurry across the seas to persuade them to soak up more carbon dioxide — means changing the chemical composition and biological functioning of the oceans. In the process it will interfere with marine ecosystems and affect cloud formation in ways we barely understand.

Enveloping the earth with a layer of sulfate particles would cool the planet by regulating the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth’s surface. One group of scientists is urging its deployment over the melting Arctic now.

Plant life, already trying to adapt to a changing climate, would have to deal with reduced sunlight, the basis of photosynthesis. A solar filter made of sulfate particles may be effective at cooling the globe, but its impact on weather systems, including the Indian monsoon on which a billion people depend for their sustenance, is unclear.

 

Some of these uncertainties can be reduced by research. Yet if there is one lesson we have learned from ecology, it is that the more closely we look at an ecosystem the more complex it becomes. Now we are contemplating technologies that would attempt to manipulate the grandest and most complex ecosystem of them all — the planet itself. Sulfate aerosol spraying would change not just the temperature but the ozone layer, global rainfall patterns and the biosphere, too.

 

Spraying sulfate particles, the method most likely to be implemented, is classified as a form of “solar radiation management,” an Orwellian term that some of its advocates have sought to reframe as “climate remediation.”

Yet if the “remedy” were fully deployed to reduce the earth’s temperature, then at least 10 years of global climate observations would be needed to separate out the effects of the solar filter from other causes of climatic variability, according to some scientists.

 

If after five years of filtered sunlight a disaster occurred — a drought in India and Pakistan, for example, a possible effect in one of the modeling studies — we would not know whether it was caused by global warming, the solar filter or natural variability. And if India suffered from the effects of global dimming while the United States enjoyed more clement weather, it would matter a great deal which country had its hand on the global thermostat.

So who would be turning the dial on the earth’s climate? Research is concentrated in the United States, Britain and Germany, though China recently added geoengineering to its research priorities.

Some geoengineering schemes are sufficiently cheap and uncomplicated to be deployed by any midsize nation, or even a billionaire with a messiah complex.

 

We can imagine a situation 30 years hence in which the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on power is threatened by chaotic protests ignited by a devastating drought and famine. If the alternative to losing power were attempting a rapid cooling of the planet through a sulfate aerosol shield, how would it play out? A United States president might publicly condemn the Chinese but privately commit to not shooting down their planes, or to engage in “counter-geoengineering.”

 

Little wonder that military strategists are taking a close interest in geoengineering. Anxious about Western geopolitical hubris, developing nations have begun to argue for a moratorium on experiments until there is agreement on some kind of global governance system.

Engineering the climate is intuitively appealing to a powerful strand of Western technological thought that sees no ethical or other obstacle to total domination of nature. And that is why some conservative think tanks that have for years denied or downplayed the science of climate change suddenly support geoengineering, the solution to a problem they once said did not exist.

 

All of which points to perhaps the greatest risk of research into geoengineering — it will erode the incentive to curb emissions. Think about it: no need to take on powerful fossil-fuel companies, no need to tax gasoline or electricity, no need to change our lifestyles.

 

In the end, how we think about geoengineering depends on how we understand climate disruption. If our failure to cut emissions is a result of the power of corporate interests, the fetish for economic growth and the comfortable conservatism of a consumer society, then resorting to climate engineering allows us to avoid facing up to social dysfunction, at least for as long as it works.

 

So the battle lines are being drawn over the future of the planet. While the Pentagon “weaponeer” and geoengineering enthusiast Lowell Wood, an astrophysicist, has proclaimed, “We’ve engineered every other environment we live in — why not the planet?” a more humble climate scientist, Ronald G. Prinn of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has asked, “How can you engineer a system you don’t understand?”


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A Super-string Theory Website

Isaac Newton made a Bible-based estimate of a few thousand years. Einstein believed in a steady state, ageless Universe. Since then, data collected from the Universe puts the probable answer somewhere in the middle.

basic / advanced

 

The Einstein equation predicts several possible ways for the Universe to evolve in time and space. What are these models and how do they compare with observation? basic / advanced

 

 

Take a tour through the chain of physical events that cosmologists believe occurred while the expanding Universe we observe today was very small and very young. 

Take the trip

 

 

There's a lot of compelling evidence for the Big Bang, but what preceded it? The most accepted model is called Inflation, but it's not the kind of inflation that Alan Greenspan need fear.

basic / advanced 

 

 

What happens when the early universe is gummed up with string? And are any of these scenarios testable in the near future? 

 

basic / advanced 


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Nateflix on Netflix: Fringe and the Art of World Building

Nateflix on Netflix: Fringe and the Art of World Building | Sci-Fi and fantastic | Scoop.it

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Geoengineering: Our Last Hope, or a False Promise?

Geoengineering: Our Last Hope, or a False Promise? | Sci-Fi and fantastic | Scoop.it

THE concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere recently surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time in three million years. If you are not frightened by this fact, then you are ignoring or denying science.

Relentlessly rising greenhouse-gas emissions, and the fear that the earth might enter a climate emergency from which there would be no return, have prompted many climate scientists to conclude that we urgently need a Plan B: geoengineering.

Geoengineering — the deliberate, large-scale intervention in the climate system to counter global warming or offset some of its effects — may enable humanity to mobilize its technological power to seize control of the planet’s climate system, and regulate it in perpetuity.

 

But is it wise to try to play God with the climate? For all its allure, a geoengineered Plan B may lead us into an impossible morass.

While some proposals, like launching a cloud of mirrors into space to deflect some of the sun’s heat, sound like science fiction, the more serious schemes require no insurmountable technical feats. Two or three leading ones rely on technology that is readily available and could be quickly deployed.

Some approaches, like turning biomass into biochar, a charcoal whose carbon resists breakdown, and painting roofs white to increase their reflectivity and reduce air-conditioning demand, are relatively benign, but would have minimal effect on a global scale. Another prominent scheme, extracting carbon dioxide directly from the air, is harmless in itself, as long as we can find somewhere safe to bury enormous volumes of it for centuries.

But to capture from the air the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by, say, a 1,000-megawatt coal power plant, it would require air-sucking machinery about 30 feet in height and 18 miles in length, according to a study by the American Physical Society, as well as huge collection facilities and a network of equipment to transport and store the waste underground.

 

The idea of building a vast industrial infrastructure to offset the effects of another vast industrial infrastructure (instead of shifting to renewable energy) only highlights our unwillingness to confront the deeper causes of global warming — the power of the fossil-fuel lobby and the reluctance of wealthy consumers to make even small sacrifices.

Even so, greater anxieties arise from those geoengineering technologies designed to intervene in the functioning of the earth system as a whole. They include ocean iron fertilization and sulfate aerosol spraying, each of which now has a scientific-commercial constituency.

 

How confident can we be, even after research and testing, that the chosen technology will work as planned? After all, ocean fertilization — spreading iron slurry across the seas to persuade them to soak up more carbon dioxide — means changing the chemical composition and biological functioning of the oceans. In the process it will interfere with marine ecosystems and affect cloud formation in ways we barely understand.

Enveloping the earth with a layer of sulfate particles would cool the planet by regulating the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth’s surface. One group of scientists is urging its deployment over the melting Arctic now.

Plant life, already trying to adapt to a changing climate, would have to deal with reduced sunlight, the basis of photosynthesis. A solar filter made of sulfate particles may be effective at cooling the globe, but its impact on weather systems, including the Indian monsoon on which a billion people depend for their sustenance, is unclear.

 

Some of these uncertainties can be reduced by research. Yet if there is one lesson we have learned from ecology, it is that the more closely we look at an ecosystem the more complex it becomes. Now we are contemplating technologies that would attempt to manipulate the grandest and most complex ecosystem of them all — the planet itself. Sulfate aerosol spraying would change not just the temperature but the ozone layer, global rainfall patterns and the biosphere, too.

 

Spraying sulfate particles, the method most likely to be implemented, is classified as a form of “solar radiation management,” an Orwellian term that some of its advocates have sought to reframe as “climate remediation.”

Yet if the “remedy” were fully deployed to reduce the earth’s temperature, then at least 10 years of global climate observations would be needed to separate out the effects of the solar filter from other causes of climatic variability, according to some scientists.

 

If after five years of filtered sunlight a disaster occurred — a drought in India and Pakistan, for example, a possible effect in one of the modeling studies — we would not know whether it was caused by global warming, the solar filter or natural variability. And if India suffered from the effects of global dimming while the United States enjoyed more clement weather, it would matter a great deal which country had its hand on the global thermostat.

So who would be turning the dial on the earth’s climate? Research is concentrated in the United States, Britain and Germany, though China recently added geoengineering to its research priorities.

Some geoengineering schemes are sufficiently cheap and uncomplicated to be deployed by any midsize nation, or even a billionaire with a messiah complex.

 

We can imagine a situation 30 years hence in which the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on power is threatened by chaotic protests ignited by a devastating drought and famine. If the alternative to losing power were attempting a rapid cooling of the planet through a sulfate aerosol shield, how would it play out? A United States president might publicly condemn the Chinese but privately commit to not shooting down their planes, or to engage in “counter-geoengineering.”

 

Little wonder that military strategists are taking a close interest in geoengineering. Anxious about Western geopolitical hubris, developing nations have begun to argue for a moratorium on experiments until there is agreement on some kind of global governance system.

Engineering the climate is intuitively appealing to a powerful strand of Western technological thought that sees no ethical or other obstacle to total domination of nature. And that is why some conservative think tanks that have for years denied or downplayed the science of climate change suddenly support geoengineering, the solution to a problem they once said did not exist.

 

All of which points to perhaps the greatest risk of research into geoengineering — it will erode the incentive to curb emissions. Think about it: no need to take on powerful fossil-fuel companies, no need to tax gasoline or electricity, no need to change our lifestyles.

 

In the end, how we think about geoengineering depends on how we understand climate disruption. If our failure to cut emissions is a result of the power of corporate interests, the fetish for economic growth and the comfortable conservatism of a consumer society, then resorting to climate engineering allows us to avoid facing up to social dysfunction, at least for as long as it works.

 

So the battle lines are being drawn over the future of the planet. While the Pentagon “weaponeer” and geoengineering enthusiast Lowell Wood, an astrophysicist, has proclaimed, “We’ve engineered every other environment we live in — why not the planet?” a more humble climate scientist, Ronald G. Prinn of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has asked, “How can you engineer a system you don’t understand?”


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5 Sci-fi Weapons that Actually Exist

Once existing only in the mysterious realm of science fiction, here are 5 formerly top secret sci-fi weapons that actually exist... Subscribe to Dark5 ▻ http...
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Once upon a time is now.

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Are We Living Inside a Computer Simulation? : Discovery News

Are We Living Inside a Computer Simulation? : Discovery News | Sci-Fi and fantastic | Scoop.it
A philosopher and team of physicists imagine that we might actually be living inside a computer-generated universe that you could call, The Lattice. (Are We Living Inside a Computer Simulation?

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The Most Significant Futurists of the Past 50 Years

The Most Significant Futurists of the Past 50 Years | Sci-Fi and fantastic | Scoop.it

Our visions of the future tend to be forged in the pages of science fiction. But for the past half-century, a number of prominent thinkers, activists, and scientists have made significant contributions to our understanding of what the future could look like. Here are 10 recent futurists you absolutely need to know about.

 

1. Robert Ettinger

 

Man Who Vowed to Live Forever  Robert C.W. Ettinger, who famously said that death was for the unprepared and the unimaginative,

He’s known as the intellectual father of the cryonics movement. Physicist Robert Ettinger, who only died recently and is currently in cryonic stasis, was an early advocate of immortalism, or what we would today call radical life extension. In his 1964 book, The Prospect of Immortality, Ettinger argued that whole body or head-only freezing should be used to place the recently deceased into a state of suspended animation for later revival. To that end, he made the case that governments should immediately start a mass-freezing program. He also believed that the onset of immortality would endow humanity with a higher, nobler nature.

 

"Someday there will be some sort of psychological trigger that will move all these people to take the practical steps they have not yet taken,” he wrote, “When people realize that their children and grandchildren will enjoy indefinite life, that they may well be the last generation to die."

Today, organizations like Alcor and the Cryonics Institute (which he founded) have put his ideas into action.

Ettinger is also considered a pioneer in the transhumanist movement by virtue of his 1972 book,Man Into Superman.

 

2. Shulamith Firestone

 

Back in 1970, at the tender age of 25, Shulamith Firestone kickstarted the cyberfeminist movement by virtue of her book, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution. To come up with her unique feminist philosophy, Firestone took 19th and 20th century socialist thinking and fused it with Freudian psychoanalysis and the existentialist perspectives of Simone de Beauvoir.

Firestone argued that gender inequality was the result of a patriarchal social structure that had been imposed upon women on account of their necessary role as incubators. She felt that pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing imposed physical, social, and psychological disadvantages upon women — and that the only way for women to free themselves from these biological impositions would be to seize control of reproduction. She advocated for the development of cybernetic and assistive reproductive technologies, including artificial wombs, gender selection, and in vitro fertilization. In addition, she advocated for the dissemination of contraception, abortion, and state support for child-rearing.

She would prove to be a major influence on later thinkers like Joanna Russ (author of "The Female Man"), sci-fi author Joan Slonczweski, and Donna Haraway (who we’ll get to in just a bit).

 

3. I. J. Good

 

British mathematician I. J. Good was one of the first thinkers — if not the first — toproperly articulate the problem that is the pending Technological Singularity. Predating Hans Moravec, Ray Kurzweil, and Vernor Vinge by several decades, Good penned an article in 1965 warning about the dramatic potential for recursively improving artificial intelligence.

He wrote:

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.

The phrase intelligence explosion has since been adopted by futurists critical of “soft” Singularity scenarios, like a slow takeoff event, or Kurzweilian notions of the steady, accelerating growth of all technologies (including intelligence). His work has influenced AI theorists like Eliezer Yudkowsky, Ben Goertzel, and of course, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (formerly the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence).

Interestingly, Good served as a cryptologist at Bletchley Park with Alan Turing during World War II. He also worked as a consultant on supercomputers for Stanley Kubrick for the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

 

4. K. Eric Drexler

 

Back in 1959, the renowned physicist Richard Feynman delivered an extraordinary lecture titled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” in which he talked about the “experimental physics” of “manipulating and controlling things on a small scale.” This idea largely languished, probably because it was ahead of its time. It wouldn’t be until 1986 and the publication of K. Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology that the idea of molecular engineering would finally take root and take its modern form.

Drexler, by virtue of this book and his subsequent lectures and writings, was the first futurist to give coherency to the prospect of molecular nanotechnology. Given the potential for working at such a small scale, Drexler foresaw the rise of universal assemblers (also called molecular assemblers, or simply “fabs”) — machines that can build objects atom by atom (basically Star Trek replicators). He predicted that we’ll eventually use nanotech to clear the environment of toxins, grow rockets from a single seed, and create biocompatible robots that will be injected into our bodies. But unlike Robert Ettinger, Drexler actually came up with a viable technique for reanimating individuals in cryonic suspension; he envisioned fleets of molecular robots guided by sophisticated AI that would reconstruct a person thawed from liquid nitrogen.

But he also foresaw the negative consequences, such as weaponized nanotechnology and the potential for grey goo — an out-of-control scourge of self-replicating micro-machines.

As an aside, Drexler also predicted hypertext.

 

5. Timothy Leary

 

Timothy Leary is typically associated with drug culture and the phrase, "tune in, turn on, and drop out," but his contributions to futurism are just as significant — and surprisingly related. He developed his own futurist philosophy called S.M.I2.L.E, which stands for Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, and Life Extension. These ideas developed out of Leary’s life-long interest in seeing humanity evolve beyond its outdated morality, which would prove to be highly influential within certain segments of the transhumanist community.

As a futurist, Leary is also important in that he was an early advocate for cognitive liberty and potential for neurodiversity. Through his own brand of psychedelic futurism, he argued that we have the right to modify our minds and create our own psychological experiences. He believed that each psychological modality — no matter how bizarre or unconventional — could still be ascribed a certain value. What's more, given the extreme nature of certain psychedelic experiences, he also demonstrated the potential for human consciousness to function beyond what’s considered normal.More.

 

6. Donna Haraway

 

Donna Haraway made a name for herself after the publication of her 1984 essay, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” At the time, it was seen as a reaction to the rise of anti-technological ecofeminism, but it has since been interpreted and reinterpreted by everyone from postmodernist lefties through to transhumanist postgenderists.

Referring to Haraway as a Cyborgian Socialist-Feminist, the futurist and sociologist James Hughes describes her legacy this way:

Haraway argued that it was precisely in the eroding boundary between human beings and machines, and between women and machines in particular, that we can find liberation from the old patriarchal dualisms. Haraway says she would rather be a cyborg than a goddess, and proposes that the cyborg could be the liberatory mythos for women. This essay, and Haraway’s subsequent writings, have inspired a new cultural studies sub-discipline of “cyborgology,” made up of feminist culture and science fiction critics, exploring cyborgs and the woman-machine interface in various permutations.

And as Wired’s Hari Kunzru noted, “Sociologists and academics from around the world have taken her lead and come to the same conclusion about themselves. In terms of the general shift from thinking of individuals as isolated from the "world" to thinking of them as nodes on networks, the 1990s may well be remembered as the beginning of the cyborg era.”

 

 

7. Peter Singer

 

He’s primarily regarded as a philosopher, ethicist, and animal rights advocate, but Princeton’s Peter Singer has also made a significant impact to futurist discourse — albeit it through rather unconventional channels.

 

Singer, as a utilitarian, social progressive, and personhood-centered ethicist, has argued that the suffering of animals, especially apes and large mammals, should be put on par with the suffering of children and developmentally disabled adults. To that end, he founded the Great Ape Project, an initiative that seeks to confer basic legal rights to non-human great apes, namely chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. It’s a precursor to my own Rights of Non-Human Persons Program, which also includes dolphins, whales, elephants — and makes provisions for artificial intelligence. Singer has also suggested that chickens be genetically engineered so that they experience less suffering.

And in 2001, Singer’s A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation argued that there is a biological basis for human selfishness and hierarchy — one that has thwarted our attempts at egalitarian reform. What’s needed, says Singer, is the application of new genetic and neurological sciences to identify and modify the aspects of human nature that cause conflict and competition — what today would be regarded as moral enhancement. He supports voluntary genetic improvement, but rejects coercive eugenic pseudo-science.

 

8. Freeman Dyson

 

Theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson is one of the first thinkers to consider the potential for megascale engineering projects.

 

His 1959 paper, "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation," outlined a way for an advanced civilization to utilize all of the energy radiated by their sun — an idea that has since inspired other technologists to speculate about similar projects, like Matrioshka and J-Brains.

 

9. Nick Bostrom

 

Swedish philosopher and neuroscientist Nick Bostrom is one of the finest futurists in the business, who is renowned for taking heady concepts to the next level. He has suggested, for example, that we may be living in a simulation, and that an artificial superintelligence may eventually take over the world — if not destroy us all together. And indeed, one of his primary concerns is in assessing the potential for existential risks. An advocate of transhumanism and human enhancement, he co-founded the World Transhumanist Association in 1998 (now Humanity+), and currently runs the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford.

 

10. Aubrey de Grey

 

Love him or hate him, gerontologist Aubrey de Grey has revolutionized the way we look at human aging.

He’s an advocate of radical life extension who believes that the application of advanced rejuvenation techniques may help many humans alive today live exceptionally long lives. What makes de Grey particularly unique is that he’s the first gerontologist to put together an actual action plan for combating aging; he’s one of the first thinkers to conceptualize aging as a disease unto itself. Rather than looking at the aging process as something that’s inexorable or overly complicated, his macro-approach (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) consists of a collection of proposed techniques that would work to not just rejuvenate the human body, but to stop aging altogether.

Back in 2006, MIT’s Technology Review offered $20,000 to any molecular biologist who could demonstrate that de Grey’s SENS is “so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate.” No one was able to claim the prize. But a 2005 EMBO report concluded that none of his therapies "has ever been shown to extend the lifespan of any organism, let alone humans." Regardless of the efficacy of de Grey’s approach, he represents the first generation of gerontologists to dedicate their work to the problem that is human aging. Moreover, he’s given voice to the burgeoning radical life extension movement.


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CAEXI BEST's curator insight, May 15, 2013 5:15 PM
Les futuristes les plus significatifs des 50 dernières années
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Today's Best Science Fiction Writers Imagine How Life Will Be

Today's Best Science Fiction Writers Imagine How Life Will Be | Sci-Fi and fantastic | Scoop.it
Science fiction writers explain how life will be in the future.

Via James Keith
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 E será tão louco daqui a uns 40 anos comparar com a ( ir)realidade :)

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trendspotter's curator insight, October 18, 2013 8:48 PM

Amazing collection of sci-fi outlooks.

Allan Dale Maurer's curator insight, January 30, 2014 11:36 AM

On the whole, SF is at least as wrong about any given future as it is right about others. SF stories are thought-experiments as well as fiction - at least the kind I like best are. But's it's main job is not prediction.

 

Allan Dale Maurer's curator insight, August 15, 2014 8:53 AM

SF writers have been wrong more often than right, but some of their predictions in the past have been uncanny? What do you think of these?