The Year 2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future by Gerard K. O'Neill

The Year 2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future

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Princeton physics professor and space-colony guru O'Neill kicks off his high-tech perspective on the world of a century hence with a swift survey of past ""predictions"" by Kipling, Verne, Wells, A. Huxley, Orwell, and the like (none of whom were actually predicting anything) and concludes that they all overestimated the amount of social change while underestimating technological advances. O'Neill's own forecast, accordingly, is shaped by five ""drivers of change"": computers, space colonies (see his The High Frontier, 1976), energy, automation, and communications. Unlike Toffler, he avoids scare tactics and slogans and offers a fact-filled, science-fiction-journalism tour through the oh-wow world of 2081, abuzz with ion-drive spaceships, magnetic slingshot mass-drivers, subterranean transports (magnetic bottles whizzing through vacuum tunnels), enclosed cities independent of climatic vagaries, automated homes and robot servants, solar power satellites, self-replicating robot factories, and other glittering technological marvels. No scientific quarrel arises with O'Neill's wonderland: logically and lucidly presented, amazing rather than ominous, though better suited to robots than to human beings. But it may occur to readers that his extrapolations stem from a present somewhat different from the one we are stuck with; glossed over or ignored are such currently pressing problems as overpopulation, mass starvation (greenhouses are apparently the answer), the destruction of the natural environment, exhaustion of natural resources, pollution (space colonies will eliminate all these), nuclear buildup and proliferation. Then, too, advances in biology and medicine, of which cloning is merely the tip of the iceberg, are relegated to a few paltry pages, while the social sciences and the arts are not seen to affect the future at all. A breathless, uncritical, easy-to-absorb vision of miraculous Western technology; but as a global, human picture (per the title), fatally deficient.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster