1984 AND BEYOND by Nigel Calder


Email this review


Predictions come home to roost Both in 1964, when he edited a Science Digest series, 'The World in 1984,"" and in a subsequent compilation, Unless Peace Comes (1968), Calder tapped the thinking of futurologists. Here he reviews what they said then, lets them comment, and incorporates new thoughts from Herman Kahn, Freeman Dyson, Joshua Lederberg, Kurt Vonnegut, Barbara Wootton, and diverse others. The earlier contributions were on target in predicting a revolution in biology and in information. They were unduly optimistic, it turns out, in predicting exploitation of the oceans and new forms of energy. (The oil crisis wasn't dreamt of.) Though homage is paid to Orwell and Big Brother, the book is organized along the usual dimensions of futurethink: ""Grey Machines"" (changes in technology, engineering, information); ""Living Machines"" (genetics, pharmaceuticals, bioengineering); ""People's Planet"" (population, ecology, energy); ""Poor Relations"" (poverty, Third World, technological unemployment); ""Unbagged Cats"" (troubles ahead). Much of the material represents a fine-tuning of what the experts said, plus a lot of Calderthink--but the format works against exposition. Calder has chosen a dialogue form in which he is Author (A) talking to a supercomputer named O'Brien (Omniscient Being Re-inter preting Every Notation), who is being coached in thinking about the future. Possessed of supreme logic and memory, O'Brien often spouts direct quotes from Calder's chores of experts; but he also uses his own voice--by turns smug, supercilious, sarcastic--ready to take over from the human race. Often, the forest is hidden from the trees. In the last chapter Calder speaks to his own concerns about artificial intelligence, joblessness, nuclear war, and surveillance by Big Brother. O'Brien's suggestion that anarchy is the answer is hollow irony that comforts Calder not at all. Despite the format and Calder's occasionally quirky views: worth examination.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Viking