Re: Heinlein (1946) on the Singularity

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Fri Jan 04 2002 - 10:10:14 MST wrote:
> Professor Broderick:
> Was your post about Heinlein, evidence that he seemed to see a
> "singularity" on the horizon? If so, neither his atomic war, nor a
> period of accelerated technical progress actually occurred. Houses in
> 1946 look much as houses did then, autos are gasoline powered, there's
> a computer in every home, but surely not robots. No lunar colonies, as
> Heinlein predicted, and outside of NERVA (1968), no atomic powered
> spaceships.
> Heinlein may be beloved as a visionary, but his visions have nothing
> to do with accuracy (a chore in itself!). So therefore, based on
> Heinlein's lack of success in forecasting, perhaps a Singularity, much
> later, rather then much sooner?

Actually, the error of Heinlein and his contemporaries was assuming that
the extreme change would be in the world of transportation rather than
information. Not that there wasn't a revolution in transportation as
well. Keep in mind that in 1946, air transportation was limited to
government officials and the wealthy, and the quality of transportation
was rough, slow, and uncomfortable. Civil transports flew at 200-300
mph, usually unpressurized and with poor heating and high incidence of
turbulence with small planes. Man still had not penetrated the sound
barrier, the fastest military planes still flew under 600 mph.
Today, more people fly on airliners than had previously used trains, at
a lower cost, and with a comfort and speed that SF writers only dreamt
of in 1946. Military and civilian vehicles have flown into space, to the
moon (Heinlein's prediction of a first moon landing actually was within
just a year or two of the real event), and he accurately forecast the
sort of impact that interstate highways would have on society and land
What Heinlein and his contemporaries failed to forecast was the enormous
economic drain that both the Cold War AND the 'War on Poverty' would
have, how this negatively impacted the level of investment in space
exploration following the Apollo era, and how the loss in Vietnam would
impact the national self-confidence for so long, and he did not, in
1946, forecast the sort of market manipulation the OPEC cartel could use
to cripple the world economy for years.
Heinlein severely underestimated the development of computer technology,
expecting the world to continue to use magnetic tapes even after the
year 2100, and did not expect true AI to develop until after the year
He also expected homes to look much the same in the future as they did
then, with simply more automation, and his visions of such were set far
in our own future.

I personally expect us to catch up to and exceed Heinlein's predictions
within a few decades. You must keep in mind that his idea of 'massive
change' is certainly not what you or I would consider such. He was born
in 1910, the same year as my grandfather. I'd hardly expect someone of
that era to look at our current day and not see our 'normality' as
representing "The Crazy Years". My 89 year old grandmother certainly
sees these days as such.

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