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Fact-Checking the Future of 'Silence Like Diamonds'

Everything is well-researched, well thought out, and almost certain to be wrong.

Mitch Wagner

August 21, 2015

4 Min Read
Fact-Checking the Future of 'Silence Like Diamonds'

The second-to-last episode of Light Reading's original science fiction serial, "Silence Like Diamonds," is up. Read it here: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 9: Hacking an Escape.

Need catching up? Start here: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business.

Or find every episode at the Faster-Than-Light Reading content page.

Once you're caught up, come back here and we'll talk about the world of 2030 in "Silence Like Diamonds."

"Silence Like Diamonds" contains detailed predictions about the state of communications technology and the industry in 2030: The Internet is dominated by a cloud provider, NameItCorp, that will do whatever you ask it to, for a price, within the boundaries of the law and scientific possibility. The company has no employees; it's entirely software-based. (It's a logical extension of the New IP.) Broadband connections are carried over airborne drones. Encryption doesn't work anymore, making keeping secrets extremely difficult.

All of these predictions are well researched and well thought out. And they'll all be wrong. That's just the way predictions go, whether they're made by science fiction writers or professional futurists.

But every once in a while, somebody gets a prediction right. For example, the AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) "You Will" campaign from 1993 that attempted to look into the future of telecom, is close to a bulls-eye forecast. Tom Selleck's smooth baritone asks viewers if they've ever made a conference call from home, driven across the country without a map and so on. "You will!" he confidently predicted. And those things did indeed happen, with some twists: The former Magnum P.I. star predicted that we'd make video calls from phone booths and do e-commerce from ATM machines, rather than doing both and so much more from devices we carry in our pockets. (See 'You Will': 20th Century Telephony Predictions.)

In a conversation on Light Reading's message boards, John Barnes, author of "Silence Like Diamonds," cites one of my favorite examples from one of my favorite writers, the scene that opens Robert A. Heinlein's 1951 novel, Between Planets. The hero of that novel is riding a horse in the New Mexico desert, centuries in the future, when his phone rings. 1951 readers would have gotten a pleasurable science-fiction jolt from that. "Wow!" they would have said. "In the future we'll have portable phones!" Readers here in 2015 probably don't even notice the moment.

Most science fiction stories of the 20th Century looked at the giant mainframes that then dominated real-life computing, saw that they were getting bigger and bigger and figured that trend would continue. Isaac Asimov's MULTIVAC stories predicted computers would become the size of city blocks, then whole cities, then whole planets. His 1956 story "The Last Question," follows that evolution to the end of the universe -- and beyond.

MULTIVAC started looking dated through the 1990s and 2000s. Computers weren't getting bigger -- they were getting smaller. The Internet wasn't built on a single, centralized computer the size of a city. It was a network of millions of computers all over the world, each with a little bit of intelligence that it shared with the others. Only one writer from the golden age of science fiction predicted that: Murray Leinster, in the 1946 story "A Logic Named Joe."

But now it looks like Asimov might get the last laugh. Hypercloud providers like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Facebook are producing the giant, centralized computers that the Good Doctor predicted. We call them "data centers," but really each of these facilities is a single computer the size of a warehouse. (See Google Lifting Network Veil and Facebook Reinvents Data Center Networking.)

And speaking of Google: Not long ago, I commented that "Silence Like Diamonds" fictional NameItCorp sounded like a future incarnation of Google, and I wished that I had simply suggested to John that he name the company "Google." I got lucky; Google's recent reorganization might have made that nomenclature obsolete even as the story was still being published. And now we can just say that NameItCorp. is a future subsidiary of the company known as Alphabet. (See Google Sings 'Alphabet' Song and All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.)

That's it for today. Have a great weekend, and join us Tuesday for the thrilling final episode of "Silence Like Diamonds."

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About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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