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Welcome to the year 2015

Welcome to the year 2015. Sounds so futuristic, doesn’t it.

A while ago, last century, I wrote a short story called The Year 2031, about a space mission to Venus, published in 19 weekly parts in 1998 as part of my (still going) Toxic Custard weekly email newsletter.

Back in 1998, the year 2031 seemed way off into the future. It alarms me somewhat to find that we are now halfway to 2031.

Toxic Custard Workshop FilesThe Year 2031

Reading back over the opening paragraphs, clearly I am not the world’s best futurist, though so far, some of the predictions still look okay.

It was the year 2031. Nothing much had changed, really. Technology was faster, more sophisticated and cheaper, and people still didn’t know how to program their videos. Something new and incredible was being done with microchips every day. They’d figured out how to give everyone on the planet affordable Web access, and if they could just figure out how to give them all affordable food, the human race had a real chance of going places.

So far so good, I stand by most of this. We don’t have “videos” (VCRs) anymore, but I think people still have trouble with PVRs. I suspect the difference is fewer people now want to record TV at all, thanks to DVD box sets, and iView and other services allowing you to watch later.

The Middle East was still a powderkeg and nobody would back down over Northern Ireland. More significantly, McDonald’s was in real danger of reaching the critical mass of hamburger restaurants, and were about to begin their plan to diversify into pizza. Talentless saps still ruled the music charts. And everyone was still burning up the world’s increasingly precious oil stocks like there was no tomorrow.

Northern Ireland is pretty peaceful these days. McDonald’s probably reached Peak Burger some time ago, at least in Australia, and are exploring new ways to make money, including opening an experimental cafe in Sydney.

Peak Oil is a bit less certain, I think, but it’s certainly still being burnt up with little thought to its longer-term impacts.

But on the space exploration front, NASA was kicking arse. Although they’d developed computer graphics simulators so realistic they could virtually just simulate all their missions instead of actually conducting them, they knew that if anybody ever found out, the government would want all the money back. So they kept on sending up rockets.

In 2012, one entrepreneur had even organised a civilian excursion onto the moon. A kind of moon picnic for anyone who could afford the astoundingly expensive fare. It had been a bit of a disaster though – halfway to the moon somebody had pressed the wrong button, and the hundreds of sandwiches had gone flying off into space. Everyone had got back safely, but boy were they hungry when they touched down. Nobody had tried that since.

There are civilian moves into space, priced for the super-rich only, but they haven’t started yet, in fact Virgin Galactic had a setback last year which means it probably won’t happen any time soon.

A manned mission to Mars had finally gone ahead in 2015. It had proven beyond all doubt that there really were no little green men – not that we should discount the existence of red dust creatures or something equally improbable and not perceptible to man. After this, NASA started to look towards Venus for the next mission.

Still only unmanned missions to Mars so far. The current thinking appears to be that a manned mission won’t happen before 2025, and NASA isn’t looking at it until well into the following decade.

Admittedly it’s all a bit undergraduate, but re-reading the story today gave me a few laughs from jokes I’d forgotten I’d included.

You can read the whole 2031 story here.

Apologies for the colour scheme.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

9 replies on “Welcome to the year 2015”

Toxic Custard reminds me of “Blood and Custard” livery (yellow and red) of UK trains in the ’50s

Unfortunately I can’t paste an image here, just google “Blood and Custard”

Predictions are notoriously likely to be off. If I recall correctly, we’ve already passed the dates of some “historical” events mentioned in Star Trek (but with that you’ve at least got the option of proposing an alternative timeline).

Sometimes it’s because the prediction is simply unrealistic, assuming that technology will develop in a particular way or at a particular rate that is unrealistic to begin with. But at other times, it’s because the prediction doesn’t, or can’t, take into account politics and changing societal expectations.

Who, for example, would have predicted that after reaching the moon, America would lose so much interest in going to space, and stop all moon visits (so no bases there), and pull back manned missions to nothing more than Earth’s orbit, and even pull back somewhat from that? But changing priorities, limited funds, changes of government, or whatever, can mean significant changes of direction. In light of that, even if we had put someone on Mars this year, the prediction that we’d be off to Venus straight afterwards seems particularly unlikely.

Politics (or at least government) is also much of the reason that not everyone has affordable food. It’s not that we don’t know how; it’s that we have corrupt and/or ideological governments that get in the way of it happening.

Mcdonalds already tried pizza, and I think it was before 1998, even. Around 1995, in Ohio or Illinois or somewhere. It evidently wasn’t very successful. The actual market for pizza doesn’t mesh very well with their business model.

” we’ve already passed the dates of some “historical” events mentioned in Star Trek”

The Jupiter II was supposed to leave with Dr Smith and the Robot way back in 1997 !

Reminds me: trying to predict fuel prices is rather hazardous. Here were my predictions from about 2005.

$3 per litre by 2008 and $10 per litre by the time my daughter got her licence [Nov 2013]

I should have remembered the New Zealand Government also tried similar predictions and came a right cropper: at the point when petrol was nudging 99c per litre (due high oil prices post oil-shock, early ’80s), it built a rather expensive Gas to Gasoline plant. Upon completion, it got mothballed, because the price of oil fell rather a lot in the meantime.

Ok then, so McDonalds hasn’t gone into Pizza, but the supermarkets have gone into insurance, credit cards, mobile telephone service, and hardware (the latter: directly at Aldi; via Masters for Woolies). And a certain RTO is spruiking adverts that show psychological counselling at the supermarket counter :-)

“It was the year 2031. Nothing much had changed, … Third-world countries were still third-world countries, but oddly, they were beating first-world countries hands down in terms of technology”

I feel that Australia has just become a banana republic. Netflix has launched in Cuba (of all places), while Australians (and Kiwis) still wait …

Normally I couldn’t give two hoots (or indeed, two cents) about Netflix or Spotify or streaming music/video/news/anything, but I just think that something has gone terribly wrong, when they offered service to Cuba on less than 2 months notice (the proposed lifting of the US/Cuba embargo was announced on 17-Dec-2014), but they have taken more than 10 years to get service to Australia or New Zealand.

Further to the First-World problem, the Thailand approach to Myki-style cards seems to be more robust, even if it is less user-friendly. One needs separate cards for the 3 separate train systems in Bangkok (and buses are not covered), but they keep things simple, it works, and it scans fast. I suspect they will take the approach to add features bit-by-bit until the user-friendly aspects are all ironed out (eg, to merge the 3 systems into one).

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