2020 Science Fiction Predictions
So what did the fiction of the past predict would happen in 2020? Science fiction often sets stories in the future without specifying a date, but sometimes authors have specifically projected when they thought certain events would take place. 2020, that nice round repeating number (like 20/20 vision), has been the target for a number of science fiction predictions, through future references in novels, short stories, movies, TV series, comics, and video games. I’ll list the predictions I could find specifically linked to 2020, then make some comments about making predictions in science fiction below that.
1. Voyages to other worlds:
VENUS: The 1965 B-movie Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet predicted that there would be a manned landing on Venus in 2020–and we’d find dinosaurs there!
MARS: Kim Stanley Robinson’s 1993 novel Red Mars predicted the first man on Mars would set foot on the red planet in 2020. The Spanish film Stranded, made in 2001, features a crew marooned on Mars in 2020. The movie Mission to Mars in 2000 predicted the same thing–and also imagined the “face” on Mars (now long since shown not to look like a face at all) was an alien spaceship in disguise!
SATURN: Someone in the Star Trek universe somewhere made reference to a manned mission to Saturn happening in 2020 (source Memory Beta).
2. Cyber, Artificial Intelligence, Tech, and Robotics:
INTERNET BRAIN: The 2005 novel Air (Geoff Ryman) predicted by 2020 human brains would routinely be permanently connected to the Internet.
CYBERPUNK: In 1988 the role-playing game Cyberpunk 2020 was created by Mike Pondsmith. Predicts completely immersive virtual reality in our time.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: Arthur C. Clarke (author of 2001: A Space Odyssey) specifically predicted that by 2020, devices built by human beings would have the same general intelligence as humans. (Which almost certainly will not happen this year.)
US ROBOTICS: The I, Robot film of 2004 predicted the founding of the US Robotics company in 2020. Decades before, Isaac Asimov, author of the I, Robot short story collection, had predicted that “by the early 21st Century” household robot servants able to carry out simple conversations would become common. Which he fictionally predicted would be built by the US Robotics Corporation.
ROBOTIC SPORTS: The 2011 film Real Steel rather boldly predicted that boxing would be made illegal for human athletes (due to its brutality) in 2020. Why the 1991 video game Super Baseball 2020 would predict baseball likewise would be entirely played by robots and not humans, is a mystery to me.
WAR MECHAS: 2013’s Pacific Rim is set in 2020 and of course features giant mecha combat robotics fighting giant undersea creatures. In 2014, Edge of Tomorrow predicted that a global military alliance would develop mechas to fight aliens in 2020. But the Japanese anime cartoon Platinumhugen Ordian (in 2000) was already predicting that in 2020 Japanese high school students would pilot mechas.
OTHER TECHNOLOGY: The 1999 game Sim City 3000 predicted that microwave power plants would be invented in 2020. 2005’s movie Stealth predicted a new kind of ultimate stealth fighter jet in 2020. The film stinkeroo Thunderbirds (2004) directed by Johnathan Frakes of Star Trek The Next Generation fame (William Riker) was set in the year 2020, where a spaceship like the Thunderbird 5 (from an earlier cartoon) is a reality.
3. Dragons, Monsters, and Alien Invaders (oh my!):
DRAGONS: The Reign of Fire movie of 2002 is set in 2020, after decades of dragon rule over Planet Earth. Similarly the video game 7th Dragon from 2011 imagined dragons invading Tokyo in 2020.
MONSTERS: Godzilla: Final Wars Film (2004) features giant monsters and mutant superhumans recruited to fight them. The 1991 video game Beast Wrestler features fighting monsters including dragons in a ring–and is oddly set in the year 2020.
ALIEN INVADERS: I’ve already mentioned alien invaders with the Edge of Tomorrow, but the British TV puppet-based series Terrahawks (1983) was set in the year 2020, after an alien force has destroyed NASA’s Mars base and Earth is under threat.
4. Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic, and Other Political Predictions:
DYSTOPIAN MEGACORPORATE: There have been many dystopian futures set in 2020 but a number were about corporations dominating the future. Perfect Dark: Initial Vector, Greg Rucka’s novel published in 2005, the world is dominated by hyper-corporations recruiting their own military forces to fight in clandestine battles in order to gain power. Similar corporations dominate the world in 1984’s comic series Iron Man 2020. The video game Perfect Dark Zero (2005) likewise predicted a world largely controlled by powerful international business conglomerates.
RELIGIOUS DYSTOPIA: Robert A. Heinlein, “Golden Era” sci fi author, predicted in his Future History stories that the 2020’s in the United States would be dominated by a quasi-Christian Fundamentalist cult that would set back technological progress and space travel until the 2070s.
GENERAL DYSTOPIAN: In 1997-1998 a comic series called 2020 Visions based on the predictions of the future for this year mostly made dystopian predictions, such as Ellis Island becoming a plague colony, Detroit ruled by Sharia law, and unlicensed children becoming illegal. Likewise an even earlier short story anthology in 1974 called 2020 Vision (unrelated to the comic series) edited by sci-fi great Jerry Pournelle, including stories by famous authors of the past such as Poul Anderson, Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, AE Van Vogt, Norman Spinrad, and Ben Bova, made mostly dystopian predictions for 2020. The British TV Series Knights of God in 1987 predicted a fascist and religious (but anti-Christian) order ruling most of Britain by 2020 (and was actually a show for kids!). Also note the events of 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate, in which dystopia is at hand, are supposed to happen in 2020.
POST-APOCALYPTIC: The Dollhouse TV Series in 2010 had an episode set in 2020 (“Epitaph Two: Return”), which showed a post-apocalypse in which most of humanity have had their minds wiped. In 2009, the ridiculously bad TV movie Annihilation Earth opens as a team of scientists in the year 2020 wander through a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
WAR SIMULATIONS AND BATTLE GAMES: For whatever reason, a number of these video games have been set in the year 2020. Battlefield 4, made in 2013, is set in the fictional “War of 2020.” Crysis, made in 2007, is centered around a North Korean invasion happening in 2020. MAG: Massive Action Video game of 2010 portrayed a “second war of the S.V.E.R” starting this year. Tom Clancy’s EndWar (2008) imagined a European super-state called the European Federation and the militarization of space in 2020. Supreme Ruler 2020 (2008) was a grand strategy game about a protagonist’s quest to unify a region of fragmented states into a single government. And the Senran Kagura game (first released in 2011) predicted 2020 will be dominated by female ninja champions of good-versus-evil. (Senram Kagura seems in some ways similar to 2004’s Sekirei Manga, which produced a video game in 2009, which predicted “Sekirei,” women fighters, would battle to determine the fate of the world. Both series, from the few images I’ve seen of them, seem very interested in the portrayal of busty female combatants. Note the Sekirei anime was listed as for “Mature Audiences.”)
OTHER POLITICAL: The TV film from 2000 named Code Name Phoenix predicted world global peace by 2020–but that a genetically engineered virus that can stop the human aging process would threaten that peace. The Korean movie Yesterday (2002) was an action film set in 2020, in the backdrop of reunification of North and South Korea. And the campy cartoon from 1972, Sealab 2020, imagined undersea, quasi-utopian laboratories where people permanently live under the ocean as of 2020.
The futures that were almost close–and not close at all.
Looked at overall, the story predictions for 2020 mostly over-predicted change. We don’t have decent spaceships, interplanetary travel, artificial intelligence, good virtual reality, robot servants, robots playing sports, mechas, Korean reunification, undersea laboratories, or worldwide peace. On the other hand, neither do we have alien or dragon invaders, giant monsters, a religious dictatorship in the USA, Sharia in Detroit, a fascist government in Britain, our brains haven’t been wiped clean, our societies haven’t been reduced to a continual state of war, female ninjas are not running through the streets, and we aren’t wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
The actual future is mostly boring–which in a way is not a surprise. Of course storytellers are going to gravitate towards the most astounding predictions. But the corporate mega-conglomerate stuff is actually happening. Just in a way less interesting than predicted. The development of artificial intelligence is also taking place, but more stealthily, leading to what exactly we don’t know. Virtual reality is coming about, as is hooking up your brain to the Internet. Just more slowly than thought. And there sure is plenty of combat ongoing in 2020–though that’s pretty much always been true of the human race.
An interesting tidbit was my as-thorough-as-I-could-make-it sweep didn’t include any stories predicting climate change would destroy the Earth in 2020–though there were some stories that predicted the Earth would be destroyed before 2020 and some predict it afterwards.
For writers, maybe the best advice this review of already-existing stories gives you is that if you don’t want to seem too silly in your predictions of the future, perhaps it’s better not to tag them with a date. Though of course for story reasons of seeming both real and immediate, avoiding dates isn’t always possible.
What stories have you seen that made predictions for 2020 or the 2020s? What are your thoughts about writing near-future sci fi that makes predictions you might have to live with?
Fun post! I couldn’t help but think of products like Siri or Alexa when thinking of robotic servants in the home…
What’s so interesting about Siri and Alexa is nobody in the past really predicted you’d be able to talk to a machine and it could answer is such a well-developed voice–but not actually be intelligent. They generally imagined robots able to answer advanced questions that would stump Siri or Alexa–but then they imagined the robots would speak with mechanical voices Siri and Alexa easily beat!
Clearly true intelligence is harder than they thought it would be. 🙂
Interestingly enough, though, AI and some things associated with it are a lot further along than people would initially think. But a lot of tech gets adopted slowly, or else people don’t pay attention to it, take it seriously or truly believe it until it starts to become a problem or something.
It’s probably going to be like that with deep fakes. A lot of people aren’t going to take it seriously until people becoming impersonated becomes a somewhat common(or at least famous) problem. In the meantime, a lot of people saying they were deep faked might just come off as paranoid or making up excuses, whether or not they actually were. People might know that deep fakes are possible, but actually believing that they’re seeing one might be quite another issue. Especially if that deep fake is reinforcing exactly what they want to believe about the person in question.
Writing about the slow fade to and from certain technologies can be more fascinating than the tech itself, though. There’s so much cause and effect to explore, and so much excitement that can happen as a result. The adjustment period while moving to and from technologies can be pretty intense, after all.
My biggest disappointment is clearly the lack of female ninjas.
A lot of depressing visions of the future. We turned out not so bad, in comparison, other than spaceflight being thirty years behind. David Brin’s novel Earth predicted a lot of ecological disasters, but it’s set in 2038, so we have some time left.
I partially agree but I am concerned about the rise of mega-corporations like Amazon and Google and Facebook and how much power they already have through information on everyone–and I can imagine them becoming even worse over time.
((Your daily reminder to [[eat the rich]]))
They are a concern, and I don’t trust them either, but there’s been a lot of things that are going to keep putting hits on those companies to take them down a notch. Competition is cropping up for them now, which helps from the standpoint of making them change their practices to be more competitive. I can elaborate on that if you like.
Recently though, Youtube took a very big blow for violating COPPA, which is forcing them to change their advertising practices to less invasive ones. That result’s not all sunshine and roses, because COPPA is kinda vague and has left a lot of Youtubers feeling uncertain and wary. And in order to comply with COPPA, Youtube and maybe to an extent the rest of Google’s apps are going to have to utilize even more AI algorithms to sift through the sheer amount of videos uploaded to ensure they’re labeled correctly and whatnot. But, regardless, these companies aren’t invincible or completely unfettered.
But tons of smaller websites that we normally don’t pay attention to are gathering data too. I think my Firefox even said that it blocked a tracker or something from SpecFaith once. I’m not really worried about that from this site. For all I know it’s just a false positive. Still, though, it’s a good reminder that big companies aren’t nearly the only ones that are going to violate our privacy.
Ok, found where I’m seeing the blocked trackers thing. It’s in the little purple shield icon on the left of the URL bar in Firefox. Now and then when I go to SpecFaith, it comes up with an alert that says it blocked a tracker on this site. Clicking on that shield icon and looking through what it’s blocked, it looks like several social media and cross site trackers, so maybe it’s those share buttons at the bottom of the articles that trigger those alerts.
One way to deal with near-future predictions is to consciously write your stories as character-based alternate history. I actually saw an example of this in the fictional timeline Ridley Scott set up for the Prometheus movie. Most of the technologies and key events in his universe ultimately come from one man: Henry Peter Weyland. Weyland was born sometime in the late 20th century, so technically he would be alive right now if he existed. This allowed Scott to set up fictional past events that were part of Weyland’s biography (such as him patenting his various inventions, founding companies, and launching various products). This somewhat insulates the series’ predictions from the inevitable march of time—they were all the result of a specific fictional character’s life and actions.
Hmmm. Though the Alien franchise isn’t abundantly clear that Weyland lived in the 20th Century and that means his world is an alternate Earth. Yes, you can deduce that, but I didn’t find it obvious.
But nonetheless, yes, you can in fact use alternate timelines to deal with the problem! Thanks for pointing that out.