“One of the predictions was from Pohl, who I contacted through email to ask about his letter to the future. There were over a dozen letters in the time capsule from people like Orson Scott Card and Isaac Asimov. But it was Pohl’s letter that really caught my eye because it hinted at a skepticism surrounding the entire practice of prediction — in particular, a reference to the work of cold readers and other charlatans who would have you believe that they can see into the future with certainty.”
After the opening of the time capsule last year, Novak asked Fred what he thought about it. Check out Paleofuture for Fred’s 2012 comments on his predictions of a quarter-century earlier. Here’s Fred’s 1987 letter:
Dear People of the Future,
In my day there were professional entertainers, and fake psychics, who specialized in telling total strangers all sorts of intimate details about themselves. The process was called *cold reading*. I’ve never done it before, but I think I can do it for you. I think I can tell you quite accurately what your lives are like as you open this time capsule.
For example, you live in a world at peace. Something like the World Court, as an arm of something like the United Nations, resolves international disputes, and has the power to enforce its decisions. For that reason, you live in a world almost without weaponry; and, because you therefore do not have to bear the crippling financial burden of paying for military establishments and hardware, all of you enjoy an average standard of living about equal to a contemporary millionaire’s. Your health is generally superb. Your life expectancy is not much less than a century. The most unpleasant and debilitating jobs (heavy industry, mining, large-scale farming) are given over to machines; most work performed by human beings is in some sense creative. The exploration of space is picking up speed, both by manned colonization and robot probes, and by vast orbiting telescopes and other instruments. Deforestation, desertification and the destruction of arable land has been halted and reversed. Pollution is controlled, and all the winds and the waters of the Earth are sweet again.
This is a very short description of your life, but it could be made even shorter. A single word can describe it: it is very close to what every previous age of mankind would call *Utopia*.
How do I know these things?
It isn’t because I’ve made a probabilistic assessment of present-day trends. Quite the contrary. All the evidence of what is going on in the world today leads to the conclusion that none of these things are going to happen, because our country, the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world (and, I have always thought, the best) is bankrupting itself to recruit and train terrorists in Latin America, give arms to terrorists all over the world, develop and deploy fleets, armies and weapons systems which have no purpose except to pound any country which disagrees with us into submission. Since, unfortunately for us, the people who disagree with us have terrorists, fleets, armies and weapons systems of their own, the most plausible future scenario is all-out nuclear war.
It is therefore clear that to make the predictions above is to bet recklessly against the odds.
It’s still a good bet, though.
In fact, I don’t see how I can lose it. Anyone opening the capsule to read these lines will have to agree that my low-probability predictions pretty well describe the actual turn of events … because if the high-probability ones of mass destruction and species suicide should prevail no one is likely to be around to read them.
The blog team