Physicists Surveying the Future

by PAUL GILSTER on NOVEMBER 12, 2012

Back in 1968. when I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on the gigantic curved screen at the Ambassador Theater in St. Louis, I thought that the timing was a bit optimistic. December of that year would see the first trip around the Moon, a startling and expansive moment, but even with Apollo in the air, I thought a human mission to the moons of Jupiter would take longer than 2001. 2025 seemed more like it. Now, of course, we see that 2025 is out of the question for manned missions, and the best attitude for space futurists is caution.

It’s easy to see how tricky the future is to predict by looking at the past. If you extrapolated from the technology of the Hellenistic Greeks, you would have wound up with a space-going civilization somewhere around 1300, as Carl Sagan once speculated. Bumps happen along the way, civilizations topple, technologies are shelved. Even so, the allure of prognosis keeps us looking ahead, and the truly optimistic among us can easily go over the top. As witness a fascinating study performed by Tom Murphy that is now up on his Do the Math blog. Thanks to Philip Bagust for passing this along.

Read more: Physicists Surveying the Future — Centauri Dreams.

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