As long as there have been science fiction there have been predictions of what the future might hold. Not in the manner as psychics or soothsayers which go back to ancient times, but in terms of technological advancements based mostly or entirely on what has being worked at the time. It is no accident that some of the best or at least most famous Science Fiction authors are either trained in science such as Isaac Asimov or at least a strong interest in it such as Douglas Adams who had written and spoken about his interest in technology over the years. It is to the point that many of the best known Science Fiction or speculative authors ranging from Jules Verne to George Orwell to Arthur C. Clarke are counted among the first futurists.

Inventions correctly predicted by the creators of speculative fiction have included submarines, fighter-jets, the moon landing, CCTV surveillance and optical implants that can, in most cases allow those with compromised vision to see. For every famous case of a correct prediction there are other, less famous ones, that were completely laughably incorrect, such as the one in the in the middle of the 20th century predicting that humans would be living in Moon Colonies before the end of it. Even less well known, either because of lack of interest or by recantation from the author, are predictions that might be possible from the perspective of technology and design but have yet to actually be fully tried or completed due to a variety of issues. These include things such as human cloning, three dimensional holograms like those seen in Star Wars and, perhaps most famously, the idea of a Space Elevator basically referring to an Earth-bound elevator reaching out into open space.

Ground floor: Space elevator

The idea of an elevator going into space was first thought of by Arthur C. Clarke as part of his admittedly spotty, record of predictions over the years, many of them bang on, some of them not quite so much.

A matter of logistics

Among the reasons cited as to why the Space Elevator likely cannot be constructed are that there is no material strong enough to be built up that height without falling over under its own weight; that using current elevator technology which is basically a pulley-system would make the whole thing susceptible to a dangerous level of vibration when getting to those heights; there are dangers posed by satellites and other assorted space hardware; corrosion of the metal involved; radiation and getting the thing up through the Van Allen belts. Those who have cited such reasons have clearly not kept up with recent advancements in material science because at least four of them are easily solved by the sparkly new alloy that is strong enough to withstand heat 2/3 that of the sun and repel radiation.

The vibration issue could be over come by using technology similar to that in the development of the hyper loop. Fast, efficient and with next to no risk of vibrations or “wobble”. The biggest issues right now are the threats from space hardware and by-passing cosmological bodies such as meteorites and the environmental risks stemming from the unknown consequences of building such a structure on terra firma.

Bottom line

While the material and technological requirements exist for such a project to be possible it is inefficient and is unlikely to happen due to expense, political pressure from environmental interests and the problems posed by passing objects. On Earth at least. A recommended alternative site has been the Moon, where the environmental issues would be moot and satellites are less likely to pass by, though expense would still be a major issue.

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Trevor McNeil
Trevor McNeil spent much of his childhood playing video-games on early-form personal computers back when the disks were literally floppy. He attended the University of Victoria, completing a degree in Social Science with a concentration in Technology In Society, while also writing for the campus newspaper. He has written articles for such diverse publications as Humanity Death Watch, PopMatters and Perfect Sound Forever. He is a veteran of numerous “watershed moments” in the history of technological development and firmly believes that Han shot first.

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