Who Cares If Science Fiction Actually Predicts The Future?

Science fiction has an impressive track record when it comes to predicting the future, having called out everything from electric submarines to the dawn of credit cards well before their time. But do those predictions and their success say anything about the genre, or are they just trivia?

Today, io9's George Dvorsky and Nexus author Ramez Naam debated some of the claims about the singularity brought up by Erik Sofge's article on the subject in Popular Science. That discussion, in turn, sparked another one, about just what role science fiction had (or should have) in predicting the future:

Erik Sofge

I wouldn't be such a compulsive i09 commenter if I didn't live and breathe SF. It's the reason many engineers and scientists got interested in their fields in the first place, and it inspires the rest of us to think about possible futures. But I think its a huge mistake to see the genre as a source of useful, specific predictions about real tech. For every Arthur C. Clarke or Jules Verne, there are a thousand equivalents of Edgar Rice Burroughs or even H.P. Lovecraft, whose settings are amazing in part because they have no interest in realism or guessing at tomorrow's gadgetry. Neuromancer is totally great, until you start evaluating Gibson's knowledge of computers, or his notions of where they're headed, at which point it becomes awfully silly.

Asking SF to be accurate is unfair, and not terribly fun (IMO). That perspective also inherently dismisses SF-fantasy mashups or genre-busting metaphysical insanity as frivolous child's play. Run along, lil' Philip K. Dick, while Kim Stanley Robinson and the rest of the adults talk in very serious tones about how humans are going to colonize Mars.

What do you think? Is science fiction's occasional uncanny eye for what the future will hold merely an interesting footnote to the genre? Or are these steps towards what will be — or what could — bound up by necessity in its DNA?

Tell us in the comments, along with some favorite examples of science fiction that foretold the future — or science fiction that avoided our future in favor of transporting us to someplace much more mysterious.

Image: Artist's conception (Space colony) / NASA - History