The Optimistic Conservative’s Guide to the Future
As a former editor of Popular Mechanics magazine, I’ve asked many scientists and tech entrepreneurs how they first fell in love with science and technology. Most mention stories that captivated them when they were young. For some, it was the classic science fiction of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, or Ursula Le Guin. Others fell under the spell of Star Wars or Star Trek. They were all drawn to the kind of speculative fiction that asked what sorts of worlds humans might be capable of building. Science fiction, at least in its pre-dystopian era, imbued American culture with the idea that anything was within humanity’s grasp. In turn, that spirit helped make high-tech breakthroughs possible by inspiring bright young misfits to pursue mastery of difficult fields. Companies like Apple and SpaceX might not exist today if not for the generations of nerds who grew up on Star Trek and now spend their lives trying to “make it so.”
Writer James Pethokoukis was one of those nerds. With his new book, The Conservative Futurist: How to Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised, the American Enterprise Institute scholar hopes to revive the spirit of possibility embodied in the best science fiction. But first, he must answer a nagging question: What ever happened to those Apollo-era dreams? Whenever I used to tell people where I worked, they invariably asked, “So, where’s my flying car?” Sure, we have smartphones and online shopping today. But where are all the techno-miracles depicted in the Futurama exhibit at the 1964 World’s Fair or predicted by midcentury futurists like Alvin Toffler and Hermann Kahn? What happened to underwater cities, fusion power, rocket planes, or a cure for cancer?
James B. Meigs is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a City Journal contributing editor, cohost of the How Do We Fix It? podcast, and the former editor of Popular Mechanics.
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