Sci-fi future full of viruses and villains

After hearing three top science-fiction writers pontificate on their visions of the future during a panel discussion at Comdex, there is this to say: Run! Run for your lives!

Pandemics, biological warfare, Bluetooth-like brain implants and diagnostic toilets could await us if the fictional terrain of Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Greg Bear becomes reality. The three wove stream-of-consciousness comments with plot tidbits from books in progress during a conference session.

“I think at some point we are probably going to have a real plague,” Pournelle said. “By real plague, I mean something like the Black Death” with one third to one half of the world’s population affected. Medical workers, police officers and firefighters responding to emergencies will be among the first to catch the plague and die.

Bacteria will proliferate in Bear’s view as well. Mischief makers will use bacteria, which is abundant on us, in us, all around us, and, therefore easy to get and manipulate. Perhaps miscreants will tinker with DNA.

Maybe, Niven posited, average people will squirrel away at home, living better lives through virtual reality while only the richest travel (meaning that rich people would be exposed to all of the icky stuff and die, leaving average people to run things).

“I could picture a future in which almost no one goes anywhere,” said Niven, who lately has been thinking of tourism run amok as a fictional theme, a train of thought that being in Las Vegas must feed. Those who do travel might find themselves quarantined upon returning home, he said.

Diagnostic toilets would come in handy if a world of quarantines comes to pass, Bear said. The toilets would collect and analyze “specimens,” sending data to our doctors who in turn would alert authorities when unknown strains of bacterium turn up, leading to automatic quarantines of certain homes.

The privacy invasion could reach our brains, with implants providing memories for us so that we aren’t certain what really happened to us and what was placed there by a device.

“Certainly, Bluetooth-like technology could be implanted in your head right now if it knew what to say to you” (to direct memory), Pournelle said.

All will not, however, be foul. Humans will control viruses, Bear said, stamping out routine illnesses.

“No more colds,” he said. “No more sniffles.”

– IDG News Service