Tag Archives: science fiction

The Future Has Arrived — It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed Yet

William Gibson? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I work at Google, and a colleague of mine who leads our Search Education efforts pointed out your site as a great resource for people learning to search smarter. I love the site!

There is a quotation credited to the influential and award-winning science fiction author William Gibson that we’ve used on multiple occasions. But we are not certain whether Gibson said it:

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

If you’d care to investigate, you’d have at least a couple thankful fans here.

Quote Investigator: Gibson is a brilliant author, and this is a perceptive and piquant quotation. In 1990 he appeared in a documentary called “Cyberpunk”, and he discussed the differential access to technological developments based on wealth and location. He also stated a version of a key part of the maxim [CPWG]:

The future has already happened.

The earliest evidence for the full version of the saying was found by top quotation expert Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, who kindly shared the citation with QI. In 1992 the San Francisco Examiner published an article about the nascent technology of virtual reality, and the journalist Scott Rosenberg credited a version of the adage to Gibson [WGSF]:

Once whole worlds can be simulated for the senses, the only way to assure the integrity of the public imagination will be to get the power to create those worlds out of the hands of an elite and into general circulation. As William Gibson put it: “The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

With the help of Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired magazine and a pivotal neoteric thinker, QI was able to obtain a comment from William Gibson about the genesis of this saying and where it might have appeared initially. Kelly relayed that “Gibson does not remember when he first said it, but it was not something he wrote.” Gibson stated [KKGO]:

The problem is that the idea would have preceded its first recorded public utterance by quite some time, in the way of these things. I would assume I thought it, then eventually said it to friends, and that by the time I said it in an interview (the most likely scenario) it had become an idea I took for granted. It wasn’t something generated to give a talk, nor was it in some essay or article.

Gibson can be heard employing a version of the maxim during a 1999 interview on National Public Radio. He was complimented for the accuracy of his predictions by the interviewer and was asked if he read the technical literature. Gibson said that he “read very little technical literature at all” and then he downplayed his predictive skills [NRTN]:

…actually I spend a lot of my time, a lot of my media time trying to disown my prescience…

… as I’ve said many times the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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I Do Not Want to Predict the Future. I Want to Prevent It

Frank Herbert? Ray Bradbury? Theodore Sturgeon? Fred Pohl?

Dear Quote Investigator: I once read an interview with a science fiction writer in which he was asked about predicting the future. The interviewer was disappointed that some of the technological developments heralded in science fiction never seemed to actually happen. The response from the author was unexpected and haunting:

I don’t try to predict the future. I try to prevent it.

I think this answer confused the interviewer, but I understood it. The dystopian stories like Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Sheep Look Up, and The Machine Stops are not attempting to predict the future. They are trying to prevent the futures that they describe. The identity of the interviewee is fuzzy in my mind and so is the exact wording. Could you look into this quote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest expression found by QI appears in 1977 from the typewriter of the SF great Theodore Sturgeon who credits the remark to another SF luminary Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451 and the Martian Chronicles. In 1978 the idea is attributed to another famed SF writer, Frank Herbert, the author of Dune.

These initial citations indicate that the original statement occurred still earlier and QI is unable to determine if Bradbury or Herbert first voiced the motto. The statement has several variations. Sometimes the goal of preventing the future is considered to be the task of science fiction as a genre, and sometimes the goal is the task of an individual author.

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