The year 2010 was supposed to be the future. Now it has become the present.

Be it the grimy cityscapes of the 1982 film Blade Runner or the shiny Utopia of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002)—both based, coincidentally, on the work of author Philip K. Dick—we were supposed to be well on our way into living in a science fiction movie.

Time warp: (clockwise from top right) The future as imagined by Children of Men. Universal Pictures; Knight Rider. Universal TV / The Kobal Collection; 2001: A Space Odyssey. MGM / The Kobal Collection

Space would no longer be the final frontier. Earth no longer our last refuge.

We were supposed to be debating the rights of androids in human society, and bringing rogue computers to trial.

We’re not there, obviously.

Writer Arthur C. Clarke, in an essay on the hazards of predicting the future, wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic". Like any wish for magic in the real world, the Utopias of science fiction past were mostly misguided, naive visions of a future world.

Dystopia: A still from 2012. Extreme climate change figures prominently in modern science fiction.

The aesthetic of the Utopia itself has diminished in science fiction in the last decade, replaced instead by a grim vision that sees the explosion of technology, yes, but also the amplification of existing rifts in society. Last year’s District 9, for example, set in the Johannesburg of 2010, simultaneously dealt with both aliens and apartheid.

So, where were we supposed to be? We look back at the three kinds of 2010 that science fiction had predicted for us:


Wired till our brains fried

Tom Clancy’s Net Force: Set in 2010, it tracks the adventures of a special branch of the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation that deals with cybercrime.

Arthur C. Clarke’s : 2010 The sequel to the legendary 2001: A Space Odyssey, it follows a group of astronauts sent on a mission to Jupiter to explain what happened in the previous film.

How a day would pass

You would wake up to the sound of your intelligent, self-aware house computer reminding you of your daily appointments. You would take an instantaneous transporter to work, or just plug in to a fully sensory virtual world and fly there. You would have a midday appointment on the moon, followed by lunch in orbit, where your meal of choice would be assembled by eco-friendly nano dispensers. The news would be full of diplomatic negotiations with extraterrestrial civilizations on the fringes of the galaxy.

Are we there yet?

Short answer: No. Long answer: Not for a long time. The looming spectre of climate change has thankfully put a stop to thoughts of reckless jaunts across the solar system, and the future is more likely to involve travel in virtual worlds (something present-day video games dabble in) than travel across space.

In March, the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched the Kepler Mission, a three-and-a-half-year project to discover earth-like planets beyond the solar system. It’s the first serious attempt to look for planets beyond our immediate neighbourhood. It’s a tiny sliver of the galaxy that the Kepler Mission is focused on (like sifting through a handful of sand on a beach)—but who knows, we might just get lucky.


Death by dystopia

Banlieue 13 (2004): A French action film set in an Orwellian 2010, where inner cities are divided into brutally repressive ghettos called “districts".

Absolon (2003): A post-apocalyptic film where large corporations have a helpless population under their thumb.

Children of Men (2006): Set in 2027, it charts the aftermath of a mysterious infertility that spread through the human race, where no children have been born since 2009-10.

How a day would pass

Grim, with little or no hope. Communities would be dealing with the aftermath of war, or nuclear fallout, or extreme climate change. Government control over societies would be minimal, and roving bands of bandits would be common. Technology would be minimal, practical and mostly weapons.

Are we there yet?

Dystopias are not so much futures as “what ifs". The effects of climate change may not manifest as extremely as The Day After Tomorrow (2004) suggests, but there’s enough photographic evidence to suggest that the truth may not be too far away.


Scarier than imagined

Knight Rider 2010 (1994): A television film loosely based on the Knight Rider TV serial, in which a former police detective becomes a modern “knight", fighting crime. His loyal steed? A talking car called KITT.

How a day would pass

The scariest of all possible futures, Knight Rider 2010 imagines a world where the character originally played by David Hasselhoff is the idealized hero, modified Ford Mustangs are the dominant car aesthetic and 1980s pop is the soundtrack of choice.

Are we there yet?

While we can never discount the possibility of such a dystopia, we have thankfully moved away from the above three main tenets of this vision.