Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

University of Winnipeg convocation address

by Rob - June 21st, 2014.
Filed under: Awards, futurism, Milestones.

On Thursday, June 12, 2014, the University of Winniepg presented me with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree at its Spring Convocation. I was asked to say a few words to the graduating students in Business, Economics, and Science:

I’ve often said the job of a science-fiction writer is not to predict the future. Rather, it’s to outline possible futures, giving humanity a smorgasbord of tomorrows to choose from.

Still, ten years ago the Canadian office-automation magazine Backbone asked me to make specific predictions about what life a decade down the road would actually be like. And so, in the summer of 2004, when most of you graduating today were about to enter your teenage years, I painted a picture of the year 2014.

And how did I do? Well, my first prediction was this:

Forget the old-fashioned alarm-clock buzzer. Tomorrow’s bedside clock will be a sophisticated brainwave monitor. It’ll keep track of your sleep cycle, gently bringing up the room lights at precisely the right time so that you’ll feel rested, not cardiac arrested, as you awake.
Okay: home EEGs aren’t yet for sale at Future Shop. But we do have smartphone apps that do pretty much the same thing, using their accelerometers to track your tossing and turning. I’ll score that as a partial win.

My next prediction was this:

You’ll have an electronic newspaper, with stories geared to your particular interests culled from sources worldwide, with foreign-language news automatically translated into English.
We do indeed rely on tailor-made personal newsfeeds, and Google Translate does a remarkable job. So, I’ll count that as a win, too.

I also wrote:

Perhaps half of all white-collar workers will telecommute in 2014.
Ah, well — there goes my winning streak. As a guy who works at home himself, I clearly overestimated how quickly others would adopt that lifestyle — but it is coming, no doubt, and those of you who stay here in Winnipeg will come to appreciate it … particularly in winter.

My next prediction:

Your electric car will drive itself. No more traffic accidents; no more gridlock.
Google has indeed built prototypes of self-driving cars; I had them in common use a bit too quickly, but when they do come, well, Confusion Corner here in Winnipeg might have to change its name — robocars won’t be baffled by it at all.

Let’s test me again. Back in 2004, I wrote:

Throughout the day, your wristband — a combination cell phone, personal digital assistant, camera, and ebook display, all controlled by spoken commands — will be your lifeline.
Well, that technology is here now, in our smartphones — and some of us are indeed strapping them on to our wrists, now that the Pebble and other smart watches are on the market. Give me points for that one, too.

I also predicted Google Glass — actually, an even better version than what’s come out so far. Here’s what I wrote:

We’ll have contact lenses that overlay textual information on your vision. You’ll never be in the embarrassing situation of not remembering the name of an acquaintance you happen to run into; facial-recognition technology will identify the person, and provide you with all pertinent details instantaneously.
Not mainstream here in June of 2014 — but definitely coming down the pike; give me half-points.

And I also got right the transition away from broadcast media. A decade ago, I wrote:

You’ll have your pick of any TV show or movie ever made, available instantly on your wall-screen TV.
All in all, my crystal ball turned out to be not too cloudy. So let me venture some guesses about what things will be like a decade from now, in what will doubtless be the very hot summer of the year 2024.

Ten years hence, most of you will be in your thirties, meaning your lives will be just a quarter — or even less! — over. You will be well into the first of likely several careers you will succeed at in your long, healthy, prosperous lives.

Those of you graduating with business degrees will be tackling a whole new definition of economics — the field once known as “the dismal science” because it was the science of scarcity. But in an information economy, in an age of ubiquitous 3D printing and with almost boundless alternative sources of energy, economics will become the science of abundance, the art of nonzero-sum games, of win-win scenarios, of cooperation and mutual success. If corporations are people too, then you — their future leaders — will make them people with hearts and compassion, altruistic rather than merely capitalistic — in other words, people just like yourselves.

And those of you graduating with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in science — you face a tough challenge: for the first time since the Enlightenment, science literacy has taken a giant step backward. Science deniers not only lurk at the crepuscular fringes, as they always have, but they now win public office, and the masses heed the ramblings of Playboy Playmates and corporate shills instead of the overwhelming consensus of doctors and scientists. You new science graduates will be the bulwark of rational civilization, the front guard in the war on ignorance, the shapers of tomorrow — and the saviors of our world.

Oh, and one final prediction, and this one I’m absolutely sure of: ten years from now, the University of Winnipeg will be hitting up you, me, and everyone else receiving a degree today for alumni donations — and let us all remember then and always to honour this wonderful institution that we shall forevermore call with pride our alma mater.

Onward, all of us, into the future.

Thank you very much.

My Honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) from Laurentian University (awarded 2007) and my Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) from the University of Winnipeg (awarded 2014) on my office wall (click image for much larger version):

Robert J. Sawyer online:

1 Response to University of Winnipeg convocation address

  1. Wonderful! But you forgot flying cars! (Still waiting on the Moller, lol) Advanced public transport and more people reading!

Leave a Reply