6 Times Philip K. Dick Witnessed The Future

By: Sam Fletcher, October 11th, 2023 10:10 am.

As soothsayers in contemporary science-fiction, Orwell and Clarke typically get the nod. But one name often overlooked is Philip K. Dick. With many of his paranoid fantasies now commonplace, it’s high time we revisited him.

From the surveillance state to technology and vice-versa, he saw through time (and we mean this in the literal sense, given all those substances he took).

Either way, his accuracy was uncanny here.

Profiling and the Surveillance State – The Minority Report (1956)

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Written for ‘Fantastic Universe,’ his short story ‘The Minority Report’ would coin the term ‘pre-crime.’ 

In it, a group of mutants wired up to a mainframe provides ‘predictions’ through decoded data. They’re the Precrime Division, of which John Allison is creator and commissioner. Next thing you know, he’s framed for a crime he’s yet to commit, sending him headfirst into a conspiracy.

Many remember it for the 2002 Spielberg film starring Tom Cruise. As an adaptation, it had its merits, exploring the concept in some depth. But it was the novella that first really hit home. Commentary on current technology is easy, but to have Phil’s foresight is impressive.

Shining a light on what we now know to be predictive policing and profiling, it was ahead of its time. The story comments on how such a system’s potential flaws and corruption can (and do) arise.

Facial recognition is now so commonplace on our smartphones we don’t even think about it. But considering this was back in the sixties makes it even more remarkable.

Spray-On Clothing – Galactic Pot Healer (1969)

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This one is pretty literal. It’s spray-on clothing. And it was in the 1969 novel ‘Galactic Pot Healer.’

Here Joe Fernwright, a ‘healer (fixer) of pottery,’ is at a loose end, given the future is plastic. That’s when the godlike alien Gilmmung summons Joe to raise a sunken cathedral.

Oh, and it features spray-on clothing. We have that now. What more can we say?

While it remains unavailable on mass like in the novel, it may not be long before canned clothing hits supermarket shelves.

Corporations and the Internet – Ubik (1969)

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Summarizing this is no easy feat, as it’s one of the author’s most mind-bending (even serial absurdist Michel Gondry had trouble adapting it).

The premise: humanity lives on the moon, and psychic powers are now commonplace.

So much so that corporations hire ‘inertials’ to protect the privacy of the elite. Doing so allows them to prevent telepaths from stealing information. A conspiracy involving corporate espionage ensues involving the technician Joe Chip.

On top of that, only the store-brought Ubik can help reverse the ongoing shifts in reality. Once again, all our fantastic advancements prove to be no match for basic human greed.

So in the layman’s terms: the singularity has arrived, and it’s time to pay up.

Writers such as Orwell and Forster may have predicted the idea of an ‘internet’ long before. But it’s here that Philip K. Dick fully nails down its ubiquity, not to mention privacy questions.

Also, in 1969 the concept of a door demanding payment to open may have seemed absurd. But now, with smart technology micropayments, it seems more a matter of when.

Okay, it’s still pretty far-fetched, but we get where he’s coming from now.

Driverless Cars – We Can Remember it for You Wholesale (1966)

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Many know the 1990 film ‘Total Recall’ with the head-spinning Johnny Cab.

In the book ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,’ Douglas Quail wants to visit Mars. Instead, he’s given memory implants through Rekal Incorporated. Nothing’s ever that simple, though, and he’s soon left questioning reality.

Besides very real experiments into memory manipulation, it also features the driverless car. And, with indicator lights just around the corner, we haven’t long to wait. The kinks in the technology and the moral framework need ironing out, and then it’s time to hit the road (hopefully just the road). 

Okay, so it also may not have been a massively new concept when he got it. Regardless, he still popularized the idea (Blade Runner making them look incredibly cool).

Virtual Reality and Social Media – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

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‘The Empathy Box’ is prescient of social media bringing everyone using it together.

The box helps people feel each other’s thoughts and pain as a collective, and you’re likely wondering how I came to this conclusion. Especially when accounting for all the screaming negativity currently online. But considering the box fosters group conformity, you then have a clearer picture. And, on top of that, using the gadget ensures users lose empathy for the outside world. 

So it’s basically your online social bubbles and echo chambers.

Look, nobody’s knocking social media here. It would be hugely hypocritical of me. Plus, this criticism against tools of mass culture has existed forever. But you can’t deny the similarities in how online spaces operate.

Also, in the novel, this happens through virtual-reality shared experiences. While ours isn’t neural (yet!), VR headsets exist.

Chornobyl – The Book of Predictions (1981)

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Writing a list of predictions in 1980 for ‘The Book of Predictions’ the following year, he stated:

‘By this date [1985], there will be a titanic nuclear accident either in the USSR or in the United States, resulting in a shutting down of all nuclear power plants.’

One year off. The Chornobyl disaster took place in 1986. We’ll give him that.

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Barb Wilt
Barb Wilt
7 months ago

I have not read any of his books yet but it is very eerie that he predicted so much accurately!

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