Will humanity survive the 2020s

What Science Fiction and Pop Culture Predicted for the 2020s

The year 2020 sounds pretty much like the future because it has been the epitome of the future for a very long time. Numerous science fiction stories are set in the decade that has just begun. But what do these stories actually say about the ten years that lie ahead of us?

From Michael Förtsch

We live in the future. At least from the perspective of many science fiction stories, we are in a time when futuristic technologies are taking place and unbelievable social and exciting cultural upheavals are taking their course. After all, when should aliens land on earth, humans set off into space and robots fight for their rights, if not in the years beyond the mystical millennium? A simple but impressive logic. Many of the bold prophecies in particular focus on the 2020s, which have now actually dawned.

For numerous science fiction authors, film and comic book makers in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the decade that has just started was the ideal projection surface. It was far enough away to make many changes, large and small, seem realistic from the present. But it was also close enough to the familiar present to be somehow familiar and tangible. In addition, the 2020s were a time that the readers of the stories, the viewers of the films and even some science fiction creators could possibly still experience for themselves.

For many writers and filmmakers, it was probably not about predicting the future. Above all, they wanted to tell a good and clever story that was set in the future. Gladly also simply because the future is one such a great setting and it allows a lot of freedom in terms of the scenery, the characters and the course of the story. In the future, what is otherwise impossible is possible. But that does not change the fact that for such future stories, current developments, problems, dangers, hopes and technologies are almost always thought ahead and updated.

Sometimes the results of these speculations are very close to our reality today. Sometimes they are downright terrifyingly accurate. Other times they have nothing in common with our reality. But: They are interesting in one case as well as the other.

Mission to Mars

Twenty years ago in Hollywood it obviously seemed very likely that the first manned mission to Mars would take place in 2020. Because this is what is all about right at the beginning of Mission to Mars by director Brian De Palma. The astronauts land in the Cydonia region of the red planet, where the infamous Mars face is located. When they examine the mountain, they discover that it is made of metal and are then hit by a mysterious cyclone. So the first mission to Mars will be a catastrophe. A rescue mission is dispatched. Her job is to find out what happened and find survivors.

In reality, we are still a few years away from a real manned Mars mission. Even Elon Musk's ambitious plan provides for a first manned flight in 2024 at the earliest. NASA, on the other hand, believes in a manned Mars mission in the 2030s. In the Mars film, which also opened in 2000 Red Planet a manned mission will not arrive on Mars until 2056 - after automated drones were supposed to create a breathable atmosphere on the red planet using algae. Either Mission to Mars as well as Red Planet Incidentally, they were cinema flops and made the subject of Mars uninteresting for Hollywood for years.

Islands in the network

In 1988 Bruce published Sterling Islands in the network - in the original: Islands of the Net -, whose history spans the years 2023 to 2025 and several countries. The focus is on Loretta, who works as a PR expert for a powerful corporate conglomerate called Rizome. After a banker is murdered by Rizome during a trial at a resort, she is asked to prove that the company has nothing to do with it. Rizome controls, like all major ones Multinationals, part of the so-called Net - a completely commercialized variant of the Internet. Freedom only exists in data oases like Singapore and Grenada, where documents and software are traded - as is the case today in the mythical Darknet.

The net is the backbone of all sorts of futuristic technologies that companies manufacture: smart watches and connected running shoes that track the physical activity of those who wear them. Today all of that is called wearables. So the novel was right here. However, the corporations in the book don't just make money with products. They are also involved in crises and wars fought with remote controlled robotic airplanes that use their technologies. The conflicts are not (or at least not only) about lands and ideologies, but also about them Development of new markets. This is exactly what will happen in the course of Islands in the network publicly through Wikileaks-like leaks that spread on the net.

Terminator / Terminator 2: day of reckoning

Sure, really a lot from the 2020s is in the Terminator- James Cameron films not to be seen. Because there has been a violent war between the last people and the machines for around 30 years. In the first film, the T-800 robot from 2029 is sent to 1984 to kill the young John Connor, who at some point becomes the leader of the rebellion against the machines controlled by the artificial intelligence Skynet. In day of reckoning In the same year, a T-800 robot reprogrammed by the rebels is sent to protect Connor - and another Skynet robot to kill him.

We will probably not have to fight a war with the machines in the coming years. Because when you write the Terminator-Writing scripts, Cameron was a little too optimistic (or pessimistic) about the development of Artificial Intelligence. Artificial General Intelligence like Skynet is not yet in sight. Nevertheless, some tech giants like Elon Musk have been warning for years that the unregulated development of artificial intelligence could become a problem. And even if there won't be a war against robots: Again and again there are violent attacks by people on robots that are already on our streets.

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Ghost in the Shell

It's like the 90s manga and anime epic Ghost in the Shell cybernetic implants will be commonplace in 2029. People will have their arms, legs and eyes replaced by technological replicas. But first and foremost, they'll put their brains in a shell, a metal capsule that gives mind control of all the augmentations and access to databases and the Internet. But even among all the armed people, the police agent Major Motoko Kusanagi is a specialty: Her whole body is artificial - only her brain is still biological. It is all the more threatening than at the beginning of the Ghost-in-the-Shell-Saga a hacker begins to penetrate the brains of armed people and thus control them.

All the cybernetics in Ghost in the Shell still looks futuristic today. But actually it is not that far removed from what is already feasible. At the beginning of this year, the start-up BrainCo presented an arm prosthesis that can be controlled with the power of thought. Companies such as Bionit Labs and Adam’s Hand are working on high-tech prostheses that should be as flexible as the biological originals. And in a few years, synthetic skin could enable prosthetic wearers to feel touch. Log into the internet with your brain? That is still a long way off - but, according to companies like Neuralink and Kernel, it's not a crazy thing. Both companies are working on implants that will connect the computer and the brain. But whether through this, as in Ghost in the Shell, a spiritual hybrid could emerge from humans and AI? Remains to be seen!


With Manhunt - in the original: Running man - Horror icon Stephen King tried to imagine the future of 2025 in 1982. Still shaped by the oil and savings bank crises, he devised an America characterized by extreme poverty and huge slums. Out of necessity, the US government teamed up with the major television broadcasters and released the country to a total market economy. The only chance for social advancement are inhuman game shows - in which, not least, people take part who cannot afford life-saving operations and have nothing to lose anyway. But Benjamin Stuart Richards is also applying. He needs money for his seriously ill daughter's medication.

Richards is up for the show Running man accepted. Here hunters are hounded on him. He flees across the country, has to survive and prove this with video recordings that he sends to the transmitter. For every hour he survives, he gets $ 100. The Stephen King novel was filmed in 1987 with Arnold Schwarzenegger - but the plot was changed and moved to 2017. In fact, the vision of such shows - also inspired by the film and the novel - became reality much earlier in a less deadly form. In 2000 it became the Internet show RealityRun held, in which participants should be chased through Germany for 24 days. However, the show ended prematurely - and with a winner that was determined well in advance. The very similar US show started in 2016 The runnerwhich was discontinued after the first season.

Escape from Absolom

In 2022 the world will sink into crime. The penal system is therefore completely privatized. Prisons are run by huge corporations that have almost a free hand in the custody of inmates. Ex-soldier J. T. Robbins is jailed for the murder of a general and relocated from a normal prison to Absolom because of his unruly behavior - an island isolated from the outside world, on which the prisoners have to fight for their own survival. A satellite system ensures that nobody can escape. Still, Robbins wants to try.

What was still a dystopian vision in the 1994 film is now largely a reality in several countries. In the USA in particular, there are now dozens of prisons in several states under private management by companies such as CoreCivic and the GEO Group. Prisons are also run by private companies in New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, Chile and South Africa. There are always controversies and scandals. The media in the US exposed the abuse of inmates, the hiring of poorly trained staff, corruption, attempts at bribery and the lack of supervision of private companies by government agencies on several occasions. A prison island that is only monitored by satellites does not yet exist. However, with Palmasola in Bolivia there is a surreal prison city.

Do androids dream of electric sheep?

As Philip K. Dick Do androids dream of electric sheep? wrote, the story was set in 1992. However, it was later set for the year 2021 and with Blade runner Adapted for the big screen by Ridley Scott, who in turn puts it in 2019. The plot and characters of the novel and the film differ in many respects - sometimes even dramatically. But the world is mostly the same: The earth and the environment are largely destroyed, people are migrating to colonies in space and bounty hunters hunt for biomechanical androids that can hardly be distinguished from humans in their appearance and behavior - and only through an emotion test can be exposed with an obscure machine.

The earth has not yet been destroyed. And we are still a long way from creating humanoid biorobots. But not from the development of biological robotic organisms. Scientists are making great strides in 3D printing synthetic skin, bones, and organs. It was only earlier this year that researchers at the University of Vermont announced that they had created real “living robots”. By connecting living frog cells under the microscope. The small biorobots could one day be used to transport active substances through the human body, for example.


Akira is considered one of the most important manga series and the animated film adaptation based on it is one of the most formative anime productions. Both date from the 1980s and are set far in the future. Not in 2020 (yes, we're making an exception here), but almost. Because Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo, Japan, which is currently preparing for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in 2019. The mega-metropolis was built on the ruins of Tokyo, which was destroyed by a nuclear explosion in 1988 - which marked the beginning of World War III. In Akira So the world is still battered by the battles. The governments are overwhelmed. In the manga there is a reference to the fact that Japan failed to contain a dangerous virus.

Above all, however, the police, the military, street gangs and protesters are grinding each other up in brutal battles that are fought on the streets. In the middle are the two boys Kaneda and Tetsuo, who belong to a motorcycle gang. The latter discovers that he has psychic abilities, wants to take revenge on the world and gets caught in the crosshairs of a secret military project. So some pictures out Akira bring to mind recordings of the protests in Hong Kong - in which demonstrators armed with street signs and gas masks opposed the Hong Kong police.