Fifty years ago, a Russian-born biochemist with mutton-chop sideburns and an intense fear of flying visited the World’s Fair in Queens, New York. Inspired by a General Electric pavilion filled with modern electric gadgets, he typed up an article predicting what the world would be like in 2014. Among his many astonishing prognostications were the elements of electric coffeemakers, microwave ovens, cellphones, Skype, driverless cars and artificial meat.
It should come as no surprise that this prophet was a science fiction writer, a novelist named Isaak Yudovich Ozimov, better known as Isaac Asimov. Ever since Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, science fiction writers have been conjuring up possible futures for us—and for scientists and engineers, who are often sci-fi fans as teenagers—to build.
We now live in a science fiction world, a time beyond 1984 and 2001 when many far-fetched inventions have come true, and the time between imagination and actualization is shrinking every year. No idea is too sci-fi anymore—there are people right now tackling everything from raising extinct animals from the dead to teleportation to tribbles.
In this issue, we peer into the future that is being constructed for us. We’ve chosen a fearless leader for this time-travel trip: Sir Patrick Stewart, a.k.a. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek” and Professor Xavier of the X-Men (“Command Performance”). We follow with stories on a tricorder that would have made “Bones” less grumpy (“Inventing the Real McCoy” ); daily life in a globally warmed world (“Hot Enough for You?”); and our own Smithsonian-Pew poll on Americans attitudes about the future.
We are celebrating this issue with a big event May 16-18, our second annual “Future Is Here” festival (details at Smithsonian.com/future). A starry lineup of speakers will unveil the cutting edge of their fields, including exo-planet seeker Sara Seager (“Signs of Life”), de-extinction expert Stewart Brand, Google moonshot leader Rich DeVaul, George Takei (“Star Trek’s” Sulu), and physicist Brian Greene (“Listening to the Big Bang”). On May 17, Patrick Stewart will host the D.C. premiere of his new film, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
In our own most recent past, our April issue, we published a column by the Secretary of the Smithsonian, G. Wayne Clough, that was a perfect combination of future and past. Dr. Clough, who will be retiring in 2015, wrote eloquently about looking forward to revisiting his rural childhood hometown of Douglas, Georgia.
Dr. Clough has written more than 60 columns for the magazine, covering his own work and the vast reach of the Smithsonian Institution. It’s been a great run and difficult to say goodbye. But there are now so many other sources of information on the SI, including our thriving website, Smithsonian.com, that we’ve decided to discontinue the From the Castle column. I can’t imagine a better one to end on.
Editor in Chief