Today is the birthday of a very special little boy. In 1951, Osamu Tezuka, the "father of manga", created a character known "Mighty Atom" in a Japanese comics magazine. "Mighty Atom", better known in America as Astro Boy, was a robot with the futuristic birthdate of April 7, 2003. Today celebrations are taking place in Japan and at scattered locations in the U.S. (link via Boing Boing). Astro Boy, along with Tezuka’s Kimba, the White Lion, became the basis for the Japanese animation industry, today one of Japan’s major export industries. But April 7 has arrived, and despite the arrival of breakdancing robots, the market for robot superheroes with a heart of gold is, as yet, not fully developed. That’s the danger of putting an expiration date on the future; the University of Illinois computer science department had to have HAL’s birthday party without HAL. As Bruce Sterling has noted, even when science fiction got things largely right, it missed on the particulars. And Sterling’s examples of getting things largely right weren’t so much the product of visionary futurism as a reading of history; Orwell’s 1984 was two parts Stalist Russia and one part BBC bureaucracy, and Heinlein’s theocracy in Revolt in 2300 was Huey Long crossed with Father Divine. But Heinlein’s heroes sound suspiciously like Heinlein characters rather than residents of the 24th century, and Orwell didn’t predict the control devices of today. With a few exceptions — "Deadline", a short story that described the atom bomb, is one famous example — predictions generally fall flat. Perhaps that’s for the best; a writer in 1951 might have been able to guess that the Soviet Union would fall or that we’d have access to battery-powered toothbrushes by April 7, 2003, but would he or she have predicted improvements on dental hygine or loosening of political repression under Kruschev? Could the facts of Braun’s product development cycle or the Velvet Revolution have the same narrative appeal of something that a talented writer just made up? Truth is stranger than fiction, but truth can’t provide a robot boy with seven different powers and a strong sense of justice. Thank you, Osamu Tezuka, and thank you, Dr. Elephun. Happy birthday, Astro Boy! None