The premise behind the novel is that all of humanity is given a 2-minute look ahead into the future. There was a similar premise in the Nicholas Cage movie Next, where he supposedly could only look 2 minutes into the future except where a certain woman was concerned.
Brief glimpses ahead could have profound impacts on our lives and choices, assuming the glimpses are not fixed in stone. For example, when people think of using prescient abilities to gamble, they think of card tables. You would actually attract less attention and get away with more money if you just casually walked around among the slot machines. Seeing which machine would pay you any sort of return within the next two minutes would help you rack up your winnings quickly. You would always know when to play the maximum bet.
So instead of parking yourself in one casino you visit a different casino every day, strolling through its slot machines. You walk in with 20 dollars and you walk out with $4000 (moderation is important). If you “gamble” 5 days a week you earn $20,000 a week ($1 million a year). Almost tax-free, because when you deposit that kind of money in the bank it’s reported to the Federal government. So then what do you do? Buy savings bonds at the Post Office?
If you could see 2 minutes into the future you would always know when to run across the street, whether you could go screaming around your neighborhood naked, whether you could shoplift that donut from the open case and get away with it (well, maybe not — 20 minutes into the future someone might look at a security tape and see the license plate on your car).
Which leads us to conclude that the 2 minutes’ look-ahead advantage also comes with a disadvantage: overconfidence. You might become too sure of yourself, too ready to rely on your ability without allowing for the fact that something significant might happen 1 second past the 2 minute mark. Someone with forensics knowledge might come along a week later and figure out what you’re up to. Suddenly all the casinos have posted your picture in the security offices: do not allow this guy to play the slots. There goes your $1 million a year income.
Lester del Rey (or maybe it was Isaac Asimov — I forget which) wrote a story in the 1940s or 1950s about a man who could see 30 seconds into the future. He didn’t just see 1 pathway, he saw multiple pathways. He knew when and how to seduce women, how to escape from a government dragnet, where the right exit was, etc. His ability took much of the mystery away from seeing the future, because he didn’t see one future he saw ALL futures (or as many as his mind could handle).
What if you’re the antagonist of the guy who can see multiple futures? Either you’re the bad guy (probably a criminal mastermind) or you’re the hero (chasing a criminal mastermind). In that situation you would have to plan far, far ahead and eliminate all the possibilities but at the same time hide them, obscure them, disguise them. The game would constantly be afoot. You would have to plan at least 30 minutes ahead of your opponents’ ability to see into the future, just to be sure he could not get away before you seal off your trap.
If you’re the bad guy and the good guy has the ability to see into the future, you have to take him out or he’ll catch you eventually. If you’re the good guy and the bad guy has the ability to see into the future, you have to catch him before he turns society upside down.
And if you both have the ability to see the future — what does that mean? If you see different futures, do they resolve each other, cancel each other, or do you slip into different realities?
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