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Kahn, Herman

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1922-1983) American mathematician, political scientist and high-profile practitioner of Futures Studies. He worked 1947-1959 with the RAND (Research and Development) Corporation, and was subsequently director of the Hudson Institute, a body devoted to forecasting, and producing political, economic and military scenarios of the future. In his day Kahn was one of the most influential and best-known workers in this area, though many argued that the kind of analysis for which he stood was cold-blooded and too narrowly based. During the Cold War era, his willingness to contemplate a winnable nuclear World War Three in On Thermonuclear War (1960) and Thinking about the Unthinkable (1962) troubled those who feared such a war could end human civilization and should remain unthinkable. Thus the composite title character of Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963) is in part a caricature of Khan, though the latter emphatically did not advocate the kind of doomsday Weapon featured in the film. The nuclear escalation ladder described in On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios (1965) – variously perceived as a useful or a callously brutal reduction of Holocaust to a sequence of table-headings or bullet points – is referenced in several sf works including James Blish's The Day After Judgment (August 1970 Galaxy; exp 1971), and made the object of Satire in George MacBeth's "Crab Apple Crisis" (October 1966 New Worlds). In terms of accuracy there has not been a great deal to choose between the scattershot Predictions of sf and of such futurological works as Kahn's The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years (1967) with Anthony J Wiener (1930-2012) and The Next 200 Years: A Scenario for America and the World (1976) with William Brown and Leon Martel, with their intriguing mixture of hits and misses. Kahn's faith that Technology can ultimately fix all environmental and resources problems remains influential to this day. [PN/DRL]

see also: Leisure.

Herman Kahn

born Bayonne, New Jersey: 15 February 1922

died Chappaqua, New York: 7 July 1983

works (selected)

works as editor


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