Predictive Fiction

One of the outcomes of discussions in the Society for the Social Implications of Technology (SSIT), my classes since 2009 on "Impossible Things", "Technology indistinguishable from Magic" and other interactions over time is the realization that we (professionals, public, policy makers, etc.) need to try to get a handle on where technological change is going, and how to anticipate some of the impact of the various trajectories. A tool for doing this is a fairly constrained form of Science Fiction I call "predictive" fiction. Stories that are build on our current understanding of science/technology and project a modest distance into the future to explore how these things may affect society.

Now, in 2018 this concept is being used in industry as "Fiction Prototyping" .. see the MIT Tech Review article on this or the scholarly paper from Cornell

Publication Concept:

  • "Magazine" format with short stories, but also complementary information such as reviews of relevant games, movies, etc.
  • and occasional followup information on inventions or discoveries that affect the likelihood of given scenarios.
  • Presented in news-stand format as well as online subscriptions to maximize public visibility.
  • Complemented by a discussion web site -- with a commitment from authors to engage in dialog for a few weeks after publication at least, but also to draw in experts in the field (association with IEEE can help here I hope).
  • Targeted distribution to pre-college students to encourage them to enter STEM fields
  • and along with the a preference for casting technology and experts as sources of solving problems as well as considering the impact of technology (i.e. casting technology as the villain to create dramatic tension without solid hard-science rationale for that potential impact would be out of scope for this particular publication)
  • Polls of experts and non-experts to crowd-source perspectives on when (and if) specific technological advances are likely to occur
  • An example is a short story by Vernor Vinge in IEEE Spectrum (also part of a book "Rainbows End") which considers augmented reality.

A few examples along these lines include:

  • the augmentation of human capabilities via implanted devices to transform our physical or even mental capabilities
    • hearing aids that handle a wider range of frequencies, provide greater distance in hearing, play MP3 files or even translate languages
    • visual augmentation to see a wider range of frequencies, greater distance vision, night vision, or
    • heads-up display of texting, web browsing, video -- and ultimately augmented reality (addition of images into your field of view)
  • Chemical augmentation -- concentration pills, memory pills, personality pills, intelligence pills, or just plain "feel good" pills
  • Biological augmentation -- fixing disease, fixing genetic defects, adding genetic enhancements, genetic engineering from pre-conception on, etc.
  • Computer/machine "awakening" into devices which appear to be conscious, intelligent, self-replicating, etc.
    • This could result from specific efforts to emulate the brain, particularly as device complexity increases and brain science matures
    • This could be from focused activity on learning machines and/or genetic algorithms, etc.
    • This could be an emergent result from increasing complexity of machines or networks

Some of background in these areas, from experts who know more than I, can be found at TED.COM ... an index of some of these presentations is provided in the syllabus for my Impossible Things class.

One of these days I hope to find a way to support/encourage/facilitate... publication for authors in this area, as well as visibility for this approach with policy makers, young persons, professionals, etc.