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The Future Engine: How Science Fiction Catalyzes Technology and Transforms Society Alex Lightman Executive Director, Humanity Plus Chairman, H+ Summit,

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Presentation on theme: "The Future Engine: How Science Fiction Catalyzes Technology and Transforms Society Alex Lightman Executive Director, Humanity Plus Chairman, H+ Summit,"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Future Engine: How Science Fiction Catalyzes Technology and Transforms Society Alex Lightman Executive Director, Humanity Plus Chairman, H+ Summit, Dec. 5/6, here!

2 What Use is Science Fiction? Starting points "Imagination is more important than knowledge." - Albert Einstein Science fiction, which started out on the edges of literature and pulp fiction, has become more than mainstream; it is now an essential way of interpreting the world. –The New York Times We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. –George Orwell / Nineteen Eighty Four (1948) MIT uses SF to get grants Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors protected by armor and endowed with superhuman capabilities, such as the ability to leap over 20-foot walls said Professor Ned Thomas, ISN director announcing the award. r/2002/isn.html, accessed April 1, 2002, Army selects MIT for $50 million institute to use nanomaterials to clothe, equip soldiers r/2002/isn.html

3 Science Fiction as Natural Resource Jules Verne more than a century ago envisioned a submarine run on electric batteries and a rocket to the moon launched from Cape Canaveral, directly inspiring what led to the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, and to the Apollo space program. H. G. Wells directly inspired the battle tank, air forces, the atomic bomb, and future studies. To you literature is an end, to me, literature, like architecture, is a means, it has a use.– H.G. Wells (conversing with Henry James)

4 The Medium that Transmutes the Future SF is the medium in which our miserable certainty that tomorrow will be different from today in ways we cant predict, can be transmuted to a sense of excitement and anticipation, occasionally evolving into awe. Poised between intransigent skepticism and uncritical credulity, it is par excellence the literature of the open mind -- John Brunner

5 SF as Inspiration for 21 st Century Economy Arthur C. Clarke Geosynchronous satellites Satellite television Porn channels Impact of watching porn from satellite television on reduced productivity Water bed. Star Trek Inspired Martin Cooper at Motorola to make, in 1973, the first private hand held mobile phone, called the Star Trek, then the Star Track, then the StarTac, DynaTac (Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage) in ($8,000 in current $) PADD from Star Trek also inspired Palm Pilot and Newton, leading to the iPhone today.

6 Science Fiction is Misunderstood An awkward way of saying that something isnt actual, real, authentic or true. Its science, not science fiction. Misnomer, from Hugo Gernsback. Science fiction authors used to be world- famous, and consult with heads of state. H.G. Wells screwed this up by picking fights with both Henry James and J.P. Morgan, picking fights with literature and business.

7 SF: Formerly all a priori Scientists talk about a priori knowledge – knowledge that comes before experiment and experience (for example, Jules Verne on what the moons surface is like)- and a posteriori knowledge – knowledge that comes after repeated experiments or experience (astronaut Neil Armstrong on what the moons surface is like). Science fiction used to be nearly 100 percent a priori, making wild guesses about hundreds of things, many of them laughably wrong but some of them still, amazingly, on target.

8 SF: Supercharged with a posteriori In 2009, we have the benefit of tens of millions of man-years and trillions of dollars worth of scientific and industrial research to draw upon. So many serious scientists have taken to writing SF themselves, or to collaborating or consulting on manuscripts to maintain accuracy in scientific details, that todays science fiction is thoroughly penetrated by a hard-won a posteriori knowledge.

9 Most Definitions of SF are Useless Science fiction is what we point to when we say it – Damon Knight Science fiction is a genre of fiction.– Wikipediagenrefiction You don't know what it is, but you know it when you see it – Mark C. Glassey Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible. – Rod Serling Less useless but not memorable: Realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method – Robert Heinleinthe scientific method

10 My Definition of Science Fiction Visions of technology that people will pay for. `I respond to three questions,' stated the augur. `For the twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for 10 I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue. Prophet in The Dying Earth, by Jack Vance, who makes the point that we get what we pay for.

11 My Definition of Science Fiction Visions of technology that people will pay for. Every novum (new cool thing) creates a goal for a new tribe (transparent aluminum in Star Trek IV) SF has a big advantage in that its many fans, increasingly rich as the baby boomers all move into and beyond their 40s, try – consciously or unconsciously - to make the SF ideas of youth come into being. SF is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, or what I call blueprint prophecy because it not only says what may happen, but also promises: If you build it, they will come. And pay you. And think you are cool for making dreams come true.

12 Science Fiction is About Stories Raised $12 million for two ventures. Thats a great story. Sand Hill Road = SF stories! SF stories are ideas worth spreading fanatically. Real life video karaoke (/ - Slant). Billionaire advisor friend of mine: Powerful people are always being told things they dont want to hear, in ways they dont want to hear it. I tell them things in a way that they like to hear it, whether they like the things or not.

13 More SF = Higher GDP The cultural equivalent of The Geographic Mosaic of Coevolution (multiple species evolving simultaneously along with environment) Most cultures are nostalgic for the past. US, UK, Japan, China, Korea, Singapore are nostalgic for the future. Need high SF output to have high patent, product, productivity output. Codevelopment with high IQ: problem solving.

14 SF Products, Services, Media Syfy Channel, Sci Fi Science – networks, shows Nearly all of the top 50 grossing movies 12 million players of World of Warcraft Light sabers, costumes, merchandise Robot Cambrian Explosion – Aibo, Roomba, Droid phones – license from Lucas Space Tourism – Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth paid $20 million

15 SF is a Mental Moores Law: Doubling Packed Meaning Every 18 Months? What decision do we make more than any other? Reading protocols: unpacking (woke from cyrosleep and saw the red lights behind the ship) SF is like a Slinky (250 million sold). 63 feet of wire is compacted into 3 inches. SF words can turn 63 feet of text into 3 inches, allowing for massive efficiencies Slinky, once put on stairs or a flat surface with a 1:4 gentle slope, will walk down by redeploying its kinetic energy. Science fictions packed phrases can also walk a story forward because they imply so much, and, like the Slinky, some packed meanings dont change much even over 50 years. Trantor = Coruscant.

16 SF Preparation Leads to Power Prose The packed meanings of SF words and phrases are so powerful that they are to ordinary words as pure Uranium- 238, at 1,189 pounds per cubic foot, is to 62.4 pounds per cubic foot for water. SF words can explode from the page into the minds of millions or onto the screen decades later and still retain all the coiled strength under tension to propel the ideas across time and space and complexity. The cost, however, is to understand what the 63 feet of text behind each key phrase are, and that takes years of reading with appreciation and close attention to decode and unpack the phrases instantly and effortlessly. Easier for some (not this audience) to say, Oh, thats science fiction! and save oneself the effort..and drop out of the real world that is evolving at an accelerating pace.

17 The Nature of Technology by Brian Arthur Technologies are: 1.based on interactions with natural phenomena 2.composed into modular systems of components 3.that grow into domains with their own conceptual languages. 4.Because the systems are modular, they can leverage the combinatorial explosion 5.once a certain technology reaches a critical mass of components and interfaces it can evolve rapidly 6.entering new domains and exposing new natural phenomena to interact with (from a reader comment on Amazon.com)

18 The Nature of Technology by Brian Arthur "Technology: the entire collection of devices and engineering practices available to a culture. The essence of technology, Arthur suggests, is a phenomenon or set of phenomena captured and put to use, a programming of one or more of "truisms of nature" to our purposes. The history of technology, he proposes, is one of capturing finer and finer phenomena, enabled by earlier technology. As he sees it, technology provides a "vocabulary" of elements that can be put together in endlessly new ways for novel purposes. Technology is "autopoietic," or self-creating, Arthur believes. It creates new opportunity niches and new problems, which call forth still more new technology. The economy is in a state of perpetual novelty, unsatisfied, roiling constantly. (from Jay C. Smith, Amazon.com review)

19 The Quiet National SF Learning Process Unconscious Incompetence – dont know what to do and dont know that you dont know. Conscious Incompetence – You dont know what to do, but now you know that you dont know – usually ask for help. Conscious Competence – Youve learned: you know what to do, and are proud that you know it. You think about it as you do it with pride. Unconscious Competence – You know what to do and how to do it, but you do it automatically or as a routine. Hundreds of millions of people have gone through a long equivalent of apprenticeship and are at the stage of unconscious competence with respect to SF.

20 David Hartwell: Age of Wonder Childrens culture in the contemporary U.S. is a supersaturated SF environment. By the time a kid can read comic books and attend a movie unaccompanied by an adult, his mind is a fertile environment for the harder stuff... The science fiction habit is established early. In some cases... a bright kid focuses his excitement on the science part and goes on to construct winning exhibits in school science fairs... and... gains as a career corporate technologist. David Hartwell, excerpt from Age of Wonder in Vision of Wonders, pg. 82, Tor Books, New York, 1996.

21 Archetype: Galactus, the Physical, Metamorphosed Embodiment of a Cosmos Jack Kirby My inspirations were the fact that I had to make sales. And I had to come up with characters that were no longer stereotypes. In other words I couldn't depend on gangsters anymore, I had to get something new.... I went to the Bible. And I came up with Galactus. And there I was in front of this tremendous figure, who I knew very well, because I always felt him, and I certainly couldn't treat him the same way that I would any ordinary mortal... and of course the Silver Surfer is the fallen angel....[T]hey were figures that have never been used before in comics. They were above mythic figures, and of course, they were the first gods.

22 Galactus is A Vision of Technology as God Galactus wields the Power Cosmic and can employ it to produce nearly any effect he desires, including the molecular restructuring and transmutation of matter, the teleportation of objects even an entire galaxy across space or time, size- alteration, the projection of energy with indeterminable destructive force, the erection of nearly impenetrable force fields, the creation of interdimensional and intra-dimensional portals, telepathy, telekinesis, and a form of cosmic awareness.Power Cosmictransmutationteleportationspacetimeforce fieldsinterdimensional portalstelepathy telekinesiscosmic awareness Galactus has even shown the abilities to create sentient life, simultaneously reconstitute himself and others from complete physical destruction, resurrect the dead, manipulate mortal souls as well as memories and emotions, and restore dead planets along with their population in every detail. Galactus destroyed planets, for power and Celestial control.

23 Thanos: Technology as Quest, Collection, Combination, and Combat Infinity Gems, collected one at a time via combat with the Elders of our Universe. Time – go back and forth to any time Space – teleport to any place Mind – understand anything Reality – change the laws of physics Soul – control any being Power – move heaven and earth, and go toe to toe with Gods.

24 Final Thought I don't want to sound prophetic, but we are about to become Gods. - The Outer Limits (The Man with the Power)


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