Our Future is A Lot Closer to Science Fiction Than You Might Think
My 8 year old son, who has recently discovered the Jetsons cartoons on YouTube, said recently said to me “I wish I lived in the Jetson’s future.” While we probably aren’t going to be in flying cars that jettison the kids off to school anytime soon, he may find that his adult life is very much like our current science fiction.
A new article published in the Guardian claims that future technologies are a lot closer to science fiction than people think:
We often assume that the technologies we use daily come solely from ingenious innovators working in research labs with a mission to solve problems and invent new products. In fact, several of the most pioneering and novel ideas came from people who had little to do with science and technology, but who had the inspiration and talent to imagine future worlds without the constrains of the present moment.
Several sci-fi films and novels have very accurately predicted and paved the way for many of the pieces of technology we enjoy today. This isn’t a new phenomenon either – the inventor of the first liquid-fuelled rocket, American Robert H. Goddard, was inspired by H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel War of the Worlds (1898). More recent examples include the 3D gesture-based user interface used by Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report (2002), which is found today in most touch screens and the motion sensing capability of Microsoft’s Kinect. Similarly, the tablet computer actually first appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and the communicator– which we’ve come to refer today as the mobile phone – was first used by Captain Kirk in Star Trek (1966)
Does this mean that reality has caught up with science fiction?
In the case of the tech portrayed in several of these sci-fi movies, such as Minority Report and 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was not random predictions. The directors – Stephen Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick – consulted with industrial designers, futurists and advertising specialists, to try to visualise what the future world would look like.
This has been taken further with the recent release of Marvel’s Fantastic Four movie, where the well-known American futurist and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku explains to film fans through a series of videos why there’s more to the science – invisibility, teleportation and wormholes – of Fantastic Four than you may expect.
The value of science fiction has been also recognised in the rise of a new method for designing technology, what Wired magazine calls design fiction. If science fiction stimulates the imagination about extraordinary views of the future, design fiction explores the futures that ordinary people would prefer.
Design fictions – like short sci-fi films, prototypes and graphic novels – are provocative and engage people, encouraging them to envision, explain and raise questions about direction of future technology and society.
Again, a great example to explain this is to look at sci-fi films. The futuristic medical technology products presented in sci-fi, highlight possible real future scenarios. For instance, the DNA-structured society depicted in Gattaca (1997) on one hand foretells the experimentation with biometrics that today’s governments are pursuing; and on the other hand depicts what society could look like if medical technology is taken to extremes.
Design fictions are now being used in sectors ranging from health technology discussions with the public to defence tech forecasting, and even policy making. The UK government has even launched a dedicated lab – the Policy Lab – aimed at using design methods, including design fictions to improve the “pace, quality and deliverability of policy in the civil service”. And, UK Research Councils are funding research in this area too, including the pilot AHRC ProtoPolicy project, part of the AHRC ProtoPublics.
In the world of an ageing population, a team of UK researchers, are working with Age UK Lancashire and the all-party parliamentary design and innovation group to explore how older people want to live post-2021 and what tech could be useful to support independent living.
A number of future scenarios were envisaged that sparked debate on the issues and policies around ageing. These included a euthanasia wearable design fiction – a smart watch device which enables the wearer to end their own life when they choose to. A smart therapist design fiction – a fully automated smart home similar to the one portrayed in the Robot & Frank sci-fi film (2012) and a new type of specialist fully equipped to fix the array smart goods and “program” human behaviour, to further support independent living for older people.
Therefore science fiction, or what the design world refers to as design fiction, isn’t fiction but a technique for thinking ahead, predicting future technologies, potentially influencing policy, but most importantly creating debate by asking what if? In this way, science fiction can be used as a tool to help design future societies and technologies, giving the public a say on it too.
So, as several sci-fi movies have foreshadowed modern day technologies, next time you watch a sci-fi film pay a closer attention as what is portrayed, as science fiction is fast becoming a science fact.
Courtesy of The Guardian