March 6, 2021

Science fiction: a history of the present with a view to the future | Trends


Hugo Gernsback, one of the parents of science fiction, defined it as "a fascinating romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision." And reason may not be lacking, since no other genre like this is capable of combining the most arid scientific concepts with the deepest passions and hopes of the human being. But is this even possible? What can positronic robots, extraterrestrial invasions or interstellar ships tell us about ourselves? Most.

Far from what is usually thought, not all science fiction aims to evade reality, just as it is not limited to talking about imaginary technology only suitable for engineers nerd. Nor among its purposes is necessarily to predict the future or warn us about it, although sometimes it does. So? Science fiction is, above all, a reflection of the present, of each present: that of HG Wells, that of Isaac Asimov and Leight Brackett, that of Ursula K. Le Guin, that of William Gibson, that of Cixin Liu … It is not only a genre, but it has always been one of the most important spaces of reflection of each era, and in ours it plays, if possible, a more crucial role: only by understanding what we are there is the possibility of seeing what we could become.

We have just entered a new technological paradigm: artificial intelligence, big data, climate change, space exploration … which is reinforced by the figures of visionaries like Elon Musk. Where are we going now? It is no accident that HBR Y The New Yorker They have recently published articles about the possible uses of science fiction as a tool to be able to perform prospective. Why even the French Army has joined the multitude of companies that hire writers to anticipate future scenarios? Is science fiction really useful for making predictions? We only know that we are facing a horizon of events after which we do not know if there is a black hole or a new paradise for humanity. We must be prepared.

James A. Dator, director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, has tried to answer many of the questions we have raised. If we consider Dator's first law "the future cannot be predicted", although it can be predicted. In order to make valid projections, it is essential to be in a mental state (mindset) that allows us to think in a certain way. To get to this mindset Yes, science fiction is really useful, not only through the visions of renowned writers to help us make forecasts, but to allow us to think divergently, but with restrictions.

Dator's second law tells us something very interesting: "any useful idea for the study of possible futures must seem ridiculous." Let's think about how many science fiction ideas seem ridiculous to us today, but they could be useful for forecasting futures. And, above all, let's think about how many, in the past, we found it and today are a reality.

Any useful idea for the study of possible futures should seem ridiculous.

Dator's Second Law

At this point, it becomes very difficult to know what ideas lead to what futures. Did Ray Bradbury predict headphones in Farenheit 451 Or did any subsequent designer get inspired by them to design them twenty-six years later? Thanks to Marshall McLuhan we have a clearer vision of a theory about social change, for which there is a clear relationship between our tools and us, so "we design our tools and then our tools shape us."

An example in the opposite direction is in Frankestein: Mary Shelley decided that her doctor would resurrect the monster using electric shocks. This, probably, was not a casual choice at that time, that of electromagnetism; Galvani stimulated in his experiments the nervous system of frog carcasses in the same way. Science fiction and science feed back both ways and sometimes it is difficult to discern who had the original idea.

Maybe the visions of Gattaca, In Time or Elysium they seem to us as far away as the planets the Endurance visits in Interstellar, or as alien as the language of the heptapods in The arrival (based on the story "The story of your life" by Ted Chiang). But it may also be that Mars is not as far away as when Ray Bradbury wrote Martian Chronicles; that the technological uniqueness of Accelerating, of Charles Stross, we are already stalking; or that we may soon discharge our consciousness in a cortical stack as in Modified Carbon, by Richard Morgan. The future has already arrived, because everything that the human being has created always happened, first, in his imagination.

Luis Gonzalez Lorenzo is Immune Head of Human Science and Gisela Baños Ros is Immune Science Fiction Expert

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