Science Fiction, Help Or Hindrance?

[Annalee Newitz] from io9 has written a piece about how science fiction can impact the public’s perception of scientific research. She’s covered stories ranging from Frankenstein, for showing the negatives of humans “playing god”, to The Diamond Age, for showing an inspiring use of nanotechnology.

We wonder what direct impact science fiction has had on research. Depictions of a 3D metaverse have always been compelling, but is pouring effort into half measures like Second Life a waste of time compared to serious computer interaction research?

We discussed this for a little while and concluded that whether inspiring or hindering, the very act of critically thinking about technology was beneficial. What books have inspired you in the past? Was it because they showed a better world or were they a stern warning?

8 thoughts on “Science Fiction, Help Or Hindrance?

  1. Inspirational for sure were the handful of Arthur C. Clarke books I read in middle school. The Rama series, the 2001 series. It was never so much the story as the whole that did it, but just the possibilities that were presented. Those really stemmed a lot of extra thought. The biggest impact for a stern warning was 1984, especially in this age of all the data we have about us on various servers, and knowing that it isn’t too far fetched for the internet to become a locked down ‘big brother is watching you’ type deal. With all the trust we give to Google with our data, it’s just astounding how a few behind the scene changes could really put us into that state of constant surveillance and behavioral corrections for those not laying in the bell curve of normal behavior.

  2. I think that for the most part, Sci-Fi as we know it these days is more of a “preview” of what’s to come. Look at your average clamshell cell phone then look at an old episode of the original star trek. The “communicator” was an obvious inspiration.

    I think that they have a lot of these technologies under wraps already the corporations and government only spoon feed us what they feel we can handle soas not to cause hysteria by people who can’t wrap their mind around the ideas(fundies).

    prime example, nikolai tesla, invented many of the acoutrements of life we enjoy today yet the inventions were accomplished in the late 1800’s, and shelved due to no way of economically making them happen.

    i agree with the argument on critical thinking as it opens the mind to imagination and spurs people to think in such a way that they figure out how to make those things of imagination come true.

  3. Science fiction has always been the muse of hard science; scientists wrote it, scientists (and proto-scientists) read it, and there was a cross-pollination of ideas that sprang from this synergy. However as SF has become more mainstream it has lost some of that and much of what is written for the screen tends to pander to a very different audience.

    I’m not sure this is a good thing, as it has tended to give the public a distorted view on technology and how it comes to market. Expectations now run much higher than they should in several areas,(see comment above) and is impacting public opinion about science and technology in negative ways.

  4. I feel the vast majority of science fiction serves as a positive inspiration for both scientists and children who may grow up to become them. However, the author does have a point in some areas, fusion research for example.

    People just hear “fusion reactor” and just say “oh, in the next 50 years…” without giving it a further thought. Unfortunately, some of these people are in power and as a result fusion does not get the research money a future power source should deserve.

  5. So, how is this a hack again? This sounds like it should be on Slashdot, not here.

    “Dear community, how . Discuss it among yourselves and generate us traffic.”

    Having trouble thinking of content there, caleb?

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