In a previous post I said that science fiction is much more than the admittedly lighthearted, fun, “junk food” sci-fi that has always dominated theaters; and that we as fans, and society, need more of the “meat and potatoes” serious science fiction like 2001, Solaris, Contact, Arrival, Soylent Green, Ex Machina, The Martian, Ad Astra, etc.
This is not an idle notion. The fact is, society has advanced and thrived over the years thanks specifically to concepts and ideas that were created in or inspired by science fiction and its creators; our lives would be unrecognizable without the technology that surrounds us and enriches our lives today.
It was SF that gave us the concept of the robot, for instance; which directly led to applying robots to manufacturing, then to exploration of the rest of the Solar System. We now do more exploration and manipulation of our own planet, using drones.
And no discussion of robots is complete without the discussion of the robots’ “electronic brains” that inspired computers and artificial intelligence. The desire to miniaturize and improve computers influenced the development of quantum physics that guided the invention of integrated circuits. Those fanciful collections of components can now out-think and out-perform humans in many ways, and have made more advanced examination, planning and execution of any task possible.
When Arthur C. Clarke came up with the idea of orbiting satellites to relay radio messages around the world, even he did not imagine the impact on entertainment and personal communications, much less our ability to track and monitor geologic and meteorological data or human activity at the individual level.
Combining those communications breakthroughs with computers, inspired by numerous SF stories, gave us the smartphone, a device capable of connecting with people on the opposite end of the globe and sharing incredible types and amounts of data nigh-instantaneously.
And we can go on, discussing atomic power, photovoltaic (solar) power, lasers, tasers, video, digital data storage, digital entertainment media, diagnostic sensors, GPS, and so much more… all inspired by science fiction stories and later brought to our daily lives. Literally everything around you—unless you are literally living naked in the woods—has been impacted in a positive way by the creations inspired by science fiction.
And most importantly, it’s by the influence of present and future science fiction stories that budding scientists, engineers and planners will investigate, study and create the science and technology that will shape our future. We can hope that we’ll someday see solutions to our climate crisis, ways to clean our air and seas, better methods to reclaim and reuse materials, technology to make our homes and streets safer, and better ways to share important information.
And that’s just the stuff we can easily think of. Just as we know so much of today’s world was barely guessed at by most of us 50 years ago, we can expect the next 50 years could be filled with things that seem impossible today, and concepts that we cannot even imagine now.
We get so much more from science fiction than space battles, killer robots and alien marauders; and it’s that so much more that drives the ideas and inspirations that shape our world. Right now we need a better future so badly that we should be doing everything we can, to make sure there’s plenty of those positive ideas and inspirations out there. And we need to nurture those who can provide those inspirations.
We should be encouraging authors to stretch their imaginations to envision our futures and the tools we’ll use to get there; we should be reading those authors, getting their visions onto the big screen, and making sure the people who will shape our futures will see them. We need as much serious science fiction as we can get, to guide us all forward into a better future.