Science fiction long has fueled the imaginations of scientists and inspired (or foreshadowed) technological advancement. We have only to look back at the works of Isaac Asimov, or even Kurt Vonnegut, and episodes of “Star Trek” or movies like “Minority Report” for science fiction technologies that are (or nearly are) coming into existence today.
In this podcast episode, author, scientist, and futurist Ramez Naam explains to O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum that science fiction had a direct influence on his current interests in human enhancement and telepathy. Naam grew up reading science fiction (“like a lot of geeks,” he says) and once he started reading scientific journals and papers, he started seeing the connections. Naam says, “I found out that a lot of science fiction ideas were becoming actually possible — that scientists were implanting electrodes in the brains of animals and getting them to move robot arms by thought, to help people who were paralyzed.”
Innovations borne through the imaginations of science fiction artists aren’t always quite so altruistic, of course. Slocum also talks with author Hugh Howey, whose epic WOOL Series explores the aftermath of an apocalypse brought on by technological advancements (no spoilers here, so I won’t explain how or what). In Howey’s estimation, the only way to wipe out all human life on Earth is through some form of technology because, he says, “it won’t rely on transmission the way a virus does; it’s something that could have delayed efficacy to acheive a 100% infection rate.”
Regardless, Howey remains a self-confessed technology optimist and challenges those who fancy themselves pessimists with a philosophical mind game:
“If you gave me a time machine that went to some random place in the past and I couldn’t control whose body I appeared in, I would not get in that machine because the conditions for so many people in the past were worse than the random conditions today. Now, if that machine went into the future and I could end up in any country and any body, there’s a good chance I’d get in that machine.”
Howey argues that if we’re truly honest with ourselves, “even people who romanticize the past” will have to admit that they “really dig air conditioning” and like not dying at age 30 of incurable diseases. “I think people who think the past was better than it was will get honest with themselves,” he says, if they’re faced such a decision.
You can listen to both interviews by playing or downloading the episode in the SoundCloud player at the top of the post.