Q:As for this week’s IOTBS episode - can I add Stanisław Lem to the list? He predicted many things we all know – like the Internet, e-books and audiobooks, device resembling Kindle (he named it ‘opton’. There’s also ‘lectan’ for audiobooks), USB flash drive (Lem named it ‘trion’), nanotechnology (he wrote about ‘smartdust’ in his novel ‘The Invincible’), military robots like drones and (unfortunately) terrorism – not a science prediction though. Anyway, I loved the video. Great topic!
Q:Most science fiction writers (myself included) would tell you that science fiction isn't about predicting the future. We write about the future to show people how things could be different so that we can affect their impressions of the present. Isaac Asimov didn't write about robots because he really believed that by the 21st century we'd have AI servants; he wrote about robots because they were a social commentary on racism. And in truth, *that* message inspires scientists (myself included).
It’s nice to get an “insider’s” perspective on science fiction inspiring science, that perhaps it’s not the other way around, at least not all the time. Although I still think those ideas must extend a root to some deep, careful knowledge of science in order for the seed to fully blossom and bring the adjacent possible into being.
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Q:So, I just have a comment about your Science Fiction as Science Fact, and I just want to preface it with the fact that I loved the video, etc. When you relate the idea that the early science fiction writers were so accurate at predicting the future was there any thought given to the duration before the prediction becomes accurate? Could the fact that the change in technologies, with more things being plausible be something to look into?
(question is about this week’s video, in case you are confused)
I accept that we certainly have a little bias of time separation when it comes to older science fiction and sci-fi predictions. For instance, when it comes to the works of H.G. Wells, we have had a lot more time to see things come to fruition than say, someone more recent, like William Gibson.
My knee-jerk hypothesis would be that our pace of realizing sci-fi technologies is increasing along with the pace of innovation itself, but I am not sure that’s actually true. Many of the predictions of the early- and mid-20th century sci-fi authors were realized within a couple decades of their writing (like Wells and tanks/airborne warfare, Clarke and geostationary satellites, Asimov with robotic Mars explorers). On the other hand, some took a lot longer (Twain’s internet, Wells’ genetic engineering).
Does a longer time between prediction and realization mean it’s a worse prediction? I don’t know. I don’t know how to fairly judge how long is “long” between sci-fi idea and scientific invention, and I’m not even totally certain it’s a valid question.
I mean, whether it took 20 years or 100 (it was closer to the latter), the fact that H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man devised a technology for invisibility that depended on metamaterials, something that had never even been dreamed of, is amazing on the level of flabbergastification! I mean, check out what Wells wrote about metamaterials, in 1897:
"…it was an idea… to lower the refractive index of a substance, solid or liquid, to that of air — so far as all practical purposes are concerned.”
That’s pretty much exactly how today’s metamaterials work! Sure, today’s cloaking devices don’t evanesce in the visible range of light like Wells’ did, but so what.
Something I didn’t talk about in the video (on purpose) was the extent to which the sci-fi creations act as inspiration for actual scientists. Many people have caught on to that idea in the comments, which is exactly what I hoped they would do. Scientists read and watch science fiction. They are humans who are subject to human influences. But I wonder if there’s a way to ever really know to what extent they were consciously or unconsciously driven by works of fiction.
I guess this whole answer is a long way of saying I’m not really sure. Does the duration between prediction and reality relate to the quality of prediction? How does the whole process even work?
The administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon…. Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun.
Paul Shawcross, chief of the Office of Management and Budget’s Science and Space Branch, responding to a petition encouraging the United States to build a Death Star.
Another reason listed for opposing the Death Star construction?
"Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”
This White House is the best White House.
“In 1960, mathematician, physicist, and all-around genius Freeman Dyson predicted that every civilization in the Universe eventually runs out of energy on its home planet, provided it survives long enough to do so. Dyson argued that this event constitutes a major hurdle in a civilization’s evolution, and that all those who leap over it do so in precisely the same way: they build a massive collector of starlight, a shell of solar panels to surround their home star. Astronomers have taken to calling these theoretical megastructures Dyson Spheres. Dyson’s insight may seem like nothing more than a thought experiment, but if his hypothesis is sound, it has a striking implication: if you want to find advanced alien civilizations, you should look for signs of Dyson Spheres.”
Meet Penn State’s Jason Wright, embarking on a two-year search for the solar energy plants of alien civilizations. Sci-fi meets sci.
Do you think alien civilizations have a special name for them too? Like, instead of “Dyson Sphere”, they call them “Blarglock Sphurgles”, named for famous alien storyteller Glibglack Blarglock?
Would Blarglock’s stories have predicted that there would be a planet somewhere without one, like us?
I’m taking this too far.