Learning from Science Fiction

Does science fiction inform progress or does progress inform science fiction? Is this a chicken and the egg thing or can we reliably use science fiction as a valid method of exploring our very real and possible future? It was proposed to me once that the difference between science fiction and foresight was that the former was interesting but not rooted in reality whilst the reverse was true for the latter. As a perception this appears to be fairly prevalent however I could not disagree more.

I am a big science fiction fan. Not in a trekkie way, but I read a lot of science fiction. I can reliably inform you that there are some atrocious works of Sci-Fi on the virtual and real shelves. Real garbage morphed into consumable text that puts lie to the first claim that science fiction is interesting. In fact, just ask my wife and you’ll quickly pick up that ‘interesting’ is not necessarily a defining characteristic. And this leads me to the point that interesting is perception based. Thus works of foresight do not have to be boring. In fact I strongly believe that one of the key measures of great futurists is the ability to communicate. Predictions, scenarios and calls for actions don’t have to be a dry summary of facts with an inevitable conclusion of DOOM. They can, heaven forbid, include those classic components of a story – introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Critically a good story revolves around conflict and what is inherent in any work conducted by a futurist? Conflict.

But rooted in reality – how it possible for science fiction to be rooted in reality yet still be fiction? Would that not make it science non-fiction, or just plain science? (I love logic.) Well let’s look at the evidence. Recently we have seen a measurable increase in the development of wearable sensors. These devices involve functions that range from low-power circuits, physiological and proximity sensors, electro-chemistry to wireless networking and preventative medicine. To my mind these strongly resemble the Organic Circuitry concept central to Peter F Hamilton’s Sci-Fi series from a decade ago. Based on reality – I think so.

I think where the original perception of sci-fi comes down is the expectation that suspension of disbelief must occur. My favourite slam from Goodreads of the previous book was “my suspension of disbelief cannot withstand the idea of the year 2380 basically looking *just like* the year 2010”. Talk about missing the point. The future is unpredictable but the probabilities are fairly apparent in the short to medium term.

It should be clear to you that any work in the futures field can learn a lot from science fiction. HG Wells is often cited as one of the fore-fathers of the field for crying out loud. The most important lesson though is the ability to communicate. If you cannot communicate your work in an engaging manner then you have just wasted not only your time, but also your client’s time as that beautiful essay gets consigned to a life gathering dust with the other periodicals on future scenarios.

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