I started this post in March (2013) but haven’t had time till now (May 7, 2013) to flesh it out. It was a Mar. 28, 2013 posting by Jessica Bland and Lydia Nicholas for the UK Guardian science blogs which inspired me (Note: Links have been removed),
Science fiction and real-world innovation have always fed off each other. The history of the electronic book shows us things are more complicated than fiction predicting fact [.]
Imagine a new future. No, not that tired old vision of hoverboards and robot butlers: something really new and truly strange. It’s hard. It’s harder still to invent the new things that will fill this entirely new world. New ideas that do not fit or that come from unfamiliar places are often ignored. Hedy Lemarr [a major movie sex symbol in her day] and George Antheil’s [musician] frequency-hopping patent was ignored for 20 years because the US Navy could not believe that Hollywood artists could invent a method of secure communication. Many of Nikola Tesla’s inventions and his passionate belief in the importance of renewable energy were ignored by a world that could not imagine a need for them.
Stories open our eyes to the opportunities and hazards of new technologies. By articulating our fears and desires for the future, stories help shape what is to come – informing public debate, influencing regulation and inspiring inventors. And this makes it important that we do not just listen to the loudest voices.
Of course it isn’t as simple as mining mountains of pulp sci-fi for the schematics of the next rocket or the algorithms of the next Google. Arthur C. Clarke, often attributed with the invention of the communication satellite, firmly believed that these satellites would require crews. The pervasive connectivity that defines our world today would never have existed if every satellite needed to be manned.
The Guardian posting was occasioned by the publication of two research papers produced for NESTA. It’s an organization which is not similar to any in Canada or the US (as far as I know). Here’s a little more about NESTA from their FAQs page,
Nesta is an independent charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. We do this by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills.
Nesta backs innovation to help bring great ideas to life. We do this by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills.
Nesta receives funds from The Nesta Trust, which received the National Lottery endowment from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.
The interest from this endowment is used to fund our activities. These activities must be used to promote the charitable objects of both the Nesta Trust and the Nesta charity. We also use the returns from Nesta investments, and income from working in partnership with others, to fund our work.
We don’t receive any ongoing general government funds to support our work.
On 1st April 2012 Nesta ceased being a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) and became a charity (charity number 1144091).
We maintain our mission to carry out research into innovation and to further education, science, technology, the arts, public services, the voluntary sector and enterprise in various areas by encouraging and supporting innovation.
Nesta’s objectives are now set out in our ‘charitable objects’ which can be viewed here.
Nesta continues to operate at no cost to the Government or the taxpayer using return from the Nesta Trust.
In any event, NESTA commissioned two papers:
Nesta Working Paper 13/06
Issued: March 2013
Better Made Up: The Mutual Influence of Science fiction and Innovation
Caroline Bassett, Ed Steinmueller, Georgina Voss
Nesta Working Paper 13/07
Issued: March 2013
For anyone who does not have time to read the NESTA papers, the Guardian’s post by Bland and Nicholas provides a good overview of the thinking which links science fiction with real innovation.
Around the same time I stumbled across the Bland/Nicholas post I also stumbled on a science fiction conference that is regularly held at the University of California Riverside.
The Eaton Science Fiction Conference was held Apr. 11 – 14, 2013 and the theme was “Science Fiction Media. It’s a little late for this year but perhaps you want to start planning for next year. Here’s the Eaton Science Fiction Conference website. For those who’d like to get a feel for this conference, here’s a little more from the Mar. 27, 2013 news release by Bettye Miller,
… the 2013 conference will be largest in the 34-year history of the conference, said Melissa Conway, head of Special Collections and Archives of the UCR Libraries and conference co-organizer. It also is the first time the UCR Libraries and College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences have partnered with the Science Fiction Research Association, the largest and most prestigious scholarly organization in the field, to present the event.
Among the science fiction writers who will be presenting on different panels are: Larry Niven, author of “Ringworld” and a five-time winner of the Hugo Award and a Nebula; Gregory Benford, astrophysicist and winner of a Nebula Award and a United Nations Medal in Literature; David Brin, astrophysicist and two-time winner of the Hugo Award; Audre Bormanis, writer/producer for “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Threshold,” “Eleventh Hour,” “Legend of the Seeker” and “Tron: Uprising”; Kevin Grazier, science adviser for “Battlestar Galactica,” “Defiance,” “Eureka” and “Falling Skies”; and James Gunn, winner of a Hugo Award and the 2007 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, presented for lifetime achievement as a writer of science fiction and/or fantasy by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
As for the impetus for this conference in Riverside, California, from the news release,
UCR is the home of the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy, the largest publicly accessible collection of its kind in the world. The collection embraces every branch of science fiction, fantasy, horror and utopian/dystopian fiction.
The collection, which attracts scholars from around the world, holds more than 300,000 items including English-language science fiction, fantasy and horror published in the 20th century and a wide range of works in Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, German, and a dozen other languages; fanzines; comic books; anime; manga; science fiction films and television series; shooting scripts; archives of science fiction writers; and science fiction collectibles and memorabilia.
In one of those odd coincidences we all experience from time to time, Ray Harryhausen, creator of a type of stop-motion model animation known as Dynamation and well loved for his work in special effects and who was recognized with a life time achievement at the 2013 conference, died today (May 7, 2013; Wikipedia essay).
The item which moved me to publish today (May 7, 2013), Can Science Fiction Writers Inspire The World To Save Itself?, by Ariel Schwartz concerns the Hieroglyph project at Arizona State University,
Humanity’s lack of a positive vision for the future can be blamed in part on an engineering culture that’s more focused on incrementalism (and VC funding) than big ideas. But maybe science fiction writers should share some of the blame. That’s the idea that came out of a conversation in 2011 between science fiction author Neal Stephenson and Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University.
If science fiction inspires scientists and engineers to create new things–Stephenson believes it can–then more visionary, realistic sci-fi stories can help create a better future. Hence the Hieroglyph experiment, launched this month as a collaborative website for researchers and writers. Many of the stories created on the platform will go into a HarperCollins anthology of fiction and non-fiction, set to be published in 2014.
Here’s more about the Hieroglyph project from the About page,
Inspiration is a small but essential part of innovation, and science fiction stories have been a seminal source of inspiration for innovators over many decades. In his article entitled “Innovation Starvation,” Neal Stephenson calls for a return to inspiration in contemporary science fiction. That call resonated with so many and so deeply that Project Hieroglyph was born shortly thereafter.
The name of Project Hieroglyph comes from the notion that certain iconic inventions in science fiction stories serve as modern “hieroglyphs” – Arthur Clarke’s communications satellite, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ship that lands on its fins, Issac Asimov’s robot, and so on. Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research described hieroglyphs as simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.
While the mission of Project Hieroglyph begins with creative inspiration, our hope is that many of us will be genuinely inspired towards realization.
This project is an initiative of Arizona State University’s Center for Science and Imagination.
It’s great seeing this confluence of thinking about science fiction, innovation, and science. I’m pretty sure we knew this in the 19th century (and probably before that too) and I just hope we don’t forget it again.