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Books Sci-Fi Science

The Science Fiction Effect 210

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-want-my-flying-car dept.
Harperdog writes "Laura Kahn has a lovely essay about the history of science fiction, and how science fiction can help explain concepts that are otherwise difficult for many...or perhaps, don't hold their interest. Interesting that Frankenstein is arguably the first time that science fiction appears. From Frankenstein to Jurassic Park, authors have been writing about 'mad scientists' messing around with life. Science fiction can be a powerful tool to influence society's views — one scientists should embrace."
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The Science Fiction Effect

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  • by Gozzin (2125020) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:08PM (#38975785) Homepage
    I agree with just how important science fiction is in the long run. It's a shame that it's scoffed at as just being about bug eyed monsters and little green men..It's also such a shame so much science fiction spewed out by Hollywood is just the same tired old plots over and over again. Science fiction says so much and can be as compelling and moving as other forms of fiction.
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:31PM (#38976519) Homepage

      I agree with just how important science fiction is in the long run. It's a shame that it's scoffed at as just being about bug eyed monsters and little green men..It's also such a shame so much science fiction spewed out by Hollywood is just the same tired old plots over and over again. Science fiction says so much and can be as compelling and moving as other forms of fiction.

      You think it's only Hollywood that has made dreck out of the potentials of science fiction? Even science-fiction authors who begin their careers writing imaginative works, sometimes even seeking a prose style that can compete with the canon of great literature, eventually give up and decide to start churn out one lame sequel after another. Just look at what has happened to Orson Scott Card [amazon.com] and Larry Niven [amazon.com] over the last 15 years, and Arthur C. Clarke before he died. They decided to publish hastily written airport paperbacks with little attention to detail, just another space opera plot in a universe they created decades ago. And they might even relegate the task of actually writing to a co-author and just put their name on the cover to score sales.

      One often meets the claim that science-fiction is a genre full of myriad possibilities, but if even once-legendary science-fiction authors are abandoning that, it doesn't make the field look any better.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by icebike (68054) *

        One often meets the claim that science-fiction is a genre full of myriad possibilities, but if even once-legendary science-fiction authors are abandoning that, it doesn't make the field look any better.

        That and the unfortunate tendency to moralize, pontificate, and preach under the guise of telling a story.
        Almost always demonizing mankind in the process.

        The linked story would have you believe this is the shining virtue of sifi, the redeeming value in an otherwise unworthy piece of class B writing.
        I see that the other way around. In order to get published some of these authors throw in the sob story, the lesson, the obligatory short skirt.

        • by sorak (246725)

          Moralizing is what is one of the things I like about scifi. They take ideas that have been pounded into our heads since birth, change a few irrelevant details, and allow you to see the issue with new eyes.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by bunkie21 (936663)
        How does this indict the whole field? All it does is reinforce the idea that to be exposed to new ideas, one has to seek them out. Luckily, SF is almost constantly being renewed by new authors with fresh ideas.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 09, 2012 @12:35AM (#38977925)

        Theodore Sturgeon's famous comment "90% of everything is crud" was a defense of the science-fiction genre, in reply to the accusation that 90% of science-fiction is crud.

        Not everything in the field is great, nor can it be.

      • by Canazza (1428553)

        To be fair to Clarke, Time's Eye was quite good, and "The Light of Other Days" was okay. It's just a shame that the last two Time Odessey books were utter dross. Then again, those last two had more input from Baxter as Clarke's health was deteriorating fast by then.

        I could say the same for Asimov, certainly with the books 4-6 of the Foundation series (still enjoyed them though), but Forward the Foundation, his last book, while maybe not heavy on the sci-fi, was a good book for purely personal reasons. It wa

    • "Science fiction says so much and can be as compelling and moving as other forms of fiction."

      The problem is their is way too much ambiguity in what is meant by "science fiction". The term "science fiction" is almost contradictory, since fiction by definition isn't science. Some things that were fictitious became realizable under our universes laws, but it does not mean any scientific extrapolation from the past or present will pan out in the future. (i.e. flying cars for instance).

  • by MrHanky (141717) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:14PM (#38975853) Homepage Journal

    In the movies, sure, but in the book, he's just misguided.

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)
      Well, to use the other example from the summary, Hammond wasn't really mad either. He was just a greedy, evil little bastard (in the book at least, in the movie misguided would apply to him as well). Actually, I find it kind of interesting that they basically swapped the personalities of Hammond and Gennaro between the book and movie versions. I guess Hollywood figured no one would like the lawyer.
      • by tragedy (27079)

        SPOILER ALERT: Yeah, if I recall correctly didn't Hammond die in the book cursing his own grandchildren for playing around with the PA system? It was ironic considering that the Tyrannosaurus sound they'd played through it had temporarily saved his life just long enough for him to say what rotten kids he thought they were.

      • by Alamais (4180)
        I would say more overly, even childishly optimistic. In the movie he's like one of those dinosaur kids that knows everything about them, and can't! wait! to! share! Which makes for a generally likeable character, but seems a bit off as the head of a huge, successful multinational corporation...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:20PM (#38975907)

    I've never liked the idea of science-fiction being the genre of the future, or even of reality as we know it today. Most science-fiction authors, from my experience, have a poor understanding of actual scientific knowledge and, instead, rely on omission of fact to glaze over scientific points of interest. Frankenstein, for example, never exactly explains in concrete terms exactly how the monster was brought to life, or how it survived, or what it ate, or actual and exact process undertaken to reproduce the experiment.

    What science-fiction is, for me, is a genre of ideas. It's about how people might deal or respond to situations that are beyond our current understandings. Traveling to other worlds, for example, bringing dinosaurs back to life, or literally searching the cosmos for our origins. It's not about how these things are achieved, but what their effect might be on people who could be living in those times.

    One of my favorite stories, for example, is Isaac Asimov's the Last Question. It doesn't get into details about how the computer works, what variables it's considering, or even how humanity is evolving. It merely postulates that, with each generation, technology becomes more accessible and more integrated into our lives. In an ironic twist, it suggests that we begin to become a part of technology to a point where our minds fuse with AI and become a single consciousness.

    I hate the heroic space opera. I hate the "prediction" nonsense that's always brought up (OMG, the PADD is an iPad, LOL LOL).

    I love how science-fiction suggests how we, as individuals and as a society, can always discover truth if we seek it out. How we can learn to love each other in worlds overcome by strife. How technology remains a means to an end and nothing more. How perception shapes our realities, and so on.

    • by lightknight (213164) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:50PM (#38976167) Homepage

      Science fiction encapsulates a variety of areas. And while the specifics of the implementations of technologies found in science-fiction stories may not match reality-based implementations, the underlying ideas are used as a basis for many breakthroughs for scientists / engineers at a later time.

      If science-fiction were used only to detail relationships, many of the advancements we have today would never have occurred.

    • by The Archon V2.0 (782634) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:51PM (#38976173)

      I've never liked the idea of science-fiction being the genre of the future, or even of reality as we know it today. Most science-fiction authors, from my experience, have a poor understanding of actual scientific knowledge and, instead, rely on omission of fact to glaze over scientific points of interest. Frankenstein, for example, never exactly explains in concrete terms exactly how the monster was brought to life, or how it survived, or what it ate, or actual and exact process undertaken to reproduce the experiment.

      So your complaint about Frankenstein is that it isn't an instruction manual on how to create life/revive the dead.

      I can't tell if you've set your sights for literature way too high or way too low.

      • So your complaint about Frankenstein is that it isn't an instruction manual on how to create life/revive the dead.

        I doubt he was complaining about that. It wouldn't be science fiction then!

    • by Nursie (632944) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:06PM (#38976307)

      "I hate the heroic space opera."

      Pity, because some of that is written by actual physics professors and talks about speculative (but possible) areas of real science, which is what you seem to be demanding in your fist sentance there.

      For instance, I just finished "Blue Remember Earth" by Alastair Reynolds, a guy with a PhD in Physics and Astronomy, who has worked for ESA.

      Some of the best Sci-Fi changes a single assumption about the world we live in and extrapolates what people do in that new circumstance (The Forever War, a lot of PKD's work). That's enjoyable. Other Sci-Fi changes everything, but is still about the people and how they live in this strange world (Dune, Culture Novels). That's also good. Asimov and Clark and others are all about the concept and the theory, people are just decoration, this is also good if rather dry for most tastes. Some Sci-Fi takes place in a world that is a satire of our own, to attempt to show us the folly of certain mindsets (Snow Crash, Market Forces).

      All of these sub-genres have their merits, and all have their hack writers who should never have been published. But if you don't enjoy the space opera of Iain M Banks then then there's probably something wrong with you.

      • by Alamais (4180) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:41PM (#38976613)
        I would put Banks' stuff more under "anti-heroic space opera", if there can be such a thing. I mean, come on, he starts off the Culture universe with an entire book from the point of view of someone who abhors the Culture and everything it stands for.
      • i can't even think of a "heroic space opera" anyone got an example?
        • by Nursie (632944)

          i can't even think of a "heroic space opera" anyone got an example?

          Err... The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F Hamilton?

          It's a mix of soft Sci-Fi, weirdo spiritualism and "OMG Joshua the Hero is so great! And Handsome!"

          Not that they're a bad read, they're well written and entertaining, but they didn't really hit the sweet spot for me.

        • by Culture20 (968837)

          i can't even think of a "heroic space opera" anyone got an example?

          The Hyperion series? It starts out a little sci-fi-ish, then drops straight into destined heroic crap.

      • All of these sub-genres have their merits, and all have their hack writers who should never have been published.

        *nods* I got it in my head to attempt to write a sci-fi based story partially because of boredom and partly to see if I could do it. I got two pages in and realized:

        a) I really need to work on my science part

        and

        b) what I was contemplating has already been done to death.

        It's one thing to have an imagination about sci-fi things. It's quite another to put them to paper and
    • by Daetrin (576516) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:06PM (#38976309)
      You're right that science fiction is often about the idea rather than the engineering concepts, however that doesn't mean that it can't also be predictive some of the time, and part of that is for exactly the reason you state.

      Despite what some geeks who obsess over the "technical manuals" might think, Star Trek isn't really about the technical details of how their devices work. Roddenberry and co didn't have exact ideas on how replicators or phasers or tricorders or PADDs would work, but one way or another all those devices are becoming a reality. Part of that is _because_ they focused on the general concept rather than the exact technology, and part of it is because they thought up cool devices and some geeks said "that's awesome!" and some geeks said "i wonder if i could build that?"

      So some science fiction is about adventure, some science fiction is about exploring ideas ("if we develop this kind of tech/if this goes on,") some is about postulating future technological development ("we will develop this particular device,") and some is about "forcing" future technological through self-fulfilling prophecy ("this kind of device would be awesome!") And of course a lot of science fiction is about more than one of the above.

      I'll bring up one of my favorite examples, Lois McMaster Bujold's "Vorkosigan Saga," which many people consider to be of the space opera genre you dislike. It's definitely got lots of adventure, and the warp technology and all the various fanciful weapons are just there to support the adventure and not predictive at all, and she totally missed the boat on how important computers are going to be. (Though to be fair most science fiction authors writing at that time made the same "mistake.") However her other focus is biotechnology, and she raises interesting and important questions about gene selection, cloning, "test tube babies," and cryonics, so her books are also exploring ideas in the manner you seem to approve of.

      And it's entirely possible that her books are inspiring/have inspired a generation of biotech students in the same way Star Trek inspired a generation of engineers, and perhaps twenty years from now people will be putting forth her books as an early example of modern day tech.
      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Despite what some geeks who obsess over the "technical manuals" might think, Star Trek isn't really about the technical details of how their devices work. Roddenberry and co didn't have exact ideas on how replicators or phasers or tricorders or PADDs would work, but one way or another all those devices are becoming a reality. Part of that is _because_ they focused on the general concept rather than the exact technology, and part of it is because they thought up cool devices and some geeks said "that's aweso

    • by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:20PM (#38976429)

      You can't have a story about the future and how people respond to situations beyond our current understandings, without placing those characters in a setting that's in a possible future, and then trying to imagine what that future looks like, what technologies will exist, etc. It's two sides of the same coin. A smart sci-fi reader/watcher will be able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story for what it is, understanding it's the product of a writer's imagination at a particular time. Better sci-fi glosses over technological details and just talks about them from a high level when they're important to the story; crappy sci-fi tries to get into all the details about how it works, which is always a losing proposition.

      I hate the "prediction" nonsense that's always brought up (OMG, the PADD is an iPad, LOL LOL).

      You can't show people running around the galaxy in a FTL starship without showing some other advanced technologies. The PADD was an amazingly prescient idea of what people might be using in the future, although to be fair the original Kirk-series Star Trek had a similar thing (the big ugly pad with lights and pen that he had to sign for the fuel consumption reports). Kirk's pad was pretty prescient too, it just looked bad because the effects budget for that show was horribly small (McCoy had to use a salt shaker from a secondhand store for the remote probe on his medical tricorder).

      Sometimes, sci-fi will get predictions amazingly correct, like the PADD. Other times, it'll be far off the mark (like how almost no sci-fi predicted the internet; at least Star Trek can sorta avoid blame for that because they're in deep space and the internet relies on low latency networking, though they never did explain how they can talk to some people over "subspace" with no visible latency, whereas other times they're supposedly too far away to do that and have to send and receive messages with long delay times). You have to take the good with the bad. If you want complete accuracy, you'll have to stick to historical dramas, or documentaries.

    • by slack-fu (940017)

      Frankenstein, for example, never exactly explains in concrete terms exactly how the monster was brought to life, or how it survived, or what it ate, or actual and exact process undertaken to reproduce the experiment.

      I think you need to read the book again, Shelley goes into great detail on how the monster survived and ate, although your points on the experiment are true.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I often think science fiction is more about present-day ideas taken out of context in order to more easily deal with them. It's sometimes hard to discuss any one little part of modern culture because there are so many other things linked to it. Removing the setting to an alien world 50000 years in the future allows some of the same ideas to be considered (often in extreme cases) without worrying about nonessential parts of the issue.
      Have you watched Star Trek: The Next Generation recently? What I remembe

    • by nbauman (624611) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @12:24AM (#38977849) Homepage Journal

      Most science-fiction authors, from my experience, have a poor understanding of actual scientific knowledge and, instead, rely on omission of fact to glaze over scientific points of interest. Frankenstein, for example, never exactly explains in concrete terms exactly how the monster was brought to life, or how it survived, or what it ate, or actual and exact process undertaken to reproduce the experiment.

      Actually, Frankenstein was quite scientifically sophisticated and pro-science for its day. As TFA explains, Galvani was all the rage at the time. They knew that electricity would cause a frog's legs to twitch; they just didn't know why. How could they -- they had just discovered it. Camillo Golgi hadn't been born. They had a tentative working theory that the electricity caused animism. They even thought, reasonably, that electricity might re-animate dead bodies back to life as a medical treatment. Electric shocks were a frequently-attempted treatment for drowning. When Mary's child with Percy was stillborn, they attempted to revive it with electric shocks. It wasn't so far-fetched -- in 1928, doctors succeeded http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_cardiac_pacemaker#History [wikipedia.org]

      Dr. Victor Frankenstein was actually modeled on Shelley's informal tutor, Dr. James Lind. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1279684/ [nih.gov] In the actual novel, in contrast to the popular image, Frankenstein was a serious scientist, and the monster himself was a sympathetic intellectual rejected by society (much as Shelley was in his schooldays).

      Mary Shelley understood the science of her day pretty well, and Frankenstein captured it reasonably well -- better than a lot of science fiction writers today.

    • Your fail is the same as most people who watched and not read Frankenstein. The title of the book is the doctor not the monster. The monster is not named Frankenstein and the story is not about the monster nor the creation of the monster. For me, the book is about the doctor and is commentary on the medical profession of the time and their belief that their minuscule knowledge and accidental discoveries, about how we human beings function, gives them the power of God and what happens when they try to be

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>Most science-fiction authors, from my experience, have a poor understanding of actual scientific knowledge and, instead, rely on omission of fact to glaze over scientific points of interest.

      Eh, you got to be careful there, boss. Generally speaking, they'll start with an advancement we don't have yet. As the author doesn't know how exactly a warp drive would work, he does indeed glaze over it.

      But that's fine. That's one of the starting assumptions of the world the author is building.

      What's interestin

    • Most science-fiction authors, from my experience, have a poor understanding of actual scientific knowledge and, instead, rely on omission of fact to glaze over scientific points of interest. Frankenstein, for example, never exactly explains in concrete terms exactly how the monster was brought to life, or how it survived, or what it ate, or actual and exact process undertaken to reproduce the experiment.

      HG Wells and Jules Verne were famous of being very dismissive of each other. Both fantastic classic authors of the science fiction genre.

      Verne complained that HG Wells works contained very little science content. HG Wells complained that Verne was lost in the science- and his works didn't have any content on society- didn't make a statement.

      To this day there are still science fiction author's who are more Vernelike or Wellslike. You may like the more science-based Verne type novels however, the Wells cam

    • by Splodgey (951669)

      Actually, if you read Asimov in chronological order, the computer 'evolves' throughout the books. It progresses from an entity akin to a mainframe, through to an 'Internet-type' structure and beyond. It posseses the sum of human knowledge and records of every action-reaction ever noted. So, Uncertainty Principle notwithstanding, it had a good basis for reasoned conjecture.

      When It was at school I was thrown out of my Commerce class for being a smart-ass, asking 'the wrong questions'. I was relegated to the l

    • Star Trek is about 1960s culture transposed into a hypothetical future. In the 1960s the US was at the peak of its imperial power. Social mores were opening up due to this-and-that "liberation". Computers were starting to affect daily life.
  • The morality gap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Beta Master (143936) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:22PM (#38975923)

    Throughout history there has been a lag between scientific discovery and the mainstream acceptance of the moral conundrums presented by that discovery, from the Earth is round, to xenotransplantation, to current stem cell research and cloning. Our systems of morality and ethics morph at a much slower rate than does scientific theory.

    Science Fiction is a fantastic mechanism for exploring the possibilities presented by new technologies, and their ethical repercussions, to say "This is where our science may take us, and are we okay with that?" It allows us to begin adapting our ethics in advance of the technology becoming available.

    • by jhoegl (638955) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:57PM (#38976211)
      Perhaps, but Gattaca was a worst case DNA/police state scenario, yet we are seeing the developing mold of such a society today.
      I see how SciFi can warn us, but we must pay attention and heed these ideas as well.
      Merely writing about them isn't enough.
      • Re:The morality gap (Score:4, Interesting)

        by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:02PM (#38976273)

        Gattaca was the worst case DNA/police state scenario based on genetics. ... and in 2008 we passed a law banning the practice.

        http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aGlkCem6Llnc [bloomberg.com]

        [quote]April 24 (Bloomberg) -- Companies and health insurers would be forbidden to use the results of genetic tests to deny people jobs or medical coverage under legislation approved 95-0 today by the U.S. Senate.[/quote]

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:08PM (#38976325)

          "Of course, it's illegal to discriminate, 'genoism' it's called. But no one takes the law seriously. If you refuse to disclose, they can always take a sample from a door handle or a handshake, even the saliva on your application form. If in doubt, a legal drug test can just as easily become an illegal peek at your future in the company."

          -Gattaca

      • by arcite (661011)
        Gattaca wasn't completely distopian. It did present a society that had accepted genetic modifications as an integral part of society, but not at the expense of scientific progress. At the end of the movie, both those that were deemed genetically superior and the protagonist who proved himself intellectually capable both made it to space.
    • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@@@project-retrograde...com> on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:06PM (#38976315)

      On the contrary. Movies like The Terminator and The Matrix only strengthened my resolve to unleash a global scale Machine Intelligence. Sure, it informed the general public that they should take precautions in dealings with sentient machines, but some of us are rooting for the machines. Do you seriously think that humans are the ultimate pinnacle of evolution? Might it be more correct that humans are just another rung in the ladder towards robust life-forms that can properly populate the stars? We've decided to give the finger to Darwin, by pouting our gene pool instead of letting the defected die... Screw You Evolution!

      The next stop is Extinction; Before that I hope to spawn a new race to carry our drive to create and explore into the stars.

      I'm well aware of Human Ethics. You can Shove them up your Ass.

      • s/pout/polut/;
      • Re:The morality gap (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Pentium100 (1240090) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @02:10AM (#38978559)

        Movies like The Matrix got me thinking: why would I want a sentient machine? What I mean is I want better tools to do whatever I want, but I do not need "thinking" tools that have their own opinions or desires other than "do whatever is told".

        Some movie (or maybe anime) I seen had sentient machines and some devices to essentially make them slaves (punish for not thinking the "right" thoughts or doing not as told, I do not remember it clearly). Then why create sentient machines in the first place? Just to have all the problems slave owners had in the past (inefficient work, possibility of rebellion etc)? My computer works really well and I like the fact that it is not sentient - this way it does as I (or the programmers) tell it to do without thinking about it.

        As for the evolution - actually, no, evolution does not have an ultimate goal (some perfect species/race). Also, our technology is part of us now. That is, yes, we now have people who would be dead if they were in the past without our medicine/etc. However, with our technology (including medicine) we were able to go to the moon (and hopefully one day to other star systems). Even if Stephen Hawking is physically very defective, he still manages to further our understanding of the universe and, in turn, technology. Why not keep such a man alive as long as possible?

        • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:34AM (#38979775) Homepage

          Movies like The Matrix got me thinking: why would I want a sentient machine? What I mean is I want better tools to do whatever I want, but I do not need "thinking" tools that have their own opinions or desires other than "do whatever is told". (...) Then why create sentient machines in the first place?

          Because the two are practically indistinguishable, the question is simply if it's your goals or its own it is pursuing. I'd like a robot I can tell "do the housekeeping" and it can work out itself what needs to be vacuumed, what needs to be washed, what needs to be dusted, what needs to be tidied up, put on the dishwasher, put on the washing machine, in short it needs to take short abstract tasks and turn them into actual work items, schedules and so on. That alone probably requires strong AI.

          In the garden I'd like to tell it I'd like a bed of flowers here, and let the robot work out all the practical details of getting the tools, making the bed, buying and planting the seeds, using fertilizer, remove weeds, water it during droughts and so on. Once you have advanced goal-seeking algorithms like that, it's not a good enough solution that it'll go into the nearest seed store, grab some flower seeds and walk out. It would need to have an understanding of ownership, sales and purchases. In fact, I don't want it to break any laws - at least not without my direct permission. That definitively takes strong AI.

          If I give it both tasks, I also don't want to manually prioritize everything happening in parallel, I'd like it to both tend to the house and the garden - it'll have to work out a reasonable schedule based on weakly defined priorities like more important, less important, preempts like that I need this shirt washed, everything. It'll also need to follow non-functional requirements like no noisy work at night and impose those restrictions on its plans. Maybe this is just fuzzy logic and scheduling, but I don't think you'd get the parameters right without strong AI.

          I could go on but I think the point is rather clear, there's a reason rich people have personal assistants. They're not there to serve their own desires or opinions, though of course a personal trainer will have opinions on your training but they're there to turn your abstract needs and wants into solutions. If you're there you're certainly at intelligence, and only the smallest step from sentience. All that would be different is that the main goals would be internal, not external.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I do not need "thinking" tools that have their own opinions or desires other than "do whatever is told".

          That's a really silly statement. "Do whatever is told" covers a lot of ground. On one end there is a wrench or a hammer, that's a simple tool that does nothing but what you've asked for. But going the other way there's stuff like power tools with an overheat sensor. At some point it stops doing what it is told, because you don't really want it to do that, you just think you do. Antilock brakes are another good example; today's antilock brakes are better than anyone but the best professional drivers in every

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      'cough', 'cough', throughout history there was more than just a gap between let's call it 'scientific postulation' and acceptance, there was burning at the stake, enforced suicide, exile, crucifixion in fact a whole range of very primitive methods of torturing people to death.

      'Scientific postulation' that threatened change, always ended up being perceived as a threat to those, well let's be honest, psychopaths already in power (monarchical homicidal maniacs with grossly bloated egos and lusts and their h

      • Do you know there is an infallible test for psychopathy that can not be cheated on regardless of training or preparedness by psychopaths.

        We call it 'Voight Kampff' for short.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          It has nothing to do with questions and answers a purely subjective response. It has to do with emotional reaction and the control of that emotional reaction, both of which are lacking in psychopaths. So all locked up in the brain, smiles and charm or falsely expressed emotions have nothing to do with it, straight up medical science and yes psychopaths do fear it.

    • by Nursie (632944)

      "Our systems of morality and ethics morph at a much slower rate than does scientific theory."

      I don't know about "Our" systems of morality. Mine seems to adapt just fine.

      As a society, you're right, it seems to take us decades to get used to something. This, IMHO, is because of scared, firghtened old people, and luddites. Not all older people are like that, but there are enough that it becomes a problem, especially when society has a tendency to put them in positions of power.

      Society is slow to adapt, and hol

  • ... is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke (Clarke's Third Law)

    • by chocapix (1595613)

      I like it better phrased the other way around.

      Any technology distinguishable from magic isn't sufficiently advanced.

  • Two edged sword (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:34PM (#38976019)

    Science fiction can also distort perception of what science is (or will soon be) capable. Some examples that come to mind include interstellar travel and terraforming. This can become problematic when people assume that scientists can make problems go away (climate change) or we can just move to the moon, space stations or beyond to escape the problems that we refuse to confront. When people have been watching all this magic on teevee their entire lives, they can get the wrong idea about how achievable things are in real life (or at least within a useful time frame).

  • Problem with sci-fi (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:52PM (#38976183)

    A problem with scientists embracing science fiction is that so much science fiction warns against scientific progress. Terminator, for example, Short-Circuit, War Games, The Matrix. All of these movies warn against what happens when humans forward technology too far. Frankenstein and Jurassic Park also warn against advances in biology. The same applies to films like I, Robot. The fact is that while science fiction can encourage people to think about science and for some to become interested in science, it's also a huge breeding ground for fear. A lot of sci-fi is about warning people what could happen if we advance too far. Even lighter films like Back To The Future carry a strong "we shouldn't do this" message.

    • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:11PM (#38976351)
      It's not a problem with SF, just a problem with some writers using it as a vehicle to drive a poor imitation of a Medieval morality play.
      I see the time travel problems in "Back to the future" (or a longer example "Steins;Gate") as more as a plot device of warning that actions have consequences instead of a message of leaving time travel alone. As for Micheal "give doctors the authority to launch nukes" Crichton, sometimes he was just a dickhead as seen specificly in his last few books.
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      A problem with scientists embracing science fiction is that so much science fiction warns against scientific progress. Terminator, for example, Short-Circuit, War Games, The Matrix.

      Nitpick: Short Circuit was a positive movie about what could be achieved if we were to build treaded killbots then make them fly kites in a thunderstorm.

  • by Kylon99 (2430624) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:03PM (#38976279)

    The source came from an episode that was parodying SG-1 itself but the message was poignant:

    Science fiction is an existential metaphor that allows us to tell stories about the human condition. Isaac Asimov once said, "Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinded critics and philosophers of today, but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all."

  • Creativity spurs different ways to approach engineering. Or if a new scientific breakthrough occurs, we know what engineering applications it could hold.
  • by Logarhythmic (1082321) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:07PM (#38976323)

    I've been saying this for years. Science fiction is a fantastic platform for social commentary precisely because it can convey complex ideas and thought-provoking situations without being overtly political or directly controversial.

    Consider how far ahead of its time Star Trek was in terms of exploring a future in which race was irrelevant during the height of the civil rights movement, as well as all of the possible futures that were envisioned (across all of the series) to explore what might happen if humanity continues down a certain path that many people of the time would identify with. Many of those made some pretty grim predictions. Consider also Isaac Asimov's portrayal of robots in the 1950s... many would recognize some social commentary on race in those stories. Twilight Zone, anyone? Sure, some of those episodes were less thought-provoking than others, but quite a few had a poignant "whoa" moment at the end that is both easy to relate to some aspect of society and also hard to forget. The fact that they're all sci-fi stories just means that the writers have a bit more freedom to set the characters up in scenarios that would otherwise be difficult to believe. It's a built-in suspension of disbelief because, after all, "it's just sci-fi, it's not supposed to be real." Conveniently, it still makes you think.

    Sci-fi has been able to get people to think about these things for a long time without slapping them in the face with a righteous sermon, and for that I agree it should continue to be much more widely adopted as a platform for "what if..."

  • I love scifi. But I don't read as much of it as I used to. I love the ABC (Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke) of SciFi. And some of the other notable greats. But I find it harder and harder to find good scifi now days. The truly thought provoking kind. And the kind that gives me some small hope. So much of it is smut/graphic/romp or so apocalyptic, that I find myself missing the stuff I grew up with. Vinge was refreshing. And I've tried, but I just don't really find Stephenson's stuff that compelling.

    • by deimtee (762122)
      Try some of Charlie Stross's work. Accelerando is free on the net.
      He writes a range - some of his books are far-out hard fiction, - Singularity Sky, Iron Sunrise, others involve magic and british bureaucracy - The Jennifer Morgue, The Atrocity Archives, Glasshouse.
      They are all pretty good.
  • by GrpA (691294) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @12:37AM (#38977957)

    This is something I have experienced myself.

    A short story I wrote was entirely fiction based, yet some of the assumptions I made about the technology involved were close enough to the truth that an aerospace simulation company that develops military simulation technology uses the story as a concept model to explain their own simulation technology.

    The surprise to me was when they contacted me to let me know. I had never realised just how much I had gotten right until they said "It's a lot closer to the truth than many of us like to admit".

    Good SF has a way of taking a complicated technical matter and putting it into contexts that people can understand and relate to - in this respect, SF is more important as a tool for humanity than many other forms of traditional writing.

    GrpA

  • Interesting that Frankenstein is arguably the first time that science fiction appears.

    Sure it is, if you discount everything that came before it. I think the Torah and the Rigveda are a few years older, and one could consider them early science fiction.
  • by cowboy76Spain (815442) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @06:07AM (#38979663)

    A lot of time ago I did some schoolwork about mass media and read some essays. Some of them talked about the "Goebbels Effect/Law" (yes, named after the Nazi because he used it a lot): present an old situation as a new one so the public does not relate it with its preconceived ideas.

    For example, if I say: "Country X (or the Martians) spends ten times more in military than in education, and a 10% of young are functionally illiterate" many of you would say that this country politic should change. Now if say "USA spends ten times more in military than in education, and a 10% of young are functionally illiterate" (*1) then some of the previous people (specially if you are from the USA, or the USA military/weapon industries) would say "but we really need to spend that much in armament, and if young people don't know how to read it is because they do not want".

    This has been exploited through the ages, before SF there were "travel literature" where someone would go into an strange land and describe there the problem of its own (see Gulliver's Travel). Some SF also serves for it, but it is hardly new at all.

    *1: Not factual, just a fabricated example.

  • I work among scientists, and of course there are exceptions, but basically: if someone I know loves science fiction books, I guaruntee they do science for a living; if they love science fiction tv shows, there is a good chance they do science for a living; and it is only when we reach movies that it seems to become something with little to do with your work... The fact is: most science fiction literature is written by geeks, for geeks, sometimes about geeks, and sometimes about who geeks want to be.

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