Hey, isn’t science fiction just for entertainment? Maybe not. If you think about it, what do you know about robots? Aren’t we familiar with sentient, friendly servants that come in handy to heroes? How about Azimov’s Three Laws of Robotics? If a robot didn’t bow and scrape in a friendly manner we’d know there was a mightly big problem somewhere because sci-fi has shown us what might happen. Whereas in reality, most robots perform inspections in small or dangerous areas at the direction of handlers or are anchored to a defined area to repetitively build sections of cars with less innate intelligence than a bedbug. I think that robot engineers are working hard on that science fiction vision of a robot, that some of them picture CP3O as the goal. Too bad we don’t have Artificial Intelligence to guide the robots from science fiction.
Gee, science fiction warns us about Artificial Intelligence too, doesn’t it? We know not to let AI take over our military. We also know that AI could take a big load off of folks in charge of very complex operations like power grids. Science fiction informs our questions as current scientists work toward artificial intelligence; AI will be better because science fiction has explored the good and bad aspects and we’ve already seen many of the pitfalls.
How about Mars? Mars is an inhospitable little crust of a planet but we think of Mars as a DESTINATION. Why? I think it’s because so many science fiction stories have led us from initial exploration through terraforming and on into Martian society. Science is planning exploratory missions and is working up to sending humans there. Sci-Fi makes us believe it is doable and worth it for a grand big pay-off. Science fiction doesn’t stop with Mars, either. We know about other planets in our Solar System and even about societies on planets light years away.
We’ve learned quite a bit about society through science fiction from reading about or watching those characters in Dune or Star Wars or Serenity or Tenembras or in hundreds of other examples. How many stories tell of wars over resources? Or ruined climates that hurl the poor inhabitants into famine and rampant disease? We can use science fiction to help us see how destructive changes in weather patterns and rising sea levels will be. We know it’s a fair possibility that millions of people all along the coasts of every continent will be drowned or battered brutally with ferocious storms. Right now science tells us of record high temperatures for summer and winter and about tropical diseases reaching further north every year. Climate change is here, now.
Science uses actual to tell us the threat from climate change is real and that a bleak future is very possible. Science says we can affect the severity of what happens in the next 100 years right now. Science fiction illustrates that bleak future so we can feel the hot wind, taste the dust in the air, hear the cries of the orphans and smell the sickness from the refugee field hospital. Science cannot be 100% certain people are causing the climate to get mean, but the probability is very high. I believe it is my social responsibility to limit that harsh future any way I can, and the science fiction picture of our failure drives me to get up off my patootie and act on that belief.