Sunday, 2 February 2014

Technology In Fiction

I remember a Star Trek episode, where they bragged that the Enterprise had a 2-Terabyte memory core. (Who knows, maybe they measure a Terabyte differently in the 24th Century.)

I like the way they did it in 2001. A caveman discovers the club as the first use of technology; and suddenly we upgrade to the 21st century with spaceships. Everything else in between is beta-testing.

What we have today is a world where we serve technology instead of the other way around. Don't believe me? When was the last time you went as far as your mailbox without your phone?

The problem with writing fiction about future technology is that nobody can predict the position of it. (Short Circuit had a brilliant, self aware robot, telling us that he'd upgraded his brain to 500MB.) The problem with reading future-fic is that to make an exciting story; the fiction almost always focuses on the downside of it, or the way it can be misused. Years ago, War Games came out; a movie about a teenage genius who liked to hack computers for fun. He almost tips off a third world war. That movie was about the dangers of Brinkmanship in a world where everyone is connected to anyone else; as well as some of the dangers in AI, and automation.

But that movie doesn't talk nearly as much about the benefits of the internet. Ten years ago, if someone had made a blockbuster movie about smartphones, it would have been about the phones turning evil and spying on everyone... but that hasn't stopped the Smartphone Revolution.

H+ is a web series that I follow seriously, about a future where personal wi-fi devices can actually be implanted and become part of our bodies, giving us a permanent uplink. The plot is that this technology leads to the collapse of civilization when something goes wrong; but the number one comment on the series is this: “I wish I had an implant!”

And that's just the big, massive blockbusters. Someone who made a movie about the Internet in the 80's would never have seen a smaller problem like Cyber-bullying as likely. Someone making a movie about AI's fifteen years ago, would never have considered a simple upside like a pizza being delivered to your door via drones using Google Maps.

It's a fact of technology that the first step toward realizing an idea is imagining it. For that reason; a lot of the things we have today started out as Science Fiction. I don't know why the first step is always to think of the dark side of all this tech.

I find it comforting that fear of the misuse of something doesn't seem to stop the general population from embracing it. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we should view Frankenstein as a cautionary tale, and put a stop to that research. But I'd like to think that the number of people who use something new for good will always outnumber the people who use it for evil.