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Posted at 09:43 AM ET, 11/21/2011

Science fiction and the priming of society

The holiday season movies are out, with viewers getting lost in the latest installment of the “Twilight” series, and documentary buffs discovering what ”Being Elmo” is like. Meanwhile, science fiction fans are, perhaps, preparing to enjoy a selection of films, including, “Melancholia“ or “In Time.”

Science fiction has long provided the framework for our soon-to-be modern day lives. We went through some of the classics and collected a few thoughts on the power of the medium in priming all of us for the next, great inventions.

Annalee Newitz, editor of i09, gave a comprehensive presentation at Webstock 2009, during which she outlined some of the key influences of science fiction on modern-day life. Rather than serving as an inspiration for innovation, Newitz argues that science fiction serves as a a cultural primer — preparing us for a life with new gadgets and moral arguments.

Science fiction, according to Newitz, creates “a cultural test-bed” in which inventors can discover how society could react to an invention or prepare for a major event, such as the catastrophic destruction of everything we hold dear by killer robots:

Or a more realistic scenario — the advent of a superbug that could wipe out all of humanity:

Newitz goes on to describe science fiction as being in a “feedback loop”where it’s joined by business and laboratories to make up a three-stage innovation cycle. Thanks to this cycle, society has discovered a world with gestural interfaces (“Minority Report”), space-based defense systems (“Star Wars”) and smartphones (“Star Trek”). Raise your hand if you better understood the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) after seeing the 1983 film “War Games,” than when it was explained in your high school class or college lecture:

A year before “War Games,” the Internet was visualized through the 1982 film “Tron,” which, as Newitz describes, popularized the concept of “the user” and the idea of avatars — a concept that was further developed in the 1999 film “The Matrix.” Even Apple’s Siri has a science fiction forbearer, Hal 9000, the supercomputer with a mind of its own in the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film, “2001: A Space Odyssey”:

Science fiction has primed us to accept, if not eagerly anticipate, a number of technological developments that, prior to the creation of these stories, we likely would not have been able to understand, accept or, perhaps even conceive of. The short stories of Philip K. Dick, for example, have provided us with popular science fiction films, such as “Blade Runner” (1982), “Total Recall” (1990), “Minority Report ” (2002) and “The Adjustment Bureau (2010). These films, and others like them, offer us a window not only into new types of technology, but also allow us to confront basic questions, such as what it means to be human and the complex nature of justice.

While the concept is not new, as the holiday season approaches and crowds head to the theater, we thought it might be worth asking which science fiction films you plan to see this season and what, if anything, they may inspire you to create, want to see created, or what moral questions you look forward to being confronted with. Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments.

Read more news and ideas on innovations:

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By  |  09:43 AM ET, 11/21/2011

Categories:  Morning Read, Technology, The Arts, Video

 
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