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Old 02-18-2012, 11:37 AM   #1
Nancy Fulda
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Emerging Technologies That Ought to be Explored in Fiction

When space travel became possible, there was an explosion of astronaut and FTL books.

When the phrase 'nanotechnology' came into vogue, it seemed for a while that every second book (not to mention Star Trek episode) relied on microscopic robots to cure disease.

And lately, quantum computing and fictional side effects of entanglement seem to be popping up all over the place.

So I'm just wondering: what's the next big technology that will leave its mark on fiction?
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Old 02-18-2012, 01:09 PM   #2
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Drones and telepresence.
The tech has a lot more uses than were previously anticipated; everybody assumed we'd need autonomous robots but it looks like the real world is going to explode in applications just about now. And with brainwave controls inching up to reality, telepresence is something to take seriously.

Nanotech, btw, has rarely been properly presented in fiction so far. The entire nanomaterials arena and the ability to custom-design materials hasn't really been explored. The chemistry of nanoparticles alone is terra incognita and we're barely starting to scratch the realm of super-atoms.

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Old 02-18-2012, 02:11 PM   #3
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I think you have it slightly backwards, new technologies are first dreamt of, then written about, then put into practice, then their use is further explored in more texts...
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Old 02-18-2012, 03:10 PM   #4
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I think you have it slightly backwards, new technologies are first dreamt of, then written about, then put into practice, then their use is further explored in more texts...
Not always.
Quite a few technologies and developments have come about that nobody would've dreamt of before the fact.
Before the PC, computers were always big hulking things and personal computing was terminals accessing the central boxes. The internet and the web as an aggregate of widely scattered resources never showed up before ARPANET and rarely before the Internet.
Rocketships? Not before Goddard and the other early pioneers.
(Verne sent folks to the moon with a cannon. We may yet get to space that way, but it turned out rockets were easier.)
Generally you need a spark to imagination before fiction can start exploring.

Sometimes fiction gets there first, technology-wise, but more often than not fiction is working off an existing concept, even if it is just a thought experiment.
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Old 02-18-2012, 03:36 PM   #5
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All utopian literature, which includes sf, is about the present. This means that it often doesn't age well, but it also makes reading older sf a fascinating history through time. (This is particularly pronounced if you read short stories). Starting in the 60's, we started to sf that took ecological issues seriously for the first time - I think "Dune" was the first popular novel to take that approach; see also "Deathworld." A lot of sf from the mid 70's reflects the "oil crisis," for example, with fuel shortages being endemic and people using energy saving vehicles. There is also a lot of sf from the 50's and 60's that deal with corporations oppressing consumers (different from the later corporations=governments theme). The late 60's and 70's brought us a few important works dealing with sexuality (Left Hand of Darkness, Philip Jose Farmer), although most mainstream sf was still pretty prudish into the 90's.

And of course there was a whole cold war component to much of the 50's-early 80's sf, often with future earth being divided into various "blocs" - but just as often worrying about whether "free" people, with various distractions, would be able to fight implacable militaristic foes aimed at their destruction. And Joe Haldeman and others brought us Vietnam themes in the 70's.

The 90's brought us computer themes, especially cyberpunk, and the singularity.

So a good place to look for current sf themes would be in issues of current concern today. I don't think that this will necessarily relate directly to technology, though, unless it is the technology that causes the particular concern. "Dune" or "The Forever War" weren't about a particular technology; nor was "Star Trek," where the technology really only existed to allow them to get from place to place. On the other hand, since computers, specifically, were both a technology and a cultural phenomenon, a lot of works over the past 20 or so years have made the tech the story in a way that was not that common before - where the tech either was there to enable aliens to be present (so as to better reflect on whatever human concern we might have), or else it's there as a flavoring item to show that this is the FUTURE! (I often thought that Starfleet personnel would be better served if they had pistols, rifles, shotguns, and submachine guns instead of phasers...but it's the FUTURE!. (And I feel sorry for the handful of writers in the early 90's who used Cold Fusion devices.)

So I'm not sure what themes might be viable. "Occupy Starfleet?"
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Old 02-18-2012, 03:43 PM   #6
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It's also interesting how sf sometimes fetishizes tech and misses how it actually gets used in practice. Communicators in Star Trek - which are sort of cellphone like - were always used for Important Communications.

In the "real" star trek, the redshirt would be killed by the salt eating vampire because he was texting with someone on the ship and lacked situational awareness until it was too late.
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Old 02-18-2012, 04:02 PM   #7
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And I feel sorry for the handful of writers in the early 90's who used Cold Fusion devices.)
Don't be.
Cold Fusion is in fact being studied seriously at facilities all over the world and the results, of laser-excitation cold fusion at least, indicate it is a real physical process. Whether it can be engineered into an economically viable technology is a different matter but there really is such a thing as cold fusion.

If we ever do get real cold fusion devices, though, they'll likely come decades after the first economically-viable devices produced using inertial confinement or electrostatic confinement. (Rather like ornithopters came long after fixed-wing and rotary aircraft. The physics were always real but the engineering wasn't up to the task.)

BTW, it wouldn't surprise me if cold fusion devices came *before* anybody tames magnetic-confinement plasma devices
Tokamaks and their ilk strike me very much as ornithopters--trying to do what nature does the way nature does it, instead of finnesse-ing the underlying principles.
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Old 02-18-2012, 04:09 PM   #8
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It's also interesting how sf sometimes fetishizes tech and misses how it actually gets used in practice. Communicators in Star Trek - which are sort of cellphone like - were always used for Important Communications.
The classic star trek communicators were really walkie-talkies or CB radios. The newer ones are a bit more cell-phone like.

A more realistic (aka, contemporary) approach to the landing parties would be the current stereotype of HQ-monitored special forces operations: drones scouting ahead of a team in constant communication with the base where every sneeze is recorded and every question is instantly researched by a team of techie specialists too valuable to be sent down until the area is secured. I.E., more like SG-1.

Better yet, more like VORPAL BLADE's Space Marines.
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Old 02-18-2012, 09:12 PM   #9
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Here's a projection for you. I don't think it has been used, (but I don't read much comtemporary S/F.

The "New Pioneers". Look at the various tech approaching econmic viability. Solar energy, improved energy storage, cheap ubiqutious telecom, 3-D printers, cheap human scale robots, and yes, large-scale I.P. piracy. What might happen with this witches brew?

A massive drop in scale of interdependence. What does that mean?

Throughout the industrial revolution, wealth was created by large-scale specialization (a la Adam Smith's pin producers). This caused more and more interdependence. You worked to get the money to buy all the things it was more effecient to produce by other people doing other specialized tasks.

So what happens when you have enough cheap power to handle your energy needs without any centralized producer? You can make most of your gadgets with your 3-D printer? It might be more expensive, but you'd get exactly what you want, not what some other marketing think tank thinks you want. (And you can make them last longer...) A robot to make your clothes and do the stoop labor of gardening? Stealing the I.P. patterns, and entertainment. But still in touch with the whole world.

Look at how little interdependence is needed. Not none, but a major step down from, say 1950. (or even 2000).

What sort of lives will be lived in such an environment...Beats me, but this is coming in the next 20-50 years. Every trend is well on it's way...

What will happen if you live in a sunny, warm climate, put enough solar panels to run the house, and power the car, and can produce enough vegetable material to feed a modest family from keyhole gardens in the back yard? (Solar needs to drop another 3-5 fold, and batteries/fuel cell need to get cheaper by the same amount. Keyhole gardening already exists. Sort of a raised garden/hydroponic hybrid.)

It's coming soon to a neighborhood near you...
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Old 02-18-2012, 09:31 PM   #10
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Contrarywise you could also postulate a future world where man has slipped backwards due to the exhaustion of fossil fuels etc. and is more like the 19th century in some ways. Maybe the horse and cart make a come back as far as transportation while some tech. survives. The thing about Science Fiction is it is such a broad tapestry of possibility.
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Old 02-19-2012, 02:31 PM   #11
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Brainwave-controlled telepresence?
DARPA's on it:
http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-...ol;editorPicks

Poul Anderson did it first, but still...
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Old 02-20-2012, 01:19 AM   #12
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Biotech! With fossil fuels starting to become rarer, and the incredible advances being made in molecular biology, someone should really get into exploring what it may come to... I'm thinking, something like SGA Wraith ships, but done correctly.
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Old 02-20-2012, 08:49 AM   #13
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It goes both ways. Authors are affected by events and technology when they are writing. But they also invent new technologies that may drive the future.

Heinlein in Between Planets describes one portion of stealth technology. Not bad for 1951. Also in several books talks about the "tell me three times" of redundant computing.

The personal data storage devices in the original Star Trek are amazing similar in size and shape to a 3.5" floppy.

ANd does anyone truly believe that the flip phone is not related to the original Star Trek communicators? Don't forget, the first commercial flip phone was the Star Tac phone.

Asimov wrote about pocket computers (calculators) in the 1950s. Also autonomous military vehicles (drones). And even predicted that due to pocket computers, people would forget how to do basic arithmetic.

James P. Hogan has a character open his briefcase on a flight and use the built in video to make a rental vehicle reservation. Circa 1976.

And these few are off the top of my head.

No, SciFi doesn't always get it right, but it is amazing how many things they are predictive of. But that makes sense, because growing up, the geeks read SciFi. And the geeks went on to be engineers and scientists and started asking, well why can't we do that?
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Old 02-20-2012, 12:01 PM   #14
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I also vote biotech but we'll see. I'm thinking some trivial real-world ability will become common (chosing hair color or something similar) and that'll kick off a flood of mad cow disease disaster books.
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Old 02-20-2012, 02:19 PM   #15
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For the most part, these technologies have been dreamed of centuries ago, but were not articulated in words that we use presently.
I am more interested in the technological advance of more simple devices. When I look at my circuit breaker box, I think, "This is ridiculous." I can easily conceive of a device that digitally disconnects the lines of electrical wires in my house and contains my wireless router and other devices, and it certainly should communicate with my electric utility company to manage my solar array and battery backup. In fact, there is no reason why individual neighborhoods or streets should not have electrical storage units that operate when power is lost due to outages or natural disasters. It's not so much new tech that I am eager to read about as present tech that is used in new and significant ways.
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