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Tagged with “studio360” (7)

  1. You’re living in a science fiction story

    It’s easy to look back at old science fiction and see it as silly. But there are important ideas embedded in those stories that influenced scientists and the way technology developed. Take the first science fiction film, Le Voyage dans La Lune or A Trip to the Moon, based on a story by Jules Verne. This 1902 silent movie blasts scientists to the moon in a giant cannon. Claire Evans, editor of the recently rebooted Omni magazine, says Verne was on to something. “He just extrapolated from the technology around him,” she says. “A massive shotgun barrel shoots people into space. That’s not what happened in the real world” of rocketry, but “that essential gesture is correct.”

    “A successful science fiction story — or novel, or film — allows its readers to become comfortable with the future, with radical new technologies and ideas before they become commonplace,” she says. “It softens the edge of change.”

    Science fiction continued to inspire, even predict, real-world developments. H.G. Wells, author of The Time Machine, imagined the first atomic bomb in a 1913 short story titled “The World Set Free.” Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, was also a mathematician who proposed the first geostationary satellite in a 1945 scientific technical paper. Astrophysicist and science fiction author David Brin remembers, “There was a period during the space race when suddenly science fiction authors were very much in vogue — when they were on the platforms next to Walter Cronkite and talking about the future of civilization and where we were going to go next.”

    But as society became more cynical, so did science fiction. In the 1980s, writers imagined addictive digital fantasy worlds long before the web existed. “Cyber-punk was the first science fiction movement to really understand that science and technology weren’t separate from us,” Evans explains. Or as the science fiction writer Frederik Pohl once said, “A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile, but the traffic jam.”

    http://www.studio360.org/story/youre-living-science-fiction-story-7-4-2014/

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  2. How to fly to Alpha Centauri

    Talking about building an interstellar space ship makes you sound like a sci-fi fan who’s lost touch with the real world. Unless you’re Mae Jemison, a former astronaut — the first African-American woman in space. Then you might legitimately wonder, “How in the hell do you get to another star system?”

    Jemison actually needs to answer that question; she’s the head of 100 Year Starship, an organization the home page of which boldly commands, “Let’s make human interstellar travel capabilities a reality within the next hundred years.”

    “That time frame is reasonable, why?” she asks rhetorically. “If you said ten years — ‘Nah, we know that’s not long enough.’ If you said 500 years, people would say, ‘I can kick back for another two to three hundred years because I don’t have to worry about it.’ One hundred years is close enough."

    The problem: space is big, and our current rocket technology isn’t cutting it. “If you’re travelling with technology we can already conceive, like say the Voyager spacecraft, it’s going to take about 80,000 years to travel a distance to our nearest neighboring star," says Marc Millis, the head of the Tau Zero Foundation. “And it is going 0.00006 times the speed of light.” Nuclear-powered spacecraft might go much faster, and have their proponents, but are politically and environmentally dangerous: no one wants to risk a nuclear meltdown during liftoff.

    The heads of yet another interstellar organization, Starship Century, think they are on the right track. James Benford is president of a company that does microwave research; his identical twin brother Gregory is an astrophysicist at the University of California, Irvine. The Benfords make a strong case for a technology right out of a science fiction novel. The technology is the beam sail, and the book is Rocheworld, written by Robert Forward in 1982. “[It’s] a very solid scientific concept for a starship,” James says.

    A beam sail is like a regular sail — “envision it as a giant umbrella, maybe 100 meters across,” says Gregory — pushed with microwave beams, instead of wind, to extremely high speeds. Beam sails are still in the experimental phase, and far more tests will be necessary on Earth and in space before we know if they can propel an object across the galaxy. Even Jemison admits that the hundred-year estimate is kind of a tease — it’s more about figuring out the physics than building the Enterprise.

    But Gregory Benford likes to remind us of how greatly we underestimate the pace of change. “Thomas Jefferson said in 1812 that it will take 1,000 years for the republic to reach the Pacific. He never envisioned that 57 years later, a train would run all the way to San Francisco.”

    http://www.studio360.org/story/how-to-fly-alpha-centauri/

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  3. The power of positive sci-fi

    For a couple of generations, it’s been a truism that good science fiction is grim science fiction. Technology is out of control, democracy is failing, the environment ruined. Think Hunger Games, Minority Report, The Matrix, and Blade Runner, all the way back to 1984. But science fiction writer and astrophysicist David Brin believes we’ve gotten too fond of these bummers. “It’s so easy to make money with a tale that says: ‘Civilization is garbage. Our institutions never will be helpful. Your neighbors are all useless sheep,’” he laments. “’Now enjoy a couple of characters running around shooting things and having adventures in the middle of a dystopia.’”

    Dystopias are bad? That’s heresy for science fiction. But a few people are starting to agree with him, like Neal Stephenson, the author of Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash. A few years ago, Stephenson was on a panel discussion with Arizona State University President Michael Crow, and Stephenson started complaining that there were no big scientific projects to inspire people these days. Crow shot back, “You’re the ones slacking off!” In Crow’s view, it was the writers who weren’t pulling their weight, supplying the motivating visions for science and technology.

    From that discussion, Crow and Stephenson have collaborated on The Center for Science and the Imagination at ASU. And Stephenson founded a group called Project Hieroglyph, which recruits science fiction authors to write more optimistically about the future. “I guess I had never given science fiction writers enough credit of being leaders of innovation,” Stephenson says. The writers who contribute to Project Hieroglyph don’t have to consult with scientists or engineers, but doing so “shows they’re on the right track.” Stephenson says. Only three rules: no hyperspace, no holocausts and no hackers. Coming from Stephenson, the bard of hackers, that’s quite a challenge.

    http://www.studio360.org/story/power-of-positive-sci-fi/

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  4. At MIT, an ethics class for inventors

    MIT’s Media Lab makes a strong claim to being the place where the future is designed. A class called Science Fiction to Science Fabrication, taught by researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner, makes that connection direct by using science fiction as an inspiration for real-world inventions.

    Sci-fi is full of imagined technologies, some plausible (killer robots), some far-out (time-traveling DeLoreans). Students in this class mine the work of authors like Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, J. G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, and William Gibson for ideas, such as an empathy testing machine like the one used to identify androids in Blade Runner.

    But most science fiction writers aren’t advocating that we build their technologies; they’re asking how we would use, or misuse, them. That’s exactly why Brueckner and Novy decided to put science fiction in front of the students at the MIT Media Lab. “Reading science fiction is kind of like ethics class for inventors,” says Brueckner. Traditionally, technology schools ask ‘how do we build it?’ This class asks a different question: ‘should we?’

    Novy adds, “With the ability of any technology or application to go viral over the planet in 24 hours, I think it is even more important to think about what you’re doing before you release it into the wild.”

    http://www.studio360.org/story/at-mit-ethics-class-for-inventors/

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  5. Jaron Lanier: You Are Not A Network

    Jaron Lanier is a pioneering computer scientist, a creator of virtual reality, a musician, and the author of You Are Not a Gadget, which takes a skeptical view of the role we have given technology in our lives. Contrary to a view that the internet encourages creativity (with its infinite possibilities to share content), Lanier worries that it discourages originality and uniqueness in the generation that’s grown up with social media and broadband.

    “If your paradigm of reality is that there’s a network structure in place and you fit into it, there are two positions — a peripheral node or a central node. That has profound implications for the way they approach science, art, and creativity,” Lanier says. “There’s a sense that the network encompasses everything. Kids embrace a worldview in which every category of knowledge is already precategorized, and you’re filling in pieces. Ambition becomes one of climbing the network, rather than penetrating further into the mystery that surrounds us.”

    Lanier is an advisor to Studio 360’s Science and Creativity series, and gave this talk at the 2012 meeting of our advisory board.

    http://www.studio360.org/2012/nov/23/jaron-lanier-you-are-not-network/

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  6. Jon Ronson on Kurt Vonnegut

    Kurt Vonnegut is a serious writer who holds a special place in the hearts of teenagers. Jon Ronson got hooked on Vonnegut when he was 15. For his long train rides from Cardiff, Wales, to look at colleges, Ronson packed a bag with Vonnegut’s novels, including Slaughterhouse Five. “It was like I was on the cusp of a new life,” he remembers. “I was about to go out into the world and Vonnegut was my companion.”

    Ronson grew up to write journalism that creatively investigates weirdness of various flavors — from alien abductions to neo-Nazi gatherings. His bestseller The Men Who Stare at Goats (made into a movie with George Clooney) is about US military programs that tried to exploit paranormal powers. Vonnegut “made me very much want to be a writer,” Ronson says. At the same time, ”because he puts himself in his books and he always portrays himself as quite miserable, I thought ‘God, I don’t want to be a writer if that’s your life, all alone in a room, chain-smoking.’”

    “When I look back on like everything I’ve written time and again it’s very Vonnegut-ish. Because every good story that I write is about people trying to do good in a difficult, crazy, absurd world.”

    http://www.studio360.org/2012/dec/07/aha-moment-jon-ronson-on-kurt-vonnegut/

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  7. Christopher Alexander: A Pattern Language — Studio 360

    Just over 30 years ago, an Englishman named Christopher Alexander tried to revolutionize architecture. In A Pattern Language, Alexander told architects and planners to design homes on emotional and spiritual principles – not on traffic flow. The revolution didn’t quite come. But the book had a surprising influence on another group of experts: the computer scientists who were just beginning to shape the Internet. Produced by Lu Olkowski. (Originally aired: August 15, 2008)

    http://www.studio360.org/2011/apr/01/christopher-alexander-pattern-language/

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