Friday, June 18, 2010

Living Out My Science Fiction Fantasies

No starships, no alien worlds or aliens, no underwater cities, no teleport chambers, no easy augmentation fixes for birth defects. I looked forward to many things, from my standpoint in the 1970s and 1980s, but have not yet found them.

And yet, I find cause for optimism each time I read Science or the quarterly tech update from The Economist or any of the other sources I routinely sift for news about these things. Today, for example, I am reading the mid-June episode of The Economist's Technology Quarterly.

The list is interesting: Tesla's dream of harnessing ambient energy, now closer to reality as Nokia begins to pluck electricity from ambient radio waves for free; salmon modified to spawn faster and bigger using natural hormonal stimulation; vegetarian robots that harvest cellulose (grass, twigs) to run themselves; amoeboid robots that can change shape and squeeze into tight spots; self-repairing metal sheets; carbon composites that are both the body and the battery of a car; straw-bamboo-clay composites that are earthquake resistant and environmentally friendly; information eavesdropping by magnifying keyclick sounds; educational software that reads your face to gauge if you understand something; software that defends you from distractions.

All that is just in the summary, not the detailed pieces. The detailed pieces are even more fascinating.

But the game I've often played is the one in which I wonder how it would be if all these discoveries were 'in play' at the same time. What kind of world would we be living in?

It takes some effort to realise that while many of my dreams have not yet come to pass, many of them already have. Handheld lasers, mobile phones smaller than a pack of cards, computers the size of a small book, near-instant searches through massive archives of collaboratively-amassed — these are the things of Asimov, of Heinlein, of the old greats from the old times.

I am happy when I think of this. Such happiness keeps me going as I wait for the days of Space: 2019 (two decades is late, but not too late), of Niven, of Brin's Uplift universe and perhaps Cordwainer Smith. But please, not the dystopian visions of Ballard and Kornbluth; having Orwell come true is already bad enough.

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