The Foundation originated on the remote world of Terminus, situated on the far edge of a crumbling galactic empire. Surrounded by breakaway imperial provinces, all trying to carve out their own little empires, the Foundation had to use to its advantage the only resource it had. That resource was knowledge. Powerful science! Nuclear Science! Combining the shrewd use of limited resources and the manipulation of technology, the Foundation was able to prosper for centuries…
Isaac Asimov wrote his Foundation series in the 1950’s, the first story being published in 1951. Six years prior to this, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. The cities were devastated by nuclear power. That year, 1951, also happened to be in the initial years of the Cold War. The popular science of the day seeped into the science fiction. The world was extrapolated into the future, with overtures of the Roman Empire.
Apollo 11 landed the first human beings on the moon on July 20, 1969. The previous year Dr David Bowman, Dr Frank Poole and HAL9000 went on an ill-fated mission to Jupiter. Arthur C. Clarke took the times around him and ran with it. If man could reach the moon within 8 years of deciding to do it; Jupiter would definitely be possible in an additional 32. Mankind could be able to have a space odyssey by the year 2001.
As the Internet began to grow in the early 90’s people began figuring out how to manipulate the banshee wailing dial-up connections for their own purposes. Whether those purposes were benevolent or malevolent was up for debate. Hacking entered popular consciousness and movies like Hackers and Ghost in the Shell came into being. Hackers looking at the heroic misfit saving the day, while Ghost in the Shell dealt with a puppet master taking control of peoples’ minds.
So, technology can inspire fiction but that inspiration also runs in the opposite direction. The taser was inspired by the novel Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle by Victor Appleton. Taser is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle. Home theatre systems can trace a line back to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Ironically, the book is about the dangers that television poses to literature. Cellular phones can trace a line to the communicators used in the original Star Trek series.
Since I’m part of a gaming research group, I can’t not mention video games. What I’m not going to do is discuss Pac-Man’s influence on the consumption of psychedelics at rave concerts.
Video games have done their part to shape our vision of the future. Recent games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier point to a not-so-distant future where we can go nearly invisible, augment our bodies to be better and have the world we see overlaid with information. These possibilities don’t seem so far off when you consider light bending materials, the Eyeborg documentary, augmented reality and Google glasses.
The Mass Effect series of games seems to be prophetic as far as science is concerned. Mass Effect’s basis for its advanced technology was Element Zero. This fictitious element could produce mass effect fields when electricity was applied to it. These fields could be used to increase or decrease mass within the field’s range of effect. In the game this was used for faster than light travel and a host of other gadgets. But, on July 4, 2012 scientists at CERN announced that they had statistically significant results that proved the existence of the Higgs boson. Watch this video if you want a good, and accessible, explanation of the Higgs boson. Now, why I find this exciting is because if the Higgs boson is real, the Higgs field should be real. If the Higgs field is real then there is a chance that in the far distant future we will learn how to manipulate it. Thus, my great-grandchildren could possibly get to play with the hoverboard I was promised in Back to the Future.
Science fiction and science have a complex relationship of mutual influence. Writers, game developers and scientists inspire each other to dream. To ask that most important of questions, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” Science fiction gives us a glimpse into a possible future. A future where amazing things happen because we make them happen.