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The Scifi Effect Upon Societal Development

The “Sci-Fi Effect” is considered to be progressive developments based on popular science fiction literature, film, and television.

The earliest recent modern cases of this could be seen through the works of Jules Verne, HG Wells, and the film A Trip To The Moon written and directed by Georges Méliès in 1902 (which was based on a Jules Verne story). These stand out due to what they seemed to forecast: travel to the moon, alien beings, well developed submarines, genetic modification, advancements in military tech, nuclear weapons, rockets that can land and relaunch, and satellite television. There are several others that can be included here, but I’m opting to open with the “father of science fiction” (HG Wells) and the major science fiction influencer, Jules Verne. As pulp novels and literary magazines became popular in the early-20th century, more influential authors started to emerge such as Philip K Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C Clarke. With them, we saw an increase of technology including space stations, first contact scenarios, galactic federations, robots, cyborgs, computers, and artificial intelligence. Later in the 20th century we had new science fiction writers with new ideas such as Michael Crichton, William Gibson, and Margaret Atwood; with new ideas ranging from recreating an extinct species through damaged DNA, alien viruses, totalitarianism through religious fanaticism due to low reproductive rates, nanotechnology, neuro-computers, computer hacking, and cyber warfare.

Yes, there are so many authors and themes that I have not mentioned.

Through the sci-fi effect, we can see how real technology caught up to some of the fiction. Another great example of this is through Star Trek, which is the second longest running science fiction television show (the longest being Doctor Who). From Star Trek we can see influences that include mobile flip-phones, cloaking devices/stealth technology, tablet computers, tricorder, hypospray, voice interface system, bluetooth technology, transparent aluminum, portable storage devices, biometric data tracking, automatic doors, diagnostic medical beds, visor (bionic eyes), real-time universal translators, teleconferencing, focused ultrasound technology, medical lasers, and agricultural robotics. There are even some things that are still in a rudimentary phase, such as: tractor beams (currently only through sonic waves), transporters (currently only capable of transporting photons), replicated food (currently 3D printed food), holodecks (currently VR), warp drive (currently NASA’s Helical Engine), phasers, androids with AI (currently limited-capacity robots with AI), and artificial gravity (currently the Orbital Assembly Corporation can replicate roughly 1.62 m/s2 gravity).

People like to reference Star Trek due to the volume of influenced technology stemming from a single sci-fi franchise.

Another part of Star Trek is history. Earth went through quite a bit of turmoil, even after first contact was made with the Vulcans after they witnessed Zefram Cochran reach warp drive capability - which is the whole reason they made an appearance on Earth. It’s also a staple of the Federation’s protocols for first contact within the series. It leaves us wondering if we haven’t had official first contact with extraterrestrials because we haven’t advanced enough. Another part of societal development that is lagging, is the current mentality of society. We are still arguing over things we cannot change (race, sex, gender), things that prevent educational advancement (Florida banning 54 math textbooks, Every Student Succeeds Act), and things we can change to create a better future (renewable energy, pollution reduction, reduction of fossil fuels, moon base). In Star Trek, we can see that society has moved beyond issues such as race, sex, and gender, but we do see some apprehension between some alien races, especially those who create conflict with the Federation. People are generally more educated and the Earth economics have moved into a post-scarcity economy, due to replicator technology; instead of wealth and social status being a social driving force, the new social driving force appears to be based on achievements. Perhaps this is where society is heading.

  • What have you noticed as a “sci-fi effect” in today’s society?

  • What direction do you think society is heading?

  • Is Star Trek onto something or do you prefer a different prediction of the future through sci-fi?

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