Those who wish to understand the news of tomorrow had best keep an eye on the economic news. Those who wish to understand the state of the world the day after tomorrow, had best occasionally read or watch some science fiction.

Three elements make science fiction into the exciting genre that it is: firstly, the fascinating technology of a given future that simultaneously helps us explain the present; secondly, plenty of suspense and interesting twists; and thirdly, either a very positive or a very negative view of mankind.

I’ll get back to the views of mankind, but let’s tackle the technology first. It’s amusing to look back at how the USS Enterprise in Star Trek featured a main computer that took care of all emails, while all reports to the captain were handed in on a tablet. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov was a lot closer to the truth when, in 1964, he predicted 2014 to be as follows: “The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth.”

Not bad. Asimov is posing some serious competition to Proteus, the Greek sea god that was so adept at predicting the future that he often had to retort to shape-shifting, growing tired of the many requests that people made. Mankind’s hesitance towards technology goes back as early as ancient Greek times: Prometheus was said to have recklessly stolen fire from the gods in order to give it to mankind. The view of mankind that typically permeates science fiction is extreme. The future is either looking bright, given that man is ultimately good (as is the case in Star Trek), or mankind will be involved in some kind of dystopian future, being ultimately evil. For the latter case, read American novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 Player Piano.

Last April, Cory Doctorow published a fascinating science fiction novel in which the positive view is triumphant. Sure, mankind has completely obliterated the environment, and all of the power is in the hands of the super-rich. However, while technology may offer ways to oppress and monitor the masses, it also offers tools for emancipation. As the Canadian-British author writes, more and more anti-authoritarian groups are choosing to “build housing and space programs the way we make encyclopaedias today: substituting (sometimes acrimonious) discussion and (sometimes vulnerable) networks for submission to the authority of the ruling elites.”

As far as Doctorow is concerned, smart software will be replacing hierarchy, and networks will be replacing bosses; there is some hope left, after all. If you get tired of reading the financial pages, choose to turn to Doctorow’s science fiction instead. You will once again face the world bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

As far as Doctorow is concerned, smart software will be replacing hierarchy, and networks will be replacing bosses; there is some hope left, after all. If you get tired of reading the financial pages, choose to turn to Doctorow’s science fiction instead. You will once again face the world bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
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This article originally appeared on Studio Zeitgeist

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