I stumbled for the first time on the Atlantic Council, the Art of Future Warfare Project, and the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, all in one sitting. Proof is here: people are using fiction—science fiction even!—in practical ways to train and foster professional creativity—for national security contexts even!
In addition to professionals in an other than “creative” field assenting to the value of “creative” works, I am interested particularly in what one of them said, and the thought it provoked in me.
“Directed energy weapons, electromagnetic pulse, and autonomous warfare—all things of science fiction just a few years ago—are now materializing.”
This quote comes from author Martin Dempsey, in his intro to the Art of Future Warfare sci-fi anthology, and the sentiment is not so very remarkable of its own; you and I have heard such talk before. But by it, and for the first time, I was struck by the bias of my own perspective on tech fantasies-come-realities: that to me, the line it suggests, of such tech being decidedly only fiction and now reality, does not really exist.
I have been immersed from youth in science fiction that presents forms of things only degrees advanced from what is already real and existing. Robots in movies are paralleled by robotic manufacturing and early AI. Directed energy weapons could be extrapolated from any Walmart pen-laser I happened to find. Mega cities, self-driving cars, automated assistants, info-talitarian* “online” networks, holograms…
Things in my age’s science fiction are either frequently slipping into reality at lightning speeds, or else have already been around for long enough to seem commonplace. Either the great paragons of Sci-Fi movies, TV, and books can barely keep up with the stranger realities emerging; or they are simply cleaning up the policies and machine rights issues.
By encountering Dempsey’s statement, then, I feel much as a fish would if briefly flung out onto a dry beach. My sci-fi reality is not everywhere. It has not always been so.
If you are old enough, you may be laughing already. If you are around my age, maybe you are nodding in agreement.
A rather obvious example of historical difference of perspective on this matter could be put thus: Fiction about flight, space travel, interplanetary voyages, lunar explorations predated humanity ever actually accomplishing any of those things—a major threshold. In other words, we may have thought about them as possible, but until we did them, there was nothing yet to confirm that we ever would.
Not so, I think, with modern science fiction in the eyes of a modern audience. To us, there is no threshold, no line. To us, what cannot be done?
“…they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do now will be impossible for them.”
*Let’s talk about informational totalitarianism sometime.