Thought Series: Exploring the relevance of science fiction ideas and technology in real life

There are some cool technologies and ideas that pop up time and time again in Science Fiction that, sadly, I think are never going to be a reality. This is part one of a five part series about these technologies and ideas. These articles will just be my opinions, you are absolutely welcome to disagree and as always I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Post Scarcity Society/ Technological Utopia

Science Fiction introduces us to many astonishing ideas and technologies. Some of these things may be possible in the future, but many are either downright impossible or extremely unlikely. Somehow I doubt useful lightsabers will ever be a thing (sorry For Tyeth). You would need the Jedi reflexes for them to be any help against people with guns. Although… maybe if you had some kind of trippy cybernetic brain augmentation to track bullet trajectories at lightning speeds? Yeah, okay, then we could have lightsabers! Booyah!

I don’t actually doubt that we would have the resources or technology for this to happen. What I doubt is that human nature will allow this to happen. For this to work would require a profound change in the way first world countries think and operate at every level. We are selfish beings after all.

Imagine if we had artificial intelligence and robots to do all the work and production for us? Imagine if the proceeds of this were distributed so that everyone could live happily ever after? It’s a nice idea. There is one huge, ugly, gnarly thorn that sticks into the bum-cheek of this idea though. The people that invent and make said robots are entitled to keep the proceeds, or sell these incredibly expensive new technologies to companies. Capitalism at work people! These people will amass the wealth and this wealth will end up being concentrated in one small section of society. Robots and artificial intelligence will become the workers for society while the main populace will become largely unemployed. Wealth does not get evenly distributed across populations as the world moves forward and develops. Maybe people will have the heart to spread the joy? I doubt it though. The only thing that could change this is government intervention.

Utopia

Just chilling in my utopia

To distribute wealth in such a way would probably require governments to enforce equality, which tends more towards the communism end of the political spectrum. As Iain M. Banks once said when discussing the Culture:

Let me state here a personal conviction that appears, right now, to be profoundly unfashionable; which is that a planned economy can be more productive – and more morally desirable – than one left to market forces.” 

The Culture operates as a galactic spanning post scarcity technological utopia. Each citizen has absolute freedom, there is no crime, you will have access to all of the resources you will ever need, and you will co-exist with artificial intelligence. All of this is a culmination of cultural and technological evolution where the citizens have essentially learned to behave for the greater good of humanity and artificial intelligence.

Banks

I’m not convinced that humanity is capable of becoming the Culture because I think people in the Culture are just too nice — altering their genetic inheritance to make themselves relatively sane and rational and not the genocidal, murdering bastards that we seem to be half the time.” – Iain M. Banks

Other utopias can be found in popular Science Fiction. Think of Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, where an anarchist society is taught from an early age to act for the greater good. People are trained to discuss only matters that interest others to prevent the Dispossesseddevelopment of egos and selfish ownership of ideas and and objects.  There is also Peter F. Hamilton’s Edenist Culture which appears to rely heavily on genetic modification and highly advanced technologies to form and maintain their utopia. I can’t help but feel people would lose a sense of individuality and that human nature would take over. People will inherently want to express themselves, and inevitably there will be people that want to thwart the system and gain power. I cite all of human history as my evidence.

 

So maybe I am just pessimist. Perhaps humanity is capable of slowly bettering itself towards a technological utopia. What do you think?

Keep an eye out for part two, where I will discuss possible methods and practicalities of FTL and interstellar travel.

 

11 thoughts on “Thought Series: Exploring the relevance of science fiction ideas and technology in real life

  1. As a Christian, I certainly don’t believe that humanity is getting better and better AND I don’t believe that we’ll ever reach a post scarcity era.

    That is good to know that Banks is a filthy communist. I’ll be keeping that in mind when I start his books. Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I know how a Good American responds to such things. With a bullet! 😉

    The whole idea of tinkering with genes to solve our problems is Science trying to make itself a religion and a god. That is the realm of philosophy and religion. You start blurring the lines and lots of bad things will happen. They have happened in fact. One aspect of such thinking is that suddenly no one is actually responsible for their actions. It wasn’t their fault, it was their genes! The whole idea of responsibility isn’t one that science can answer. And it shouldn’t even try.

    Man, this was a great post! Keep them coming…

    Like

    1. Mrs NW here – I agree the lines get very blurry with gene manipulation and even total genome screening. Should we know from birth if we MIGHT develop a certain disease? Personally, I’d rather not spend my life worrying about something that might not happen. Just because we have these technologies which allow us to alter genes etc doesn’t mean we should use them. But then it’s tricky, because there are some very terrible degenerative diseases like Battens disease where gene therapy seems like the best option for improving the patient’s quality of life. I agree that the discussion of how to implement scientific techniques sits more on the philosophy/religion side of things.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Once you throw it into the philo/religio arena, things can really start roaring. People can stop pretending and let out what they really think. And that is good, because some people need to be stopped and they know it but hide their opinions in “science’y” talk and snow us completely.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I personally believe it’s all down to awareness which doesn’t actually have a massive correlation to intelligence. The more self-aware we are the closer we become to creating self-aware AI.

    The comments from bookstooge were quite staggering on several levels. Firstly Christianity is so lacking in awareness it’s become a joke to those who are. Secondly we all know a good american will respond to many things they fail to understand with a bullet. There lies the main problem: fear.

    Fear gets in the way of rational thinking. If we’d all responded to 9/11 differently – with rational thought – we’d potentially be living in a society slightly less violent and frightened than it is today.

    Of course human history is full of violence and we can’t blame all of this on the americans; just most of it. Ian Banks understood, if we’re to live in a society free from the ego, and will of violent, self-destructive psychopathic humans, we need to be governed by an intelligence that has a far greater awareness then we currently do.

    Nietzsche and his ‘will-to-power’ explains all too clearly the main reason humans always seem to revert to violent answers (or vile gameplay) to their problems. AI that is free of this phenomena would likely be free from much of the conflict we face.

    Once again I believe self-awareness is the key to us making the changes so desperately needed. An interesting piece, Thank You. א

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an interesting take on it. Thanks for your comment. I found it intriguing that even in Iain Bank’s Culture which is supposed to be a utopia, murder and crimes of passion still happen, though rarely, as very little motive exists (he references this in Player of Games). Though the explanation for little crime is that it is difficult to get away with anything which suggests a largely rational reason for being non-violent.

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  3. Hmm. I think we ARE very slowly inching towards a post-scarcity utopia, but there are frequent mis-steps and reverses (Brexit, Trump, nationalism, unrestrained capitalism in all areas). Why do I think this? Because generally our leaders and politicians are not hairy barbarians who smite first and think later (again, some exceptions). Most societies from the turn of the 20th century began to place greater emphasis on the welfare of their people. We are now approaching a few really big points in world history. Firstly, the relative decline of the West and rising power, education, industry of China, India and other developing nations. Secondly, the beginnings of true AI that will do away with vast numbers of the traditionally employed. As you’ve pointed out, it will take strong government to control the benefits and consequences; if 50-75% of a country have no job because they have been taken by AI & robots, the benefits HAVE to be shared out with the population. Governments are supposed to be there to look after its populace, not connive with corporations to shaft them. We may well see an increasing divide between the more social democratic European countries and an ultra-capitalist USA, the former taking a big step towards the ideal utopia of IMB’s Culture while the latter descends into god knows what (the more I hear about US healthcare the more I’m amazed that the system was ever allowed to develop in the first place – and if they can’t do something as basic as healthcare, they’ve got no chance at spreading the benefit of AI).
    One of the really interesting consequences of a population freed from the need to work is that suddenly whole new areas of leisure, science and culture are invigorated. We’ve had this before, on a tiny scale. The industrial revolution in the UK in the early 1800s (and incomes generated by slave-based agriculture) gave rise to a number of wealthy toffs and the new middle-classes who either didn’t have to work at all, or had extra leisure time. And we see the codification of sports that had been around for decades or centuries but were suddenly popular enough to require standardised rules. All through the 19th century we see the wealthy amateur developing ideas in sport, science & culture. We don’t see the ordinary working person show up much in these areas until well into the 20th century, when education & social benefits like the 5-day working week began to have an impact.
    So, if most people can’t work, don’t HAVE to work, we could see a new creative explosion. Always wanted to write that novel, travel to far flung places, dedicate your time to researching whateverthehellyouwant – an AI utopia will allow you the time to do it. Could be awesome 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree on the comment regarding creativity. I think if we could achieve an AI utopia there would be leaps and bounds in both technology and creative works. It’s hard to come up with the next big thing if you are busy worrying about how you are going to pay your power bill and put food on the table or working a 10 hour day. I actually think people are becoming more aware of how valuable their time is and how AI could improve that, e.g. driverless cars/transport.

      Liked by 1 person

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