Pulp SF Cover: The Gods Hate Kansas

Is Science-FIction important to Science?

Today’s musical selection is “This Train Is Bound for Glory” performed by Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe, and Old Crow Medicine Show. I wish I knew the story behind this epic jam session.

Two researchers at MIT are arguing that tomorrow’s inventors and engineers need to read more science fiction. From The Atlantic:

How will police use a gun that immobilizes its target but does not kill? What would people do with a device that could provide them with any mood they desire? What are the consequences of a massive, instant global communications network? Such questions are relevant to many technologies on the market today, but their first iterations appeared not in lab prototypes but in the pages of science fiction.

This fall, MIT Media Lab researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner are teaching “Science Fiction to Science Fabrication,” aka “Pulp to Prototype,” a course that mines these “fantastic imaginings of the future” for analysis of our very real present. Over email, I asked Novy and Brueckner about the books they’ll be teaching, the inventions that found their antecedents in those pages, and why Novy and Brueckner believe it is so important for designers working in the very real world to study the imaginary. An edited transcript of our correspondence follows.

Some great Media Lab projects were inspired by reading science fiction stories. I have a project called the Narratarium, which is a context-aware immersive environment. It began as an idea from a brainstorming session with one of the members of the Lab, but I quickly realized that I was building a mashup of the immersive environments from Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” and The Young Lady’s Primer from Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age. The Narratarium environment surrounds you, but also takes input from you and alters the environment as you tell a story or experience a narrative.

What’s inspiring you now? It’s an open conversation in the comments.

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Vintage SF cover photographed by Joseph Bremson, released under a Creative Commons license.