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Annalee Newitz: your business plan is science fiction, and that’s a good thing

Annalee is editor of science/fiction blog i09.com and a former policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She asks what today’s science fiction telling us about where our technology will go tomorrow?

Science fiction doesn’t cause innovation but it becomes an environment within which we innovate – so as technologists we need to watch what is happening in science fiction. Science fiction is cultural baggage – it’s heavy but you need it if you want to change your underwear.

Lots of talk of cult sci-fi epics – Tron, Battlestar Gallactica, Star Wars – the audience (not surprisingly) reacted positively to this – the geek-ometer running high at this particular conference.

Developers need to think whether they want to develop something that will make users feel like superheroes? Or supervillains? Annalee used the Segway as an example of a product that wasn’t “superpowered” enough – despite playing to the “superhero” ethos - it contains some exoskeleton/bio feedback mechanisms - it doesn’t participate in the sci-fi myth sufficiently that it needed to be successful. Bluetooth is an example of a product with supervillain overtones – users have fears over evil actions over bluetooth.

Maybe I’m just not sufficiently sci-fi but I personally can’t imagine the market place either consciously or sub-consciously noticing let alone making decisions based on this evil/good continuum…

Some real world examples of tools made real – BrainGate and neural pacemakers; brain-computer interface devices. Show that we’re comfortable with one-way human/computer interfaces where we are in control. But new interfaces raise fears of bodily invasion and mind-control. Annalee used Facebook’s privacy control as an example of this one way control mechanism.

Ways to think about development while remaining sensitive to the science fictional stories people are used to;

  • work within the narrative
  • tell new stories that counteract old ones
  • pay attention to the fears expressed and address them