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How has Science Fiction Inspired Us

Many of us remember our first brush with science fiction. My first memorable experience was watching the Wachowski sisters' Matrix as a young (probably too young) child. The concept of a mechanical race using human beings to harvest their energy like batteries was scary, but quite straight forward. What really kept me up at night was that our brains required a simulation to do it, and that there is no evidence to suggest that we are not in one it right now. Why do humans need to be “comforted” like this to be good batteries? What if we really are in a simulation? If we all found out that we were living in one tomorrow, would I do anything different? Would anything matter? If I ever “woke up” how would I fight my robot overlords? As a millennial who remembers a time before wide use of personal computers, I carefully watched these robot overlords develop in my own house, baseball bat at the ready. As an adult in the age of machine learning, I watch my students train a basic AI program on the internet how to identify cartoon pictures of fish and wonder if that experience could ever lead such wonder as I experienced upon my first viewing of the Matrix at just about their age. Science fiction can be a powerful catalyst for inquiry in a young mind. It can be a narrative to contextualise difficult scientific concepts and it can push learners to deeper levels of understanding. In this sense, sci-fi movies were a gateway to science for me. Would the particle theory of matter have made such sense had I not imagined Boba Fett’s disintegrator from the Empire Strikes Back or watched the T-1000 solidify back from liquid form in Terminator 2? Would I have had the skills to tackle the concept of atoms and how their collective behaviour dictates what we experience every day? Would I have even cared to?  

I asked Sci-fi Lovers at BSN: What sci-fi do you remember fondly and how did it inspire you?  

Mr Jones remembers Red Dwarf the 1988 TV series: "My love of Sci-Fi started with a TV show called Red Dwarf which I watched when I was slightly younger than I should have been! Dave Lister, an ordinary vending machine engineer on board the mining ship Red Dwarf, becomes the last human alive when he gets suspended in stasis for three million years for smuggling a cat on board the ship. I loved this show as it made anything seem possible, from time-travel to playing pool with planets. Plus it taught me some insults which proved invaluable throughout my teenage years: "Your brain is smaller than the salad section of a Scottish supermarket." 

 

Red Dwarf

Ms Wilson remembers Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: "Frankenstein was one of the first sci-fi books I read and it is the one that has left the largest impact on me. Shelley tackles the problem of scientists playing god without taking into consideration the ethics of their experimentation. Written in 1818, it still poses questions about genetic engineering, AI and the nature of life and death in a scientific world. A very human argument for compassion and responsibility in a modern, technological age.” 
 

Frankestein

Mr Geary remembers Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: “I first read ‘Fahrenheit 451’ as a teenager and it feels even more relevant to me now than ever. The book is set in a future where the job of firemen is to burn books that may be deemed ‘offensive’. The title comes from the apparent temperature at which paper burns. This story was particularly chilling as in this future society anything which made people feel emotionally uncomfortable or offended becomes proscribed so most of the great works of literature are banned and burned in case they cause ‘offense’ to anyone. It some ways the book seemed to forewarn of 21st century ‘cancel’ culture and self-censorship of unpopular speech or ideas. It also seemed to predict the shortening of attention spans due to new technologies and more ‘exciting’ forms of entertainment propagated by new mass media so that society becomes shallower and lacking in emotional and artistic depth.  

 

 

John Kamitsuka 

Head of Science