By Dr David Laing Dawson
Good Science Fiction takes contemporary science, knowledge and theory, and extrapolates, sometimes getting it dead on, or at least exploring in very imaginative ways the moral and ethical issues, the comfort and dangers that might arise from our “progress”. But two common themes have puzzled me over the years: While the heroes and villains zip around in space, or toil on ships, or cross inhospitable planets, the political structure imagined is often feudal, or fascist, or at least Imperial. Not an extrapolation of better and better liberal democracies but usually a dystopian vision of medieval governance with high tech means of citizen control.
The second oddity is private enterprise. In these imagined futures big and often evil corporations own the spaceships, orbiting platforms and planetary settlements.
And I thought neither of these two imagined futures was likely. Surely our democracies will win out, improve, flourish. And surely space exploration will always be the purview of governments and alliances of governments, ideally of the United Nations of this planet.
But I am naïve as usual. Once again the Sci Fi writers may be prophetic. It seems they already imagined the Elon Musks and Donald Trumps of this century. Space exploration may devolve into competing profit-driven private corporations. Our current space station, if Donald gets his way, may become a Disney World/Jurassic Park for well heeled adventurers. And our forms of governance in the 22nd and 23rd century? Who knows?
I watched an old science fiction film the other day. I remembered the first time I saw it it’s impact was minimal, a forgettable entertainment. This time it seemed more closely allied to a horror film. The questions it posed about robots and AI are now upon us. When they, bots, are doing all the work, what will we be doing? When will AI become simply I? And might it turn on us?
It even seemed to me, reading Huxley’s Brave New World, that it was unlikely in our future that some of us humans would be living lives of leisure with our magic technologies in protected cities while thousands of other humans would be living in primitive squalor outside these cities, a step away from being Soylent Green. But now this seems all too possible as well.
Many of these science fiction writers imagined a future in which Big Brother, the Overlords, the Government, the Oligarchy could watch us, listen to us, and then manipulate us with messages designed to fit our psychological profiles. In these stories we are already there; it is already fully developed. Few of them explore the early phases and try to explain how we got there.
Well, now we know. Social Media plus Cambridge Analytica plus Robert Mercer plus his useful idiots. The future is upon us and we need to move quickly to not let it become the dystopias imagined by Huxley, Wells, Asimov, Dick, and Ursula Le Guin.
And now, for your enjoyment, David Laing Dawson’s musical MacBush – Macbeth done as Bush: