Science fiction is a valuable tool for discussing technological singularity because of how it engages with scientific ideas. William Hertling expands on this argument in a list of 5 ways that science fiction deepens scientific discourse.
via Singularity Weblog:
They argue that understanding the impact of artificial intelligence and transhumanism is serious business. When we read the work of MIRI, books like Our Final Invention, or Ray Kurzweil’s writings, we see the stakes are high for both benefits and risks. Differences in opinion cause tensions to run strong between scientists, futurists, and business leaders.At first glance, this seriousness suggests the tropes of science fiction could lead to trivialization of the singularity or more disinformation than useful discourse. Indeed, I’ve experienced people in the field of machine intelligence scoffing at the idea of reading science fiction.
But I’d like to argue there are good reasons why science fiction adds value to the discussion on the technological singularity.
1. Fiction is widely accessible and enables learning without the feeling of being lectured. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement is one of the best selling business books of all time with more than two million books sold and is a staple of MBA courses. Although it’s written in the form of a fictional novel, it does a great job of explaining the concepts behind lean manufacturing and the theory of constraints. The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim is a novel that does the same for the field of IT management, and the just released Uncommon Stock by Eliot Peper teaches startup entrepreneurship. By presenting lessons in the realm of fiction, readers can acquire new ideas during their recreation time. Learning can also happen without provoking the defensive measures some people have when confronted with new information. Numerous studies have shown the human mind is wired to hear and remember stories, making storytelling the most effective mode of persuasion and communication.
2. Science fiction invites the exploration of ideas and expands the range of what people see as possible. I often see comments on Avogadro Corp, my novel about the emergence of AI, that it stretches their idea of what’s plausible or requires a suspension of disbelief. I’m somewhat shocked by this reaction, becauseAvogadro Corp is intended to reflect reality as close as possible. What I’ve gradually come to realize over several years is that I have two sets of readers: those that have a habit of reading science fiction, and those who are reading it perhaps for the first time. The latter group isn’t used to considering ideas in the wide-open-acceptance way that many readers of science fiction are. A frequent consumer of science fiction, for example, isn’t flummoxed when a story takes place on a spaceship. They accept the initial idea, and then quickly move on to explore the implications: What would it mean to live on a spaceship? How would society be impacted? What are the cultural norms on a closed environment? More frequent reading of science fiction encourages this playful exploration of ideas and their impact. This game of “what if” is crucial to the consideration of new ideas and new technology.