The Nebulous Boundary Between Science Fiction and Science Fact

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One of the biggest challenges for science fiction authors is keeping up with the technology. For those of you who have read my books, specifically the 2nd one in the series (“A Dark of Endless Days”) and beyond, you’ll remember Laren’s c-com, short for cerebral companion. This clever little device, essentially a smart phone on steroids, linked directly to his brain via psi link so he could access virtually any information in the Universe and likewise download his own thoughts. It could do just about anything, but there was one caveat, i.e., he had to ask it to do what he wanted. It wouldn’t volunteer information, as he discovered in “Refractions of Frozen Time.” And that’s enough of that before I get into spoiler territory.

As “high tech” as the c-com is, it’s nonetheless a little too easy to imagine such a device in the real world. I just saw an article in R&D Magazine (http://www.rdmag.com/news/2015/04/phone-ultimate-macro-feature) that reported there is now a device that can turn any smart phone into a “DNA-scanning fluorescent microscope.”

Seriously?

Holy cow, I want one!

Not!

No, that’s not exactly on my Amazon wish list, but I’m sure for geneticists and CSI types it would be.

Clearly science and engineering is well on its way toward developing a c-com, taking it from science fiction to science fact. When I first started writing sci-fi my fictitious world had the internet, the equivalent of Craig’s List as well as a currency comparable to Bitcoin, all before their time. It’s been said that whatever man can perceive he can achieve and there’s no doubt that science fiction has been the inspiration for several of the technological marvels you see today. Undoubtedly you’ve seen that picture circulating on Facebook of an old Radio Shack advertisement from twenty or so years back hawking the electronics of the time. It included a television, radio, cameras (both still and video), tape recorder, stereo, a desktop computer, and of course, telephones, with the caption that everything on that entire page had been replaced by the smart phone.

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Charles Holland Duell (shown above), Commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from 1898 to 1901, supposedly once said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” This has been debunked but what he did say was, “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

That was in 1902. He died in 1920. What do you think he would say about what’s out there today?

Case in point, my mother was born in 1906, the time when the Wright brothers were developing their flying machine into the first fixed-wing aircraft. She lived long enough to not only see men walk on the Moon but her daughter (yours truly) eventually work for NASA. She marveled at the internet and I shudder to think what her final years in a rest home would have been like without cable television. And that was just the 20th century. What can we expect in the 21st? What will top 3D printers?

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You’ve probably heard of Moore’s Law which hypothesizes that technology doubles every two years. This statement originated back in 1965 with Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor, whose original statement related to the complexity of integrated circuits but has applied remarkably well to technology in general which, of course, is largely driven by just that. The miniaturization of devices fits in there as well. This “law” has proven to be accurate enough that tech companies have used it for planning purposes.

Science fiction writers, including myself, would do well to bear that in mind. Technology doubles every two years! It can easily take longer than that to write a book! That’s an exponential rate that’s hard to grasp. We’re all quite aware of the present but have often forgotten much of the past. Can you remember what it was like before cell phones or the internet? How about computers? Were you even born yet???

Trying to imagine what will come next taxes your imagination, yet as sci-fi writers that’s our job, to not only keep up but surpass it! That, my friend, is easier said than done. And I certainly don’t mean to throw stones at my fellow writers, but when I read science fiction I thoroughly enjoy noting how different authors extrapolate technology to the future, especially the near-future, such as another fifty years. Gasoline fueled cars? Paper? Really? Ya think? When technology doubles every two years? I particularly enjoy reading about paper documents on planets equipped with interstellar vehicles. Uh huh. Right. I’m as guilty as anyone, hard as I may try. In my novels I had security devices I called “palm locks” to gain entry to a room. Science fiction is now science fact.

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But there’s one area that science fiction writers can always pursue and that’s where technology will take us. Will it eventually all come crashing down? Then what? Are we really better off with our smart phones than we were without them? Or on a path to humanity’s demise? After all, there are those who use smart phones to trigger bombs and incendiary devices. Furthermore, a massive solar flare could destroy the power grid and all those cell towers. Then what? What if our addiction to electronics was forced into cold-turkey withdrawal?

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No wonder dystopian stories are so popular these days. Such scenarios are easier to imagine. Which is scary as hell.

[Illustrations credit 123RF Stock Photos]

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