That new profile of Google X, Google's mysterious futuristic project, includes the intriguing detail that all of Google X's projects must have "a component that resembles science fiction." That sounds ambitious and thrilling. But the Atlantic's Robinson Meyer says that's actually too narrow a view of the future.
Meyer's essay is worth checking out in its entirety. He points out that science fiction is often too conservative, both with a small-c and a large-c. The genre tends to underestimate the importance of social change, and has included some writers who looked dimly on women, minorities and others.
But also, says Meyer, science fiction includes too narrow a view of innovation:
"Science fiction" provides but a tiny porthole onto the vast strangeness of the future. When we imagine a "science fiction"-like future, I think we tend to picture completed worlds, flying cars, the shiny, floating towers of midcentury dreams.
We tend, in other words, to imagine future technological systems as readymade, holistic products that people will choose to adopt, rather than as the assembled work of countless different actors, which they've always really been. The futurist Scott Smithcalls these 'flat-pack futures,' and they infect "science fictional" thinking.
He also points out that Google's rejection of "incrementalism" is missing the fact that increments is how progress often happens — and we focus too much on gee-whiz shiny futures, and not enough on the savage cuts to NASA's funding. The whole piece is thought-provoking, and well worth checking out. [The Atlantic]