JB’s Circuit

By John Blyler

Stranger than Fiction: Technology And Science Fiction

Albert Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge. So where do you go to find great imagination?

I caught up with Lou Anders, the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr (http ://louanders. blogspot.com/ ), at the recent OryCon convention in Portland, Ore. Here’s what he had to say.

SLD: What effect does science fiction have on technology?

Anders: There is a wonderful website called Technovelgy.com - “where science meets fiction” - on which they list every sci-fi idea that has become reality. The last time I went to the site, they had something like 1,400 entries listing both the device and the expression of the device. A great many of the devices are there because someone read about them in a sci-fi story.

SLD: How about that other way around, i.e., what effect does technology have on Sci-Fi?

Anders: William Bison and Bruce Sterling created the cyberpunk movement in science fiction. Gibson first wrote about cyberspace on a manual typewriter. Later, he talked about getting his first computer, sent to him by a company that wanted his endorsement. He took apart to the computer and was absolutely depressed to find a disk inside. He said, “Well, this is just a record player.” He had expected to see some kind of crystalline thing with red lasers shooting out it. Instead, he found a record player. He said he never would have written cyberspace in “Neuromancer” if he had known that it was implemented on little more than a record player.

SLD: Record player? You mean the computer’s hard drive or perhaps an early floppy disk. Both systems do look like record players. But that brings up an important difference between science fiction and technology innovation. Most technology improvement, as brought forth by engineers, is accomplished by incremental changes. That’s because most designs are constrained by cost and time-to-market pressures to use existing technology.

Anders: Have you seen Microsoft’s Project Natal demonstrations? It’s the Nintendo Wii minus any kind of physical controller. A camera sits on top of the Xbox monitor and just tracks what you’re doing. I saw the demo that they showed their game developer partners event. Microsoft was showing their partners what was coming so the partners could start thinking about what games to put on it. Here’s one example: A kid walks into the living room. On the screen is a monk who sees him walk in. The monk spontaneously says, “I see you have returned for another lesson.” Then the kids and the monk battle each other. The kid has no hardware on him at all, not controller or anything. But his image suddenly appears on the screen and his motioned are copied realtime into the game. It blew my mind.

SLD: I knew that Intel and others have been developing commercial grade facial recognition systems, but this application is amazing. It is far more interesting than the digital signature application that I’ve written about. Variations on that theme include headbands that respond to thoughts in the brain, as well as recent developments in chips implants.

Anders: I wouldn’t mind wearing a chip, as soon as I was sure they couldn’t spam it.

To read the rest of the interview, please visit: www.chipdesignmag.com/blyler