Is science fiction driving science reality?
I recently watched the TED talk in which John Underkoffler demonstrated the three-dimensional operating system inteface designed for the movie Minority Report. I find it fascinating that Hollywood now has such high production standards, necessitated by ever-increasing audience sophistication, that it becomes easier for them to commission real research than to fake it.
Video games are another such example where entertainment is driving the state of the art in graphics technology. In our never-ending drive to be entertained, we are expanding the capabilities of computers that make possible advances in genetics research and other disciplines that rely on high-performance data visualization.
In recent months I have been reading more fiction. Science fiction, to be precise. In the past, while having an appreciation for works of literary art, I found myself unable to justify the time required to consume and appreciate such a work. In a practical sense, it was more appropriate to spend my time reading about technical realities rather than fantasies. In time however, I began to realize that when we think too much in everyday corporeal terms, the limitations of reality become the limitations of our imaginations. In the case of Minority Report, the traditional limitations of previous user interface design and operating systems research could be ignored, allowing the pursuit of dangerous and frightening ideas which may break the current rules.
Only by beginning in the abstract can we achieve discontinuous jumps in technology, which brings us back to fiction — in which any idea which can be written is possible. Even fiction seems unlikely to harness the breadth of what we are likely to see in our lifetimes — I believe we don’t have words for some of the concepts that are being toyed with even today, let alone those of tomorrow.