Machine Learning (Theory)

4/28/2005

Science Fiction and Research

Tags: General jl@ 9:48 am

A big part of doing research is imagining how things could be different, and then trying to figure out how to get there.

A big part of science fiction is imagining how things could be different, and then working through the implications.

Because of the similarity here, reading science fiction can sometimes be helpful in understanding and doing research. (And, hey, it’s fun.) Here’s some list of science fiction books I enjoyed which seem particularly relevant to computer science and (sometimes) learning systems:

  1. Vernor Vinge, “True Names”, “A Fire Upon the Deep”
  2. Marc Stiegler, “David’s Sling”, “Earthweb”
  3. Charles Stross, “Singularity Sky”
  4. Greg Egan, “Diaspora”
  5. Joe Haldeman, “Forever Peace”

(There are surely many others.)

Incidentally, the nature of science fiction itself has changed. Decades ago, science fiction projected great increases in the power humans control (example: E.E. Smith Lensman series). That didn’t really happen in the last 50 years. Instead, we gradually refined the degree to which we can control various kinds of power. Science fiction has changed to reflect this. This can be understood as a shift from physics-based progress to engineering or computer science based progress.

2 Comments to “Science Fiction and Research”
  1. Can you name examples of specific books or research projects influenced by specific stories?

    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is a popular book, and it is cited by the paper on the the IMPROV system.

    An old short story called “Slow Glass” was an inspiration to Video Textures.

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