Science fiction often serves as a warning.
Perhaps a new technology is overreaching or dangerous or perhaps the rights of the individual are being stripped away by a powerful regime. In either case, science fiction muses on the idea, traveling the road of “what if?” In a world where we are already so plugged in, connecting even further could be disastrous, perhaps even destroying what it means to be fundamentally human.
Still, in other sci-fi works, it is the reach of technology outside of ourselves that might lead to our downfall.
Despite the dire consequences that these works discuss, I still can’t help wishing that some of these dangerous sci-fi concepts were real.
1. Bring Back An Extinct Species: Dinosaurs! In Jurassic Park, we are faced with the consequences of bringing an extinct species back from the dead. Through a series of scientific breakthroughs, Park scientists are able to extract dinosaur DNA from fossilized amber and use it to recreate dinosaurs. However, things can never be that simple. While I would have loved to read a book where dinosaurs are brought back and everything is awesome, this is not the case, and chaos prevails despite the fail-safes that the scientists had in place to prevent “unauthorized breeding.” Chomping occurs, people are eaten, and it’s a total bummer.
Still, despite the compelling arguments that humans have no business bringing back the dinosaurs - that they had their chance and blew it, that we can never control the fundamentals of life and death - I still wish we could. I love dinosaurs, and I tear up every time Dr. Alan Grant sees the majestic creatures for the first time.
2. Simulated Reality: In the worlds of Star Trek and Caprica, characters are able to enter a simulated reality through the use of the holodeck or holo-band goggles. While both were developed for recreational purposes, through glitches in the software and nefarious motives of other users, they often became dangerous, with users being threatened with actual harm in the virtual worlds.
I swear, it will be different when I get my hands on this technology. Ignore the fact that I occasionally trapped my Sims in rooms with no doors, or pushed my pioneers to a grueling pace with meager rations: I will only use it for good.
3. Bringing Back The Dead: In one of the first works of science fiction, Mary Shelley delves into the theme of immortality, when Victor Frankenstein creates life in the form of a grotesque creature cobbled together from corpses. While his methods are unorthodox, and he quickly renounces any sort of responsibility for his work, Victor Frankenstein accomplished at its core, something that many suffering a loss wish for: the ability to bring back the dead.
Throughout this work, and many other dealing with similar themes (even Jurassic Park), we are reminded that this isn’t our place and that life and death are ultimately beyond our grasp.
4. Memory Edits: Editing memories, either by erasure or addition, is a common practice in science fiction. While in some cases it is used to control an unknowing victim or society, in some situations it is consensually done to ease the pain of a traumatic experience. While as I writer I know that I should mine my memory, and even use the painful ones, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish to erase some things from my mind. And while it seems like scientists are making actual progress in this area, we are still a ways off from being able to extract and delete particular memories.
5. Time Travel: I think we’ve seen from most instances of time travel that it is really complicated and perhaps even a bit “wibbly wobbly.” Can we cross our own time streams? Can we travel to the future as well as the past? What are the consequences of altering an event in time?
Whenever I asked my students where they would time travel to given the opportunity, they often answered, wide-eyed, that they would want to go back to the 1960s. I’ve watched enough Mad Men to realize that would be a truly terrible idea, and frankly, I was always a bit miffed by their lack of imaginations and sense of adventure. As for me, see the above point one. It always comes back to dinosaurs.
What science fiction concepts have left you wishing for their immediate invention?