Science Fiction Today – Virtual Reality

VThe progress of virtual reality is the key to so many advancements that have already been discussed. So many Science Fiction stories end up with some sort of virtual reality element.

Sometimes virtual reality is simply the next method of escape to be able to be transported to another world. Another option is that it is used as a tool, but does not become the world in which we live. Other times it becomes everything because it becomes the way we exist in the world. It is everyday life and only possibly having to leave to eat and sleep, but at the same time work, school, everything else can exist within the virtual reality.

A Tool

The idea of virtual reality as a tool that can be used seems like it could be just around the corner. Being able to train virtually to do surgery or even do surgery from a distance because you are in a virtual reality and a machine is following along with your movements somehow.

Of course this would never be used solely for work – it would also be used for entertainment purposes. A great example of how far the technology could go can be seen with the holodeck in Star Trek. Not only is it used to help train officers through specific scenarios it also allows them to live their dreams. They can act out their favorite story or just explore someplace they have never been before. Part of what is great about virtual reality is that the possibilities are endless.

A New World

The next level of virtual reality is that it becomes the way we exist in the world. This becomes most prominent when you look at how it is used in Ready Player One. It is where people go to school and probably where people work as well, depending on their job at least. People can create their own spaces and everything can exist in those spaces.

Already we see games, music, books, videos, photos, etc. existing solely in a digital or online space. It doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to have those same things exist in virtual reality. In the story Ready Player One they still have to come out of virtual reality to do things such as drink or eat, but the main character gets a machine that allows him to walk and thus keep his muscles from dying by being able to move while in the virtual world.

The big thing that virtual reality does is make the whole concept of space not matter because you really are one step away from being able to be in the same space – even if it is virtual.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

Science Fiction Today – United Nations

U

The United Nations. If you’re like me, then they are that overarching governing body that you completely forget about most of the time. They have a lot of member states, but do they have a lot of power?

Not necessarily something I need to answer here – because this isn’t about the UN of today. This is about the UN of the future, or whatever we might call the World Government of the future. We normally break things down into Utopia and Dystopia with these posts, but with this there’s also the question of will there or won’t there be World Government one day… In the interest of keeping this short, let’s just explore the good and bad potential of future World Government!

Peace In OUr Times

The ideal of the UN, or any World Government, would be for none of the member states to go to war with each other – and for everyone to be a member state! To be that place of meeting, negotiation, compromise, and arbitration. To solve the world’s problems diplomatically, rather than through other means.

Since this is a political topic, let’s talk politics. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan talks about the “state of nature,” and how in this state, we would live in

continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Probably the most famous quote of the book and the line that most sums it up. In political science classes in college, we talked about how individuals don’t really live in anything like the “state of nature” in today’s world (YMMV), but in terms of international relations, we kind of do. We have groups banding together, forming groups to intimidate each other and get their way.

In other worlds, World Government could be a force for good, solving this sort of international strife – especially since “international” would no longer have any meaning!

War, huh – What is it Good For?

In science fiction, where we see World Governments are often in situations where what we describe as “the world” has gotten smaller. Maybe it’s an alien invasion, or a zombie apocalypse – something has made it so that everyone who is left has banded together. For instance, you see this in the recent adaptation Dredd, where all the survivors live in a single, walled city. That might be all the government that’s left, but does it count?

Or else, you see a World Government when Earth is only one of many planets that have been colonized (and/or in connection with alien governments), in which case, it’s back to the beginning – instead of nations, planets. Mass Effect might seem great politically… or it might seem like a mess where nobody listens to the humans. It tends towards the latter… And it showed us the Protheans, an Ancient Alien Race who ruled the whole galaxy by empire-building. That’s one way to have a single government… just maybe not the best!

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

Science Fiction Today – Television

TAlready the way we watch television is transforming and changing every day. Already we are no longer tied to cable or even a traditional television. Some of the issue is there are a lot of things that could be mentioned about television.

One is changing the way we watch we television. No longer is it limited to just the physical television in the living room. Now our phones are portable televisions that we can take anywhere.

Not only is it about how we watch television, but the type of programming. In many Science Fiction stories we see an increase in reality television, but how the reality television gets put together and who participates evolves and changes. At the same time with the increase in technology there are a lot of options for how television programming might get put together in the future.

How We Watch

There are a lot of examples in Science Fiction for how we watch television. Sometimes it is the idea that we have multiple screens all with a different show on. The idea of multi-faceted watching is already starting with how many places and devices that we can watch. At the same time the next step might be to add interactivity to the television, which on some level is also already happening (think Live Tweeting).

This requires people to watch live and use phones and other things, but what if the live “studio” audience could people watching in the comfort of their own homes? Suddenly you can participate in the television show on a whole different level. No longer just passive participation, but being able to actively be there in some form.

What We Watch

The other piece that comes up, only somewhat is what we watch on television. Often times in Science Fiction it is almost like television becomes the new gladiator ring. Either by the use of people who have no other choice (such as prisoners) or basically doing it as a form of conscription when your number is up you get thrown into the games for everyone to watch – like in the finale episodes of Doctor Who series 1.

The other direction this could go is people voluntarily filming their lives (which we already have a lot of now), but the increase in technology and personal devices makes that more of a possibility. In some ways it is not just about advancing the technology, but the access the technology grants. There is a question of whether we will reach a pinnacle of entertainment technology for television, but with the access to have everyone creating new shows for people to consume – unless YouTube replaces TV first…

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

Science Fiction Today – Surveillance

SSurveillance is an important issue especially in today’s world. A recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
(above if you have 30 minutes) highlights this importance with an interview with Edward Snowden.

Surveillance is a huge part of most science fiction, usually in some form of a dystopia. Part of what surveillance is used for is usually for some form of control. It is often presented as a path towards social good because people can be watched and tracked. This means when crimes are committed that they can figure out who actually did it. At the same time this often means disregarding any concept of privacy.

On one level there is external surveillance, where there is an idea of privacy behind closed doors. Then there is complete surveillance where it might be something injected into each person or installed in every location. Neither option is usually very appealing.

Public Surveillance

When we have surveillance in public the idea is usually to protect the public. It is often not just about being able to see what is going on, but being able to track the path of every citizen. When everything you do in public is potentially being watched how do you react?

There is an idea that if we know we are being watched we will behave better. At the same time in many stories it is not always about knowing that you are being watched, but the people in power watching nonetheless. The difference is simply whether the people in power are spying to try and capture people doing something wrong or if you are trying in some ways to prevent the wrongdoing.

Personal Surveillance

Personal surveillance brings the whole watching game to a completely different level. When suddenly everything a persons does can be on display to be watched so that at any given time someone could be watching. This means that everything you do could be scrutinized, taken out of context, or used against you. There is no way to not incriminate yourself because everything you do can be watched.

On another level what if not only what you do, but your vital signs could be tracked. If there could be a way to know when someone is having a heart attack or to tell when someone is in danger… The problem is again how much do you sacrifice? There is a thought that if at any point someone could see that you are in trouble then help could always be a moment away. At the same time the most private and personal moments would be on display at any given moment.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

Science Fiction Today – Robots

RBecause of the bizarre order in which we have written my A to Z posts this year, this happens to be the last one that I am writing! That means this is being written after all my thoughts have gone into the other posts, and after many of the great conversations we’ve had.

There’s also maybe not a better topic for me to be closing out on and to have time to think about. When we think about possible futures, one thing that comes up a lot is inequality. Whether that’s financial inequality seen with corporations or money; or political inequalities like with queens or the Justice System; unequal health care or access thereof; or how about a post that’s begging to be linked to like my gender one… in any and all of these, and more, we can see how the world could turn (more) to inequality in the future.

What alternative do we have? In what sort of future could we maybe, just maybe, all live a somewhat utopian life with a decent amount of equality? Well… how about a future where everyone has a robot? We’re already moving towards some robotic things – whether it’s a Roomba cleaning up, or a driverless car. What if robots did all the hard work for us – and we all got to live lives of leisure and luxury?

Do Androids Dream of Science Fiction Today Posts?

In the interest of word count, how about some images?

One of the common problems that we run into with robots in Science Fiction is we reach a point where the robots are lifelike. Humanlike. Conscious. Have secrets – have dreams. Have souls?

And if they do – are they slaves then?

One thing I loved about Interstellar was the robots. There were robots built for utility, not for looking human.

Yet even in Interstellar, by the end, the robots are some of their closest friends…

I Want to Show You Something… Beautiful

Then of course, there’s the other thing that happens in robot – and especially artificial intelligence – stories. The robots decide, for whatever reason, that we the humans are the problem. That we are our own problem, that the number one risk to humans is other humans.

The upcoming version of this is going to be Ultron, in the new Avengers movie. However, we have a lot of history in this world at this point – and I think that Ultron will be using all their failings and faults against them, rhetorically at least. I hope they hit some new territory with this story type.

One of my favorites, though, is Dune. In Dune, it’s millennia after the war with machines. And it doesn’t take time to explain this war, really; it’s just a known fact of the past. It’s the idea there will always have been a war with the machines. What mattered was what the future looked like after that.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!