Category Archives: Science!

Posts about science and scientific developments. Often ties in with science fiction!

Star Trek Computers Aren’t All That Retro

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Spock at his computer station.

Last month we talked about Star Trek: The Original Series miniskirts, how they came to be and what they signified. While researching the paper that eventually turned into that post, I found out some interesting things about technology too. Most sci-fi isn’t actually futurist, meaning it doesn’t actually attempt to predict the future in an accurate way. Most sci-fi is designed to make a social statement by taking a situation to an extreme, or to explore possibilities by asking scientific what-if questions, or both. It’s not meant to be a “history of the future.”

Star Trek did those social things, and fantastically well. It’s famous for them. However, it also turns out that Gene Roddenberry, creator and showrunner of Star Trek, was an enthusiastic futurist who wrote papers on the future of technology and was invited to lecture at NASA as well as several universities and colleges. While Star Trek was first and foremost a fantasy of space travel, Roddenberry was interested in presenting concepts he actually found workable and likely to exist in the future. One of his most important ideas was the Enterprise’s central computer, described in this pre-production memo:

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Science Fiction Today – Scientific Knowledge

On Sunday, I got two chances to be thinking about scientific knowledge. About the things we’ve learned, the things that are true, the things that might be. My thoughts on this subject tend to go back to Foundation by Isaac Asimov. The era of change in those novels is all based on a period in the future when we stop advancing, stop exploring, stop innovating. Stop learning for ourselves, and instead rely on the collective knowledge of the past, the great experts of the past. Because everything worth knowing had already been discovered.

The end of science.

And every once in a while I run into situations where I feel like our collective knowledge is already flagging. Like with food. We have been cooking even more dishes that are combinations of the food groups, combining them all, feeding them to the Geek Baby and to ourselves. But often I think people just make or buy foods because we like them and not for other reasons. I’ve heard just about every kind of food defined as “comfort food” by someone…

But on Sunday, it was lawn care that got me thinking. Why do we even have lawns? Sure would be easier without all this grass, and the related mowing. And if the grass was already going to be there, why do I need to mow it? And if the grass is transplanted, why keep it? Why not kill it and replace it with more indigenous growth? And why deal with the weeds instead of just letting them go?

I can imagine reasons. Something with soil erosion. Wanting to have a yard for the Geek Baby one day (although we literally live next to a park). Having it all just in case we want it later… Because we’re not doing anything with it now. And that’s here, in a rainforest. What about somewhere in a drought? California???

Through the vagaries of my past, I didn’t grow up with a lawn or doing lawn care. It’s not like it’s particularly a school topic. It’s just kind of known… or not. Or else, it’s just kind of done… or not. And I was thinking of how it’s a small look at the sorts of knowledge that we can lose to time, to assuming it’s true or everyone knows it.

Then we watched this.

And that’s almost the exact opposite problem. New studies and new findings, constantly, always. Always innovating, always trying to carve out some new, interesting, click-bait worthy results. And not doing the secondary testing – the third and fourth. The repeatability that makes science what it is.

What’s scary with having too much scientific innovation without enough grounding like he’s talking about, is exactly the Al Roker quote. The post-modern moment of just taking a look at a bunch of studies, and finding the one that feels right to you. Holly and I didn’t even know what to say at that point. That’s just so not at all even a little bit what science is.

So what does the future look like? Do we have the old findings that we’re leaning on, and we don’t question them? Lawns, lawns as far as the eye can see… Or will we have a glut of information, contradictory, and providing no helpful guidance in life? Discredited and useless?

Science Fiction Today – Hover Boards

I’ve been amused to hear that Hover Boards are finally showing up, that people have been pushing forward to create them. The deadline they were aiming for was the date from Back to the Future 2 last year. Which made Hover Boards like a prophecy: that they would happen in that year.

More than anything else in that movie, the Hover Board is what seems to have captured and held our collective imagination. Or maybe because it seems easier and more likely than flying cars or Jaws 19. Maybe because it’s a sellable commodity that you can hope to make a bunch of money off of – but no, I think more than that. It seems like a labor of love. Of trying to bring a bit of the “future” here to us now.

Because this world we’re living in – as we pass dates from future visions, like Days of Future Past and Back to the Future – looks nothing like what science fiction envisioned. And what did science fiction envision?

Thanks, Commander Sisko.

We were expecting flying cars. Hover Boards. Things that move us around faster. And space travel, moving us into the stars. What we got instead, as the commercial says (and which has stuck with me all these years) is the Internet. Or maybe, drones, which work as a networked extension of ourselves, rather than us moving ourselves.

Rather than transmitting ourselves via improved transportation, we’re transmitting ideas. Meaning that we get to both bring the world – information-wise – to us, and we get to send our ideas back out. In such a way as science fiction somewhat failed to predict. That’s part of the reason why something like Neuromancer (a 1984 novel) is seen as such a classic: it was far closer to right than wrong when it comes to predictions of the future. Certainly better than so much other science fiction.

I’m not saying the point of science fiction is to perfectly predict the future. Nor that it’s our job to try to build the future that has been predicted. Which makes the anecdote of the Hover Boards being created just in time for their “predicted” date just so interesting. It’s a little piece of trying to create not the future we’re building towards, but the future we dreamed up.

And so maybe, if we can perfect the Hover Board, we can create some of the other things science fiction has dreamed up. Or solve some of the other societal problems science fiction shows us moving past. Maybe we can avoid some of the pitfalls science fiction warns us of. Maybe, just maybe…

We can dream.

Counterpoint: What About Dune?

So in yesterday’s post I talk a lot about the inevitability of technology in the near future… say in the Geek Baby’s lifetime. Indeed, we seem to be getting closer and closer to that point of Singularity… and the potential for a Terminator or I, Robot sort of future. I’ve written a bit about this in terms of how it always seems to be an accident when this happens in fiction…

And really, we’ve talked a lot about the dystopian possibilities of the future, in our Science Fiction Today posts. Doom and gloom honestly seem very likely. Should we plan for the future – raise the Geek Baby – with that in mind?

All The Dune!And it all comes back to Dune. Rather than writing the story about the war with the machines, Frank Herbert wrote the story of the future long after that time. When humanity has learned to do without nearly so much technology – and have done so by enhancing humanity, through rigorous training, enhanced drugs, whatever means – just to not use computers and machines instead.

If we were to raise the Geek Baby without reliance on technology, this seems like the reason and the way to do so. Raise her as a mentat almost, a human computer. All full of logic and deduction and data. Maybe start with SherlockBattlestar Galactica and the fear of networked computers?

We most likely won’t, but it does beg the question… should we?…

Weekend Coffee Share – Screen Time Edition

It’s been a busy few weeks here, as we worked our way through some of our normal features – like best of last year, and anticipation for this year. Plus the holidays, all that… it’s been a while since having coffee. So…

If we were having coffee, I’d say hello, and how are you doing? I’d probably talk about the upcoming Platypus Con, and all my plans to get things constructed, painted, and on the table to be playing some increasingly cool looking and competent Warmachine with our growing group.

I might talk about shows or games or other things we’re up to, but honestly those all came up in recent posts as well. No, what I’d probably do if we were having coffee is gush about the Geek Baby.

A big recent topic of consideration, concern, reading, and discussion has been Screen Time. For a long time, the official advice to parents has been Screen Time Is Bad, with the recommendation to be zero Screen Time before age 2.

no-tv

I’m sure you can imagine where our problems begin. If not, hello, welcome to Comparative Geeks, we’re kind of plugged in.

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