A good science fiction story...

October 02, 2017

“A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.” – Frederik Pohl

One of my favorite quotes on Science Fiction is from Frederik Pohl. Pohl got his start writing for the sci-fi pulp magazine Amazing Stories in 1937 at the age of sixteen and went on to write books and become the editor of Galaxy magazine.

Pohl’s quote on “good science fiction” inspires me when thinking about technology. Good technologists (the ones manufacturing the science fiction) should be able to predict not just the technology, but the problems it creates. Thinking two steps ahead.

Then yesterday…

This is a tweet from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone replying to Mike Montiero about a public challenge to a debate. @Biz and @Jack set out to make a platform that millions of people use. They took in millions of dollars in VC funding to make that happen. They made millions of dollars when that company went public. But yet, they failed to anticipate the event when a world leader (ours) would begin inciting a nuclear war on their platform. And what astounds me most is that they, the millionaire profiteers of this endless newscycle, feel victimized?

Facebook too has failed to predict how their algorithm could have allowed foreign propaganda to influence our electoral process. They failed to see how their algorithm which feeds our confirmation biases might also radicalize us and balkanize politics. A failure to anticipate.

There’s a running Twitter meme that we’re now living in an alternate timeline; the worst possible one. And to some extent I believe that we are. We’re living in the timeline that invented the car, but didn’t anticipate the traffic jam.

I wanted to end with a similar quote from Ray Bradbury on the function of science fiction…

“The function of science fiction is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it.” – Ray Bradbury