Submarines. Headphones. Video calls. What do these things all have in common? Each was predicted by science fiction writers, decades before being created for use IRL. If you want to get an idea of what the future will be like, your best bet is checking out some sci-fi.
Robert Capps is the Senior Editor at Wired. He talked to Marketplace host Lizzie O’Leary about why the magazine opted to do a fiction issue this month. Below is a transcript that was edited for clarity and brevity.
Robert Capps: I guess the way we thought about it is that one of the WIRED missions is to look ahead to see what’s coming next, to see what the future is. And we often do that by taking a hard look at the present, and we realize that so much innovation actually gets its start in fiction and plays and movies TV. And we thought it would be interesting to see, if we got some writers and said we want you to maybe look at some of these concepts that we’re dealing with now — artificial intelligence or space travel — write us a short story about some possibility… and our hope was that maybe we would get a glimpse into tomorrow by doing that.
Lizzie O’Leary: Many of the visions in here are pretty dark. Why do you think that happened?
Capps: I think there’s a couple of reasons. We started doing this issue a good eight months ago and we actually were approaching writers six months ago. But I think that going back six months we had a very bitter election. We had a mass shooting at a nightclub in Florida. Really, it’s not so much dark, or even pessimism, but uncertainty. There is some warnings of, we should think about how we want to go forward and what we want our society and our planet to look like.
O’Leary: There is this sort of call to action that Neal Stephenson mentioned, which is that sci-fi writers should be more intentional and be more optimistic in imagining the future. Because if you think in a dystopian way that then sets a path out. Do you worry about that?
Capps: I think that is funny because we did the Obama issue right before the fiction issue and he talked a lot about Star Trek in there, which is the most optimistic show about what the future can look like. It’s interesting to see when people imagine a future optimistically how it can really capture people and galvanize them. And one of the shows that imagined the most things that we have today, from cell phones to tablets, was Star Trek because it imagined a future that we want to go to. And so when people are building the future, they’re like, “What would be cool? What would it look like?” And I think back to this cool world that they saw. So I do think that Neal Stephenson is right. That said, for our issue, it’s really a moment in time and so we let it be what our writers wanted it to be — that within there you can also find the sort of beacons of light and hope, in addition to the things that you would want to avoid.
O’Leary: Business Insider made an interesting list of sort of things that have come true from fiction — Mary Shelley imagining transplants, Jules Verne predicting submarines. What in this issue do you want to see play out?
Capps: I think that it’s interesting to think about issues of universal basic income and I do think that there is some amount of rethinking what our human role in society is and not just shaped around making money. We place a premium on our identity for how much money we make. And if your job doesn’t make money, it seems less valued but that means we have schoolteachers that feel less valued, and artists and musicians. And I do think at some point doing some of our human endeavors unconnected to, or less connected to what the dollar sign is is an interesting thought. That would be really wonderful to see our society advance in a healthy way towards that.
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