Better Made Up The Mutual Influence of Science Fiction and Innovation

Nesta Working Paper 13/07
Issued: March 2013
Keywords: research, technology


This report examines the relationship between SF and innovation, defined as one of mutual engagement and even co-constitution. It develops a framework for tracing the relationships between real world science and technology and innovation and science fiction/speculative fiction involving processes of transformation, central to which are questions of influence, persuasion, and desire. This is contrasted with the more commonplace assumption of direct linear transmission, SF providing the inventive seed for innovation- instances of which are the exception rather than the rule.

The model of influence is developed through an investigation of the nature and evolution of genre, the various effects/appeals of different forms of expression, and the ways in which SF may be appropriated by its various audiences. This is undertaken (i) via an inter-disciplinary survey of work on SF, and a consideration the historical construction of genre and its on-going importance, (ii) through the development of a prototype database exploring transformational paths, and via more elaborated loops extracted from the database, and (iii) via experiments with the development of a web crawl tool, to understand at a different scale, using tools of digital humanities, how fictional ideas travel. SF influences science and vice versa. We find multi-directional and on-going pathways connecting SF and science and we suggest that this has important implications for those considering Foresight, horizon scanning, questions of acculturation, the relations between humanities and science and technology, and the broader public understanding of science and participation in the governance of science and technology.


Caroline Bassett, Ed Steinmueller, Georgina Voss

Science Fiction and Innovation: The Objects database

An Objects database was generated holding 280 objects taken from science fiction offerings from the past century, with a particular focus on literary content. The intention was to select objects as they were presented in different time periods, but also across genres, in order to explore both temporal and fictional context-based shifts in representation and detail. How, for example, do the ‘food pills’ of 1950s hard SF, which allow cosmonauts to subsist in deep space, then move to the synthetic meat of 1980s cyberpunk cultures? The database is complemented by an Excel spreadsheet containing 4409 author links to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Bibliography. The virtue of this list is that all the entries are links to the alphabetical sections of the database where those authors with Webpages are then linked.

The Nesta Working Paper Series is intended to make available early results of research undertaken or supported by Nesta and its partners in order to elicit comments and suggestions for revisions and to encourage discussion and further debate prior to publication (ISSN 2050-9820). The views expressed in this working paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of Nesta.