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Imagining technology

Nesta Working Paper 13/06
Issued: March 2013
Keywords: science fiction, speculative futures, experimental futures, foresight 

Abstract

This review of the evidence about influences which science fiction may have on technology and innovation touches on a series of questions: does imagining technologies and societies in which they are used make innovation more or less likely? Easier or harder? Does it increase or decrease the chance it will take particular forms or that specific ideas will be realised in practice? Can it help forestall undesirable innovations?

The later part of the paper concentrates on how the answers to these questions can be put to practical use. It builds on two observations. One is that, over time, our technological societies have become more conscious (and self-conscious) about the way we tell stories about technology yet to come.

The second is that there are already scattered efforts to make more direct use of story -telling as an aid to thinking about new technological possibilities, or even direct inputs into development. This goes beyond conventional science fictional media  -  in print and on screen  -  and includes a range of ideas conveniently gathered under the heading of "design fiction".

The typical result of such efforts is a proposition, or a provocation, sometimes in the form of a designed object, sometimes not. Invariably, it is an invitation to ask, if the world contained things like this, how might life be like? That is a science fictional question, but there may be new ways of asking it which can usefully be taken further.

Author

Jon Turney

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.