In my previoius post, I was discussing Kim Stanley Robinson’s talk at the 2012 Humanity+ conference. One point I forgot to bring up was about the influence of writers. Robinson made the assertion that the vision of H.G. Wells influenced the formation of the Bretton Woods system and thus deeply impacted the course of the 20th century. I searched around but I couldn’t actually find anyone else who made that connection. (At least no one sane.) I tend to be skeptical when science fiction authors tell us how deeply impactful the work of science fiction authors is. I heard this argument from Neal Stephenson at Black Hat this year where he promoted his Hieroglyph project.
Stephenson wants SF writers to start writing positive stuff to inspire the engineers again like they used to in the old days. But I have a hard time blaming SF writers for the Great Stagnation of innovation. SF writers have given us a bunch of great technology that the engineers have failed to deliver yet. Where’s my immersive virtual reality? Where’s my utility fog, dammit? The world wide web was supposedly inspired by a dark story by Arthur C. Clarke, so engineers don’t appear to require HappyTimeUtopia stories to inspire them.
You know, I think that markets might play a role here somewhere. Technically, we could probably build some sort of moon base, but no one wants to pay for it. I was talking to a scientist from PARC at VLAB last night and told me that we spend more on air conditioning in Iraq than NASA’s entire budget. So please don’t blame (or credit) the engineers or SF writers too much for our lack of a bright shiny future. Politics and markets play a pretty big role in what actually gets built.