To Anticipate Emerging Technologies, Read Science Fiction

This post is part of a series about Governing Emerging Technologies that I’m writing for a UCL course of the same name.

An overarching theme so far in the Governing Emerging Technologies course is the difficulty of anticipating the long-term consequences of new technologies. What we are interested in is not a piece of tech in isolation, but a holistic view: Its impact when it has become ubiquitous, its interplay with other technologies, social systems, nature, all those messy things. Prediction seems impossible. (Was Asimov serious when he conceived of Psychohistory?)

But are there tools of thought we can use that allow us, if not prediction, at least anticipation of a landscape of possible futures?

A science fact fiction story collection?

A science fact fiction story collection?

Earlier this year, I came across a book called “BioPunk: Stories From the Far Side Of Research”. BioPunk is a collection of science fiction short stories that explore potential futures of biotechnology and their ethical implications. But this anthology tries to differentiate itself a little bit from any old science fiction collection. Supported by the Wellcome Trust, editor Ra Page commissioned the short stories to be based on actual current science research. Authors were paired up with research scientists who were to fact check stories scientifically and presumably also acted as a source of inspiration. Scientists and ethicists furthermore contributed an afterword commentary to the stories, all adding to the impression that this book is somehow a more serious endeavour than “normal” science fiction. Indeed, the stated aim of BioPunk is “to predict some of the potential ethical side-effects of the groundbreaking biomedical research currently being developed.” Did you spot the p-word? Continue reading

Hello World

Hello World.

Hello World

starting off with a cliché

I have been toying with the idea of starting a permanent blog on and off for a while – especially since I penned two articles on DIYbio, citizen science in molecular biology, last year. Until now though, the blog idea has been left unimplemented – other projects inevitably come up quickly and the “blog launch date” gets delayed ad infinitum.

After a while, starting a blog actually seems to become harder. A bunch of ideas for posts accumulate in note form and the expectation of “great blog posts to come” becomes harder to fulfil. The blog becomes a type of ze frankian braincrack.

So: In order to just jump into the water, and learn blogging while doing, I enrolled in a module that is assessed in large part on posting blog entries, as well as covering a seriously interesting topic: “Governing Emerging Technologies”.

The course is run by Jack Stilgoe, who blogs here. It’s been only a week so far but the first discussion during the seminar promises a stimulating time ahead. I expect to blog mostly on topics relating to synthetic biology, DIYbio and biohacking, citizen science and iGEM “human practice”, but maybe also some unexpected topics in response to the course. What excites me furthermore about the course is to spend time thinking critically about technologies, responsible innovation and the relationship between technology, science and society. And it’s great to be in a course that requires a lot of writing (daunting, but hopefully rewarding) and discussions in seminars – a very different experience to the technical courses I usually take.

Image Credit: Hello World coliroid published in Levskaya et al., Nature, 2005
The coolest “Hello World” program in a while.