Better Made Up: The mutual influence of science fiction and innovation. NESTA. 2013.

Co-authored with Caroline Bassett and W.Ed Steinmueller, this (extremely) longform essay formed part of the ‘Better Made Up’ project. The piece traces the modes of influence between science fiction and technological innovation through an investigation of the nature and evolution of genre; the various effects and appeals of different forms of expression, and the ways in which SF may be appropriated by its different audiences. We consider influence as a process of iteration, similar to the iterative cycles seen as technologies are taken up and domesticated.

Buzz Aldrin, who really did stand on the moon, recently offered a transporter to Mars to a Radio Four programme asking for donations to an imaginary museum. It was received as the first way to ‘hitch a ride into space’… ‘since science fiction’. Aldrin, who has criticized NASA’s priorities, who seeks a Mars programme, and who has been engaged in work on a Mars Cycler, intended this fictional gift to be a real world intervention. Science Fiction and Science ‘fact’ – science and technology innovation, policy, public knowledge, investment - are not two separate realities but are two entangled and overlapping fields.

This engagement is widely recognized. From Mars to flying cars to digital drugs, robot friends to teleportation, GPS to mobile communicators1 , smart food to mitochondrial reproduction techniques, links are often drawn between science fiction and technological innovation. Sunday supplements and popular blogs as well as academic journals make frequent reference to technologies that have ‘crossed over’ from science fiction into present fact. One popular and often repeated example is the attribution of the invention of the communication satellite to Arthur C. Clarke. The starting point of this report is that these assumptions are justified – there is traffic between fictional and real worlds of science and technology and these worlds are connected. As a mode of fiction centrally investigating possible worlds, interrogating present conditions and exploring possible futures, SF is inevitably caught up in the discourses of real-world ‘science’ and ‘technology’ (see (Dourish and Bell 2008)) and these discourses have results.