The End of Science Fiction
Right now, as you sit in front of your computer screen reading this line of text, the future is happening. Next time you find yourself perched on a hilltop overlooking a city at night, ideally the city of Los Angeles, think living, breathing science-fiction. Indeed, the only thing that separates this particular view of present day Los Angeles (assuming you made it there) from the opening shot of Blade Runner, is the absence of fireballs erupting from industrial smoke stacks.
Maybe the street level POV doesn’t quite match up, after all, the essential flying cars are nowhere to be found; however indoors, the present day equivalent of Neil Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel Snow Crash is playing out as millions of people leave their bodies behind in desk chairs while they roam virtual playgrounds in massively multi-player online games like Second Life or World of Warcraft. And if you were walking the streets of Dayton, Tennessee you might catch a glimpse of ‘the first real-life bionic man,’ an amputee victim named Jesse Sullivan, who, after having the severed nerves from his former biological arm re-routed to a robotic replacement, can move his factory-made elbow, forearm and fingers with his thoughts alone.
Meanwhile, as I sit here translating my thoughts into keyboard strokes and mouse clicks, several companies, such as Neurosky, Hitachi, and research labs such as MIT, are working to wire the human brain directly to the machine from dry electrode to USB cable (in the case of Neurosky), for gaming and medical applications alike. At the same time, about 1.5 million Roomba robotic vacuums have found shelter in human homes while scores of autonomous planetary rovers explore other planets, and Asimov’s laws are being implemented and extended to include legal rights for bots in light of the continuing android evolution.
In the laboratories, research teams are developing prosthetic memory banks from silicon (only a hop skip and a jump away from pacemakers), the Neanderthal genome is being sequenced (Jurassic Park with Neanderthals?), while tissue engineers grow skin grafts in pitri dishes and functional human ears protrude from hairless mice. And though genetic engineers have yet to produce a real life Peter Parker with arachnid-esque super powers like Spiderman, Chinese scientists have spliced jellyfish and pig genes to fabricate a litter of glowing green pigs just in time for 2007, the year of the pig. And speaking of farm animals , on December 28th 2006, the FDA approved cloned livestock safe to eat! Hurrah!
Notions that used to be the work of science fiction authors are now the work of scientists whose stories are fit for headlines and nightly news broadcasts. This transition has not gone unnoticed by science fiction writer Verner Vinge who suggested in a 1993 paper that the future, which used to be a well of radical ideas, was becoming the present at an exponential rate. He described what’s known as the Singularity - a point in time between the years 2005 and 2040 when a scientific/technological breakthrough comparable to the rise of human life on earth changes everything.
The Singularity may sound like a sci-fi idea cleverly disguised in an academic essay, but it is in fact a theory based on Gordon E. Moore’s 1965 prediction that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double every 18 months as the cost of production decreases; but storage has been getting cheaper and cheaper at a rate that exceeds Moore’s formula, and innovation has followed suit.
It's no wonder science fiction writers like William Gibson have turned to the past, imagine slaving over a 200 page sci-fi future saga, only to realize reality writes the best novels now.
So, here we are on this verdant rock of molten lava living out the best science fiction novel ever written. Who knows what’ll happen next...