Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Final Project Draft: Narrative Creates Technology.

Not to say that narrative creates all technology or anything, but rather that we have come to a point to where it can. The innovation of the human species is wide and varied. We develop in the range of the machine, medicine, culture, and so on with the techniques and methods that were created and then improved upon. Among these high points would also be literature, the written word. The imagination that brings about the buildings we live in and the types of food that we eat also chronicles the journey thus far, as well as projecting to where it might go. Science determines part of this through logical deduction and evidence. We are given an understanding of what we know and what we don’t know, what can and what can’t happen. And to take a step beyond the boundaries of the fully-explained, there is science fiction.

Science fiction, originally known as scientific romance, was created on the simple premise of “What if…?”, a process no different from an inventor who develops machines to do all our work. Your factory and your classic H.G. Wells tale could therefore have similar history, if at least at the conception process. Actually, the question of “What if we had machines to run the world and our very lives?”, would be more George Orwell’s style. Scientific romance gave us ideas, theories to be considered – first amusingly, and then more seriously – such as the existence of non-terrestrial beings. The influence of a book of sci-fi, or science fiction through any other media, is that it’s scientific a theory, a possibility as to what might be. And for the most part, that’s all it ever was, an idea with no firm ground or evidence to back it up. Not until recent times, that is.

The reason for it lay in the evolution of human culture itself. Whether by design or by accident, it developed from the use of industrial factories to the wave of machines devised to handle the menial labor, our basic tasks, in the area which we call Modernism. From that point, the use of machines has catapulted us further ahead, to where we have a veritable universe of data and information, capable of projecting concepts on paper only as though they existed in reality, leaving form to follow function as it is created in reality. This is Post-Modernism, the map that creates the territory before the land is secure.

Now, as stated before, I submit that in recent times especially, science fiction is one of the ground works in innovation, the narrative which drives us to develop a sort of technology along those lines. Scientists could have come across any of these ideas promoted by sci-fi writers on their own and developed them. It just so happens that they didn’t, and that some of the ideas never existed until someone else thought them up. And after the fact, science has been applied to prove or disprove the theories, and see if any of them are possible. To start with, let’s talk about Isaac Asimov. Science fiction writers tend to write about how the world might be in the future, and he has done so through many short and long stories, some of the most famous ones involving robots.

Of course, we have robots, don’t we? Plenty of them. In a sense, the definition could even be stretched to include the massive factory machines and people who behave like machines. But Asimov considered the thorough approach as to how robots might develop as thinking beings, as humanoids. This was quite a long while before anyone else considered the idea. The robot, developed as our mechanical servant, fringing on the human aspect, but never exactly human, even with considerations to I, Robot, The Caves of Steel, and the rest of Asimov’s books which were either centered on the use and overall development of the intelligent robot, or at least touched base on them in passing, creating a universe built upon the foundation of words alone.

Truly, we had machines before, but we weren’t actually trying to make robots. They’re a completely different set from the factory floor, although it was all still a commentary on the idea of machines overrunning humanity. In The Caves of Steel, there is a specific point in the novel depicting a riot where a number of people destroy a robot, in complaint that it’s trying to replace them. This is no different from workers protesting the loss of jobs to a row of automations. Science fiction is self-referencing. Many of its inceptions are developed specifically to warn us of what might happen in a future where we follow this sort of path. Nevertheless, the inspirations continue to drive us. At this time, there are already automated robots for the exploration of volcanoes, deep sea areas, other planets, and so on. It is possible to create an entirely-functional humanoid robot body with our current level of technology and people have been doing it. What lacks, what seems to be missing thus far, is the actual intelligence that removes the robot from the simple artifice. This too is being worked upon, the artificial intelligence. Sadly, it doesn’t exist yet, and that’s why we haven’t followed in Isaac Asimov’s footsteps yet. Still, the idea is that people are trying, simply because he wrote an idea in a book.

Human beings don’t just think in terms of what is. If they did, then we wouldn’t be developed as we are. A number of them have to consider what might be and work from there. Some work at it through experimentation to discover cause and effect, and that is the application of science. The point of science fiction, ever since scientific romance, is to consider the possibility of ideas that don’t exist and attempt to create the way that they might. From there, the scientist considers the idea and any development from there makes the idea more than fiction, but reality. For instance…time travel. Completely impossible, at least by our standards. Why consider it? The truth is, it doesn’t need a real reason TO be studied, but there IS a study on the theory of it and has been for quite some time. Questions pertaining to the effects of attempting to change the past and rewrite history, the problem of paradoxes, and even a technical study of the energy requirements (You would have to gut a black hole.) for such a journey. This is the product of a scientific study, ending in theories only, but the agent of its creation – the original one to conceive the idea – was H.G. Wells.

Of course, you could make the argument that these ideas were the process of a logical deduction to take a step in that direction according to scientists. But then, what you inevitably find is that the logical step was taken by writers instead. Nobody from the scientific came to them and said, “We need an idea for a mechanical man whose function is so complex that the argument can be made as to whether or not he can be considered as human, regardless of its genesis.”, thus creating the theory before the narrative. It is the job of a science fiction writer to dream up the worlds-that-might-be. Some of these concepts, such as a journey to the moon, may intersect, but they’re ultimately separate lines of thinking striving towards the same goal, that being the future of humankind. Science fiction simply got there first and we’re moving to catch up. It is the duty of a scientist to, once our respective understandings develop themselves, determine whether or not these things are even possible. And once that begins, the inevitable process must begin. If it is possible, or at least plausible enough, how might we go about making it a reality? And then, if we have the necessary processes, should we? That’s one of the very important points that science fiction has been trying to impose upon us: The danger of a little knowledge. Because in a modern world – nay, a post-modern world – knowledge has become one of the driving forces for development.

It is a matter of fact that media has become the engine of creation. That’s why I mentioned that both books and movies create the territory before us. Media (as in TV, radio, the internet, etc.) develops in the same fashion as a fiction novel when it is used in the proper fashion. The science fiction movie has the same effect as the book, only it delivers more stark visuals to the imagination rather than relying on your thoughts alone. In this way, it instills the fact under no uncertain terms, not necessarily open to interpretation unless otherwise indicated. Therefore, you see the way a future with robots is handled by human beings, or how a dystopian world of advancement and holocaust might appear. These future worlds might never occur. Or, they may exactly occur. It all depends upon how we humans develop, versus what we might create between here and there. Of course, the world already has a few troublesome cues from science fiction floating around. This is an information age, where everybody’s name is attached to a serial number and machines are all around us. We live in modern, fabricated structures, many of us even living in copy-and-paste design apartments and suburban households. There is also a dependency factor. Do we run the machines or have they been running us? We could very well end up as external parts to their existence, since we need them to live at this point. Sound familiar? It sounds disturbingly like George Orwell’s 1984. Granted, George may not account for the post-modernistic aspect of our development, but that may just be a stepping stone towards the trap of his narrative. So far, he’s not too far from the mark. But in the meantime, there’s another similarity that I can think of that fits more precisely, which in turn is just plain scary.

Let’s take a cue from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, otherwise known as Blade Runner. This is a perfect setup. To begin with, the world as we know it is fully-capable of developing this way. There are enough nuclear weapons around to destroy life as we know it in a World War Terminus, first of all. That sets the Blade Runner stage. We also have developments in space travel and an interest in Mars, which may have once supported life. That sets the premise for a mass exodus from Earth. Furthermore, we have the technology to alter the genetic development of a species and/or even clone it. The androids of Blade Runner are not machines, as the term would immediately bring to mind. Philip K. Dick considered the possibility of creating human-like androids, due to the lacking population and requirement of people being able to handle a human face, not a cold and unyielding one. All completely possible at this point. Animals of different types have already been cloned, tested, tweaked, and reduced to a science of replication as is. The one thing, the only thing, preventing the idea of cloning humans, actual living humans or the near-equivalents that Blade Runner’s androids represent, is a morality issue. Ironically, that’s one of the premises in Dick’s book. Do the androids, our creations, have a soul? Was it right to have ever made them so human-like before, to the point that they’re ‘more human than human’? Should the world be wrapped in a nuclear chaos that eliminates nine-tenths of the population, the morality of clone creation would probably be waived.

The point I am driving at with Blade Runner is the idea of knowledge before the idea comes to development. In the book, many people are supported by the belief in a man called Wilbur Mercer. It’s effectively a religion, if not actually so. They have empathetic devices to ‘connect’ with his ideals and understandings according to the way in which Mercerism was developed. And this is the pillar of strength which people attach themselves to in order to continue life, day in and day out, on an otherwise ruined world. Now, we have the androids – our product of science – coming after the fact and telling us that Mercer was never real. He was an actor in a series of films, a fictional character with no true origin. If there is no Mercer, there is no Mercerism, right? Wrong. Because one of the main points of the book is that it didn’t even matter whether or not he ever existed. He was instilled, as a piece of fiction, to become a form of reality.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

You make generalization after generalization here, claim after undefended claim. Individually, these claims aren't the end of the world. For, claiming that science fiction was originally known as "scientific romance" makes the implicit - but not universally held! - assumption that Wells is the creator of the genre. The problem is that you make many such claims and assumptions, and I'm not sure *why*. It would be better to focus on something narrower and more easily defended. Note the absence of a clear thesis statement in the first paragraph, for instance.

A perfect example of the vagueness which plagues this paper is in the beginning of the third paragraph. "The reason for it lay in the evolution of human culture itself. " What is "it" here? I honestly have no idea - which means that I have no idea what you're doing, period.

I don't understand what you're saying about modernism and post-modernism, although I suspect that it's important.

Four paragraphs in, and you're still only introducing your topic - it's far from clear what you'll be saying on any particular topic.

Your paragraphs on Asimov aren't really saying anything. What do you want to do with Asimov? What are you trying to argue, or prove? What elements of his books interests you?

Overall: You skip from topic to topic without any real strategy that I can see. You are interested in Wells, Asimov, and Dick, among others; you are interested in the idea that the media is the driving force behind innovation, in a (post)modernist way. You are interested in the primacy of fictional ideas over their real-world articulation. All of this sketches out an interesting field within which you are working - but as an essay, it borders on being incoherent. There is nothing proved and defended here; in fact, there is hardly anything asserted. You don't use any research, nor any *details* from the many texts you cite in passing. This needs a much narrower focus and a clearer argument. If you want to demonstrate that the media (say, Asimov) is a driving force behind innovation, your first job is to *prove* it -- show how and why Asimov was the driving force. Clearly establish your argument, then convince us that it's correct!