To understand the role of science fiction, we first need to understand sociotechnical imaginaries. While this can be quite a complex topic, they can simply be understood as the collective visions people hold of technology and the future based on this technology. They are the way we see and make sense of technology, and include how we imagine the (best) future. Science fiction also does this, and can thus be seen as a form of imaginary, or something that shapes imaginaries as the genre shows us glimpses of possible futures in which technology plays an important role.
Fiction or reality?
To answer the question whether these futures are realistic or merely fictional stories, I discussed the topics during the interviews I conducted for my research with fellow students and experts in the field of AI. According to the AI experts I interviewed, it is not likely that there will be an artificial intelligence that gains this level of sentience anytime soon, as AI still operates within boundaries set by humans. AI is still created by humans, and can only do what humans assign. Even in cases where machine learning is applied, which is often feared as the source for AI gaining sentience, it can only learn within the boundaries of the task it is meant to complete. While it is far too difficult to predict if an AI revolution like the movies will ever happen, the experts reassure that it is not something that will happen in the near future.
Regardless whether the science fiction narratives are realistic or not, the genre can still be a powerful tool if used right. As shown above, we have likely all seen examples of such science-fiction narratives, which is also one of the main reasons why I want to discuss science-fiction specifically. Whether it is through movies, tv shows, video games or books, science-fiction is an easily accessible way for anyone to engage with imaginaries of technology. While policy-making and research are certainly important aspects of imaginaries and have great influence on them, they are often not easily understood or engaged with by the general public. That is why science-fiction can be an amazing tool for people to engage with technology and its future. It can make people think about the technologies central to it, spark conversations about it and allow people to express their hopes and fears of it. This is also why it is a great way to make people mindful of the technology they use and can thus help in breaking open the blackbox of AI for instance, which I discussed in this blogpost. All in all, it can shed light on aspects of technology that are important to consider in the discourse surrounding technological innovation and should be valued as a tool in this.