经济学人双语版-窥见前方世界 Glimpses of the world ahead

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FlyTitle: The World in 2020

Most science fiction is not predictive. Yet it can still be a guide to the future, says Tom Standage

科幻作品大多不具有预测性,但仍可以作为未来的一种指引,汤姆·斯坦迪奇(Tom Standage)指出

经济学人双语版-窥见前方世界 Glimpses of the world ahead

IN “THE HIGH GROUND”, an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” first aired in 1990, a crew member of the starship Enterprise is taken hostage by separatists on the planet Rutia IV. As her colleagues discuss how best to respond, one of them draws an analogy with a conflict on Earth several centuries earlier—the Troubles in Northern Ireland—noting that they were ultimately resolved by “the Irish unification of 2024”.

在《星际迷航:下一代》于1990年播出的《制高点》(The High Ground)这一集中,星际飞船“进取号”(Enterprise)的一名机组人员被Rutia IV行星上的分离主义者绑架了。当她的同事们讨论该怎么办时,其中一人用几个世纪前地球上发生的一场冲突——北爱问题——做类比,并指出这场冲突最终因“2024年爱尔兰统一”而解决。

As the 2020s dawn, the upheaval of Brexit means the prospect of Irish reunification no longer seems like science fiction. A poll in September 2019 found that a slight majority of voters in Northern Ireland were in favour of it. “We are still on track for the Star Trek unification timeline,” one fan tweet-ed. It is a striking example of a specific prediction being made in a work of science fiction. But despite perceptions to the contrary, such forecasts are the exception, not the rule. Just because sci-fi is often set in the future does not mean it is intended to be predictive. More often it is a commentary on the present.


I, Asimov


In 2020 (which happens to be the centenary of the birth of Isaac Asimov, a sci-fi legend), can the genre tell us about the future nonetheless? Set aside the aliens and the spaceships, and much contemporary science fiction is concerned with themes such as the impact of artificial intelligence, the danger of ecological collapse, the misuse of corporate power and the legacy of imperialism. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, sci-fi writers have explored changing attitudes to gender politics—imagining, for example, future societies in which gender is irrelevant or people can change sex at will. Another vibrant subfield today is Chinese science fiction, which offers an outlet for subtle dissent, and gives Western readers a sense of the country’s hopes and fears. In all these cases, sci-fi authors are using the freedom granted by the genre to consider present-day concerns and extrapolate them to mind-stretching conclusions.

即便如此,在2020年(恰巧是科幻界传奇人物艾萨克·阿西莫夫[Isaac Asimov]诞辰一百周年),这种创作类型是否可以告诉我们一些有关未来的事呢?撇开外星人和宇宙飞船,许多当代科幻作品都涉及人工智能的影响、生态破坏的危险、滥用公司权力和帝国主义的遗产等主题。自1960年代的性革命以来,科幻作家探索了对性别政治的态度转变,比如想象在未来的社会里性别变得无关紧要,或者人们可以随心所欲地改变性别。今天另一个充满活力的分支是中国的科幻作品,它为人们提供了一种微妙地表达异见的出口,并使西方读者感受到中国的希望和恐惧。在所有这些作品中,科幻作者都利用该类型所赋予的自由来考察眼下的关切,并推导出脑洞大开的结论。

All of which does have some predictive value. It means science fiction can play a useful role as a forward-scanning radar for technological, social and political trends—but in the near term, not the distant future in which it is often set. This is the first of three ways in which science fiction can provide a guide to the future.


The second is that it can help broaden the mind when assessing future scenarios for planning purposes, both in government and in business. France’s Defence Innovation Agency is setting up a “red team” of sci-fi writers to propose scenarios that might not have occurred to military planners. Arup, an engineering firm, commissioned Tim Maughan, a science-fiction writer, to create four scenarios of what everyday life might look like as a result of climate change. Neal Stephenson, the bestselling author of “Snow Crash” and “Cryptonomicon”, has served as an adviser to Blue Origin, a rocket startup, and Magic Leap, a firm developing augmented-reality glasses. Tech giants including Google, Microsoft and Apple have also employed sci-fi writ-ers as consultants, using a process sometimes called “design fiction”.

第二种是,当政府和企业为做规划而评估前景时,科幻可以帮助拓宽思路。法国的国防创新局(DIA)正在组建一个科幻作家的“红色团队”,以提出军事规划者可能想象不到的未来情境。工程公司奥雅纳(Arup)委托科幻小说家蒂姆·莫恩(Tim Maughan)构想出四种情境,说明气候变化可能导致人们的日常生活发生怎样的转变。畅销书《雪崩》(Snow Crash)和《密码宝典》(Cryptonomicon)的作者尼尔·斯蒂芬森(Neal Stephenson)曾担任火箭创业公司蓝色起源(Blue Origin)和研发增强现实眼镜的Magic Leap的顾问。谷歌、微软和苹果等科技巨头也聘请了科幻作家担任顾问,相关过程有时被称为“设计虚构”。

But bosses do not need to hire sci-fi authors to benefit from their expansive imaginations. Simply reading their books can help. Writing in Harvard Business Review in 2017, Eliot Peper, a novelist, argued that science fiction is valuable “because it reframes our perspective on the world”. Business leaders should read sci-fi, he suggested, because exploring fictional futures “frees our thinking from false constraints” and “challenges us to wonder whether we’re even asking the right questions”.

但是,老板们不必非要把科幻作家纳入麾下才能从他们广阔的想象中受益。读他们的作品就有帮助。小说家艾略特·佩珀(Eliot Peper)2017年在《哈佛商业评论》中写道,科幻很有价值,“因为它重新构筑了我们对世界的视角”。他建议商业领袖阅读科幻作品,因为探索虚构的未来“可以让我们的思维摆脱不应有的束缚”,并且“让我们反思自己是否根本就没有问对问题”。

And then there is a third, more direct, way in which sci-fi can provide glimpses of the fu-ture: by inspiring people in the tech industry who want to make it come true. The creation of the mobile phone at Motorola was motivated by the handheld wireless communicators from “Star Trek”, and Amazon’s Alexa voice-assistant by the talking computer on the Enter-prise. The Kindle was inspired by an electronic-book device in Mr Stephenson’s novel “The Diamond Age”, and an entire industry is trying to bring to life the virtual world he depicted in “Snow Crash” (see 2020 visions section). SpaceX, the rocket firm founded by Elon Musk, lands its rockets on drone ships whose names are borrowed from Iain M. Banks’s “Culture” novels; another of Mr Musk’s startups, Neuralink, is building brain-computer interfaces in-spired by the “neural lace” implants found in the same books. The tech titans of tomorrow are surely reading sci-fi today.

此外还有第三种更直接的方式来用科幻窥见未来:启发科技业人士将它们变为现实。《星际迷航》中出现的手持无线通信器推动摩托罗拉发明了手机,“进取号”上那台会说话的计算机启发亚马逊研发出Alexa语音助手。Kindle的灵感来自斯蒂芬森的小说《钻石时代》(The Diamond Age)中的电子书设备,而一整个行业正在努力将他在《雪崩》中描绘的虚拟世界变为现实。伊隆·马斯克创立的火箭公司SpaceX用来搭载火箭的无人驾驶船的名字取自伊恩·班克斯(Iain M. Banks)的《文化》(Culture)系列小说。马斯克的另一家创业公司Neuralink正根据这套书中的“神经花边”植入物开发脑机接口。明天的科技巨人今天肯定在读科幻。

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