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Posted on July 26th, 2011 by
Most people give me an odd look when I say I took a class on “Science Fiction Prototyping.” It’s not exactly a clear term. Are you prototyping science fiction stories? Prototyping some other kind of fiction using science? Prototyping science with fiction?
Science Fiction Prototyping is developing a fictional story set in the future to explore the implications of a technology that isn’t feasible in this day and age.
When we look back on the huge archive of science fiction stories, television shows, movies, and even comic books, we can see how these have impacted how everyday people see the future, and how our designers design it. One example that’s cited frequently is flip phones (pictured on left, Motorola Razr), which bear a striking resemblance to communicators in the original Star Trek (pictured on the right).
Science fiction can also explore larger implications of technology, such as in the movie Moon (2009), which explores the implications of clones, and their rights as human beings.
The Science Fiction Prototype, as opposed to just regular science fiction, is based around the science being prototyped rather than the story being told. Though the story will probably have people in it, the story isn’t REALLY about those people; it’s about how those people interact with the technology in the story, and how that technology interacts with them.
Science Fiction Prototyping can explore technology in greater generalities or finer detail than a physical prototype. It focuses on the interactions and the relationships with the technology, rather than the specific look or feel. It can give the designer greater depth for their thinking process, and help hook the shareholders by telling an interesting story about a technology that’s not too far into the future.
Brian David Johnson, a futurist at Intel who helped design the course I took, wrote a guide on the subject. Some of the original Star Trek episodes can be viewed on Netflix instant watch in the United States. Moon is available as a DVD via Netflix. A collection of some the stories developed during the course can be purchased on Amazon.