Episode #1504

Flying Cars and Tricorders: How Sci-Fi Invented the Present

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Friday, January 24, 2014

An iPhone and a Star Trek-inspired tricorder An iPhone and a Star Trek-inspired tricorder (JD Hancock/flickr)

From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to George Orwell’s 1984 to Spike Jonze’s Oscar-nominated Her, artists have imagined what the future will look like. In this week’s episode, Kurt Andersen explores how science fiction has shaped the world we’re living in right now. The inventor of the cell phone gives credit to Star Trek’s communicator; International Space Station superstar Chris Hadfield explains the ups and downs of space; and science writer Carl Zimmer says the giant sandworms of Dune got him interested in life on Earth. And we answer the age old question: where’s my flying car?  

You’re Living in a Science Fiction Story

It’s easy to look back at old science fiction and see it as silly. But there are important ideas embedded in those stories that influenced scientists and the way technology develope...

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Kirk to Enterprise: Star Trek in Your Pocket

“By 2013, I literally envisioned that I would be retiring on the moon,” says Candy Torres, a former software engineer for the International Space Station. Like so many scientists of...

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Chris Hadfield: How to Brush Your Teeth in Space

Chris Hadfield’s recent cover of David Bowie’s classic song “Space Oddity” has more than 20 million views on YouTube. And not because of Hadfield’s voice (which isn’t bad, for an ast...

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Will Computers Take Over the World?

It’s been a trope in science fiction for years: someday the computers will become self-aware and take over. But in 1993, the computer scientist and science fiction author Vernor Vin...

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Annalee Newitz: The Future Is Coming to Get You

Scientists and science writers can rattle off all the sci-fi that inspired them to build great things. But Annalee Newitz, editor of io9, thinks that dystopian science fiction is les...

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Will Your Next Car Fly?

Along with robots and ray guns, the 21st century was definitely supposed to include flying cars. We have pretty decent robots, and all kinds of lasers. As for the flying cars, ther...

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Carl Zimmer on Giant Sandworms

The science writer Carl Zimmer was 10 years old when his family moved to rural New Jersey. He quickly made a new friend whose father was the prolific science fiction illustrator J...

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jerryfrommontana from helena, mt

I also enjoyed the show. You covered a lot of good topics.

One that I would like to hear more about is "abundant free energy". I have always believed that eventually, somewhere, somehow, one of us "smart monkeys with pants" would discover a new form of energy or propulsion that has existed all along. Many have worked with things like zero-point energy, "fuel free piston" engines, magnetic power solutions and other "exotic" energy technologies - see this web page for a few - http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Best_Exotic_Clean_Energy_Technologies - I truly believe that we are on the cusp of finding a completely new energy source that could replace Oil and set us and our planet on a much healthier course.
I f you would like to know more, send an e-mail. I have a couple of experts in the field of exotic energy and its great potential that you could speak to for the upcoming show. Send an e-mail to my registration address...

Mar. 17 2014 07:30 PM
t. anthony

As a black kid who loved (and still loves) sci-fi, I'd like to see in the next sci-fi show some of the work by African American writers who have woven race and cultural issues into the genre: Samuel Delany, Olivia Butler, Tananarive Due...

Feb. 07 2014 04:26 PM
Kent Harris from Montana

Enjoyed your broadcast tonight on Public Radio. Suggest your next Science Fiction program include possible use of AI in K-12 education. I love to suggest we can't afford to keep teachers in classrooms. Traditional classrooms were never intended to 'optimize' learning for anyone, let alone the underachievers so common these days. Our economy used to provide good paying jobs for students who fell through the cracks in our public schools. Of course most of these jobs have been shipped overseas or are being filled by illegals happy to work for 'less'.

We've allowed millions of kids to drop our AND GRADUATE without the BASIC skills they need to survive and thrive in the 21st century. Our country's poor reading and math scores are a clear indication that our kids continue to be passed from grade to grade WITHOUT MASTERING the literacy and math skills critical to success in school and in life.

Responsive, interactive learning software will soon be on the scene. Learning skills as opposed to knowledge requires REPETITION, something the human 'teacher' does poorly.....something an artificial intelligence can easily accomplish using a programed variety of teaching styles, content and paces to keep the student engaged longer and with more intensity. I'm surprised the big boys (Microsoft, Apple, Google etc. haven't zeroed in on the market potential.

Jan. 29 2014 11:12 PM
rif from nyc

Jan. 27 2014 08:29 PM
Jade E. Freeman from Irvine, CA

So, there tends to be a lot of white people in the fantasy and science fiction, but given birthrates across the world and increase in interracial relationships, wouldn't the future be far more, well, colorful, or at least less racially stratified? How does/will science fiction deal with the likely loss of racial identities?

Jan. 26 2014 04:59 PM

Sci-Fi Part 2 show suggestion: Changes In Time - Technology changes and more importantly cultural changes. Genre wise there is the time travel stories which inevitably play around with the paradox that go along with travel to the past (Back to the Future, Looper, every other Star Trek movie…). For travel into the future, often they represent this future through changes in technology, but I personally find the explorations of cultural transformations equally if not more so interesting.

Planet Of The Apes is a classic in this sub-genre. Cloud Atlas is a more recent example where what the world we see in the distant future very different but also hauntingly familiar. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is a fun variation but yet fascinating in the cultural differences explored. And many more...

Beyond fiction, there are a few real world examples of how either society or technology relate from past and future. The Long Now group who you’ve previously covered (http://longnow.org/) has communication to the future humantity at its core, tipified by their 10,000 Year Clock project (http://longnow.org/clock/).

Hopefully this idea of time passing provides some inspiration for your future show. Regardless, I am certain I will enjoy whatever you create.

Jan. 26 2014 03:18 PM
Emmet O'Melia from Bedford, OH

Can't imagine you could have a list of great sci-fi without mentioning Arthur C. Clark and Stephen Baxter's collaborations. In particular "The light of other days". This novel explores the impact of transparency in society, something that the internet and phones are beginning to actualize. Emmet

Jan. 26 2014 01:21 PM
Tom Easton from Dedham, MA

You might look at the science fiction anthology VISIONS OF TOMORROW, edited by Tom Easton and judith K. Dial, Skyhorse, 2010. It collects stories that proved prophetic. There's also a nice introduction on the topic by Robert Silverberg.

Jan. 26 2014 01:02 PM
Brian Hierlihy

Regarding the prediction of singularity - I thing Azimov got there first when he (in 1956) predicted how it might evolve in "The Last Question".

See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Question

Jan. 26 2014 12:34 PM
A Person


One of my favorite dystopian sci-fi stories is the videogame Portal 2. It involves an AI named GLaDOS who takes over a science lab, and runs tests on the player character (which consist of solving puzzles). She (spoiler alert) turns out to have been a human who was (probably forcibly) converted into a robot. GLaDOS is honestly one of my favorite AI characters, but this show (and the general public) seem to forget about the interesting sci-fi plots in videogames.

Jan. 25 2014 05:10 PM
Chris Gurin from Philadelphia

I personally look forward to the "singularity", if for no other reason than to avoid having to use the really rotten interfaces we're stuck with. As painful as it might be, I might be able to make After Effects actually WORK if I could mind-meld with the program (don't get me started on plug-ins).
My only complaint is you failed to mention "Caprica", and Zoe' Graystone helping Sister Clarisse build her digital "apotheosis".
Thanks otherwise.

Jan. 25 2014 03:12 PM

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