Why sci-fi is obsessed with the near future

Sci-fi has rooted itself in technology and concerns of the short term, rather than the far-flung

  • Pin It
Speculative designers

Speculative designer Jessica Charlesworth passes a display of sticky notes of various ideas, topics, and headlines used for brainstorming. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune / March 30, 2014)

In the West Town loft that Jessica Charlesworth shares with husband, Tim Parsons, along the back wall, on a row of metal filing cabinets, a kaleidoscope of Post-it notes waved in a soft draft, each a kind of dispatch from the future. I leaned in to decipher the scribbles: "Plans to build solar farms on the moon," I read aloud.

Charlesworth nodded.

I read the next note: "4-D printing." And the note beside that note: "Invisibility research in China."

I looked at her, confused.

She was still nodding. "That last one," she said in her London lilt, "that's happening. Actually, they all are."

She should know.

Charlesworth and Parsons, both of whom teach design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, are leading figures in the hot field of speculative design, which means that they not only dream of the future, but they also consider and study the ramifications of design on the future. As she puts it, they study "emerging possibilities." They build prototypes, look at how technologies can be used and misused, picture plausibilities, probabilities.

"What I try to install in students is that you have no idea the potential of a technology by just looking at whatever it is now," Charlesworth said. "What happens when ideas leave the lab is — well, we look at possibilities. For instance, what happens if someone, say, grows cells in their home for the purpose of eating cells for food?"

"Eating?" I asked.

She shrugged. "Sure. A future possibility."

"So then how far out do you ask students to consider the future? One hundred, two hundred years?"

"About 10 to 15 years is average," she said. "There's plenty there."

She uses classic science fiction to spur imaginations, she explained. Students read Orwell and Bradbury, they watch Kubrick. But she's just as likely, she said, to focus on the factual research of contemporary engineers.

And that means what for science fiction? I asked. Can distant futures compete with almost-nows?

"Actually," she said, "the science fiction I like is more about almost-now, with small variables made to the look of the world to let us know it's the future: Things changed, but the world is fundamentally the world."

Which is a nice working definition of science fiction in 2014: Today, with bits of tomorrow.

Indeed, I saw "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" later that night, and it featured driverless cars, militarized hovercraft/helicopter hybrids, "satellites that can read a terrorist's DNA before he steps out of a spider hole." It's set in the present, and nothing on-screen seems improbable. Before the movie started, there was a trailer for "Transcendence," which opens Friday. In it, Johnny Depp plays an artificial-intelligence expert who seemingly skirts death by fusing his consciousness with a computer. It sounded eerily like Ray Kurzweil, the tireless real-world promoter of an inevitable human-computer "singularity," and … director of engineering at Google.

It's never too soon to plan for your future.

Helpfully, in theaters, at bookstores, on TV, that future is now. And a genre that once dreamed big, that envisioned new worlds and dimensions, that used the future itself as a metaphor for the problems of the present, has turned inward. Mars was once a destination; now, we can't see beyond the ramifications of our cellphones.

"Did you see 'Her'?" Charlesworth asked. "That's a vision of everyday life. Not shining metal spaceship surfaces of old sci-fi so much as lots of wooden furniture. Quite, quite convincing."

  • Pin It
News Coverage on Tilda Swinton - CTNow
RSS feeds allow Web site content to be gathered via feed reader software. Click the subscribe link to obtain the feed URL for this page. The feed will update when new content appears on this page.

Tilda Swinton

A collection of news and information related to Tilda Swinton published by this site and its partners.

Top Tilda Swinton Articles

Displaying items 23-33
  • 'Perks of Being a Wallflower': Surviving high school ★★★

    'Perks of Being a Wallflower': Surviving high school ★★★
    Sometimes an inexperienced filmmaker can use a helping hand from his cast. That's exactly what Stephen Chbosky got from Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson in the adaptation of his popular young adult novel "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." Back...
  • A heady whiff of autumn in new perfumes

     A heady whiff of autumn in new perfumes
    For perfume lovers, the advent of cooler weather may very well inspire a shift in scents. It's a time to abandon the light florals of summer and explore fragrances that reflect autumn and conjure notions of All Hallow's Eve. For a postmodern...
  • En cartelera: "Moonrise Kingdom" y "Goodbye First Love"

    En cartelera: "Moonrise Kingdom" y "Goodbye First Love"
    Moonrise Kingdom ***1/2 Las mieles y hieles que deja el primer amor son magníficamente retratadas en Moonrise Kingdom, dirigido por Wes Anderson, cineasta que ha entregado cintas memorables como Fantastic Mr. Fox y The Royal Tenenbaums. Aunque este...
  • Tilda Swinton rocks out

    Tilda Swinton rocks out
  • Golden Globes: Five meaty story lines to chew on

    George Clooney, The Artist and Meryl Streep are among the frontrunners at the Golden Globes...
  • Golden Globes: We predict Sunday's film winners

    Who will be beaming from the Golden Globes stage on Sunday and who will be pretending to smile while being insulted by Ricky Gervais? We predict the movie categories today and return tomorrow with a look at the Globes' television slate....
  • Golden Globes: Charlize Theron, Tilda Swinton toast performances

    Just in time for Golden Globes weekend, W magazine releases its annual "Best Performances" issue celebration the work of the year. Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, Elizabeth Olsen and Tilda Swinton were among top honorees....
  • Golden Globes 2012: Let the red carpet arrivals begin!

    Golden Globes red carpet pictures: The show before the Golden Globe Awards show happens on the red carpet outside the Beverly Hilton, where photographers were snapping shots of early arrivals Sunday afternoon....
  • Zooey Deschanel, Tilda Swinton hit InStyle Golden Globes party

    Golden Globe Awards parties: Zooey Deschanel, Tilda Swinton, Tina Fey and Andy Serkis were among those spotted at the InStyle Warner Bros. Golden Globe Awards party after the broadcast....
  • Golden Globes parties: Talking 'Horror' at Fox; Kidman glows at HBO

    Golden Globes parties raged at the Beverly Hilton on Sunday evening, as HBO welcomed stars to their poolside bash like Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Claire Danes and Laura Dern. FOX toasted with the casts of "Modern Family" and "The Descendants."...
  • 'The Artist' dominates BAFTA nominations

    BAFTA nominations: "The Artist," which won three Golden Globes Sunday evening, earned the most nominations for the Orange British Academy Awards with 12....