People in tech often talk about science-fiction predicting the future. But science-fiction is more about our current times than they are about the future. Good science-fiction writers will take a few existing concepts and extrapolate the implications of those concepts to an extreme. William Gibson, one of the writers listed below, says "I was never able to predict," Gibson says. "But I could sort of curate what had already happened.”
John Perry Barlow, one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, shares a similar sentiment. “Predicting the present is not an entirely useless enterprise, since most people are very busy predicting the past.” As Barlow argues, exponential changes are hard to detect. In the early stages of development of a technology, change is slow. It’s not until the change hits the steep part of the curve that anyone notices, and at that point, it seems like a dramatic shift.
I’ve pulled together a short list of approachable and influential books for people who might be unfamiliar with science-fiction. I feel these books do a great job of presenting a compelling future based on the technologies and ideas of today. These futures are compelling either because they offers a glimpse into a positive development, or because they warn us of the problems with our species. I’ve pulled plot synopsis from .
1. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
"Young Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin, bred to be a genius, is drafted to Battle School where he trains to lead the century-long fight against the alien Buggers."
The future of Ender’s Game is cool at first glance, but as you examine it a little more deeply, it becomes scary. How cool would it be if all of humanity was working towards a single cause? How cool would it be if kids were born geniuses and trained to expertise in strategy by the time they were 10? How scary would that all be?
Themes: war, strategy, victory, defeat, education, indoctrination, time travel, space
2. Neuromancer - William Gibson
"Gibson's groundbreaking debut novel follows Case, a burned-out computer whiz, who is asked to steal a security code that is locked in the most heavily guarded databank in the solar system. A seminal work in the genre that would come to be known as cyberpunk."
Predating the modern internet, this book imagines "cyberspace", a digital realm that people can plug into with neural laces. This book epitomizes the cyberpunk genre, influencing fiction such as The Matrix.
Themes: internet, cybersecurity, neural implants, virtual reality, AI
3. The Diamond Age - Neil Stephenson
"The story of an engineer who creates a device to raise a girl capable of thinking for herself reveals what happens when a young girl of the poor underclass obtains the device.”
In The Diamond Age, nanotechnology opens the door for new forms of engineering. Governments have collapsed after losing control of currency, and are replaced with cooperative city-states.
This is one of the books we were assigned in Peter Thiel's Sovereignty course at Stanford Law.
Themes: education, nanotechnology, scarcity, poverty, AI, sovereignty, race, currency
4. Dune - Frank Herbert
"Follows the adventures of Paul Atreides, the son of a betrayed duke given up for dead on a treacherous desert planet and adopted by its fierce, nomadic people, who help him unravel his most unexpected destiny."
Set in the distant future, two feudal families are at war over the control of space. One family retreats to the desert planet Arrakis and must learn to survive in harsh desert conditions. This straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy, as the technology in the book is extrapolated so far out that it's hard to recognize as being from our lifetimes.
This was one of the biggest sources of inspiration for Star Wars. It also has some good lines about growing up in the desert.
Themes: war, AI, cognitive enhancements, terraforming, trade, religion, decision making, strategy