At MIT, engineers are taught that scifi is crucial to do good science

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MIT is one of the premiere science and technology universities in the United States. And now students there are being asked to consider the consequences of their inventions — by reading science fiction in class. Over at The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen has a terrific interview with the creators of this innovative course.

Writes Rosen:

This fall, MIT Media Lab researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner are teaching "Science Fiction to Science Fabrication," aka "Pulp to Prototype," a course that mines these "fantastic imaginings of the future" for analysis of our very real present.


In the inteview, Brueckner tells Rosen her motivations for teaching the class:

Before coming to the Media Lab, I was a software engineer in Silicon Valley, and what I built did indeed affect millions of people. I was struck by Silicon Valley’s frenzied culture of building and launching projects as quickly as possible without considering their social impact in the long term. Unfortunately, the makers of technology are generally not encouraged to be introspective or reflect too deeply on what they are making, and this really worries me.

Once any sort of technology has users, it becomes extremely difficult to change it — even if you know it should or must be changed. Usually the only thing you can do is tack on more features, but it can be impossible to change the core structure. And once something has thousands, millions of users, the impact of every design decision is huge. Millions of people will be engaging in the same interactions possibly even hundreds of a times a day, and this is reinforcing very particular pathways in the brain.

How is that affecting our social structure and values? How is that changing the way we view ourselves and even the way we understand our own mental functioning? I got my first computer, a Commodore 64 when I was two years old, and I often wonder how constantly interacting with computer interfaces and code since a young age has affected my thought processes and my perceptions of other people and my environment.

Reading science fiction is like an ethics class for inventors, and engineers and designers should be trying to think like science fiction authors when they approach their own work.

This is great stuff. Read more at The Atlantic