At the request of Melbourne’s Deakin University, in 2016, the Canadian writer and journalist Cory Doctorow wrote an interesting story on how the real-world development of self-driving cars could go really, really wrong.
As Doctorow himself puts it: “The story, Car Wars, takes the form of a series of vignettes that illustrate the problem with designing cars to control their drivers, interspersed with survey questions to spur discussion of the wider issues of governments and manufacturers being able to control the operation of devices we own and depend on.” (actually, the survey questions don’t really help “spurring discussions”, as Deakin professor Gleb Beliakov provides his own, unequivocal and somewhat laconic answer to all of them – you can, however, view the survey results here)
In the story, the interaction between highly intelligent self-driving software, rules and exceptions forced into the car systems by all kinds of authorities, and a well-planned act of behavorial hacking, forces most of the city’s car into behaving like a herd of frightened buffaloes driven over the edge of a cliff. All, but one cleverly (although illegally) software-hacked car. But of course, if you had the right to hack your car, and if everyone did it, the situation could get even worse. Or could it?
In 2312, first published in 2012 (French translation to hit the shelves in May 2017), SF writer and ecologist Kim Stanley Robinson (aka KSR) imagines a world where, after having (almost) desperately messed up its planet of origin, humanity expands by colonizing and “terraforming” the whole solar system…
… What, another of those stories? Not quite.
I came up with “Imaginizing” by myself, but Gareth Morgan beat me to it by a large margin: His book Imaginization: New Mindests for Seeing, Organizing and Managing was published in 1993, and his website is called Imaginiz.com.
“As a society, we have become preoccupied with the idea of finding ways of fixing and controlling the world around us. ‘Getting organized’ has meant finding that structure or solution for an organization that’s going to last (…) But, in times of change, organizations that are organized in this way run into trouble because they can’t adjust to the new challenges (…) The challenge now is to imaginize: to infuse the process of organizing with a spirit of imagination that takes us beyond bureaucratic boxes. (…)
Imaginization is a way of thinking. It’s a way or organizing. It’s a key managerial skill. It provides a way of helping people understand and develop their creative potential. It offers a way of finding innovative solutions to difficult problems. And, last but not least, it provides a means of empowering people to trust themselves and find new roles in a world characterized by flux and change.”
Slow Catastrophes, Uncertain Revivals (2016, free eBook) features 5 stories created by students in “Slow Catastrophes, Speculative Futures, Science & Imagination: Rewriting and Rethinking Sustainability”, a course by Michele Speitz at Furman University in South Carolina.
Taking inspiration from Project Hieroglyph‘s “visions for a better future” and an essay by Kim Stanley Robinson for the 2013 Worldwatch Institute Report (Is It Too Late?, .pdf), the course “challenged students to draw on multiple disciplines—across the sciences and the humanities—in order to create works of science fiction that might inspire us to address the multifarious complications bound up with climate change, that might embolden us to confront what some see as an impossibility: to be able to say ‘Yes, sustainability is still possible.’”
In a long conversation with Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, philosopher Isabelle Stengers shares her thoughts about what she calls the “post-anthropocene”: a state, or rather a frame of mind, where, having “desperately mess[ed] up what they, and many other earthly critters, depend upon“, humans accept that they are not longer alone at the centre of the planetary stage.
Fiona Raby and Anthony Dunne use design as a medium to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the social, cultural and ethical implications of existing and emerging technologies.
Their book, Speculative Everything (MIT Press, 2013), propose to use design as “a means of speculating about how things could be—to imagine possible futures.”
African Science-Fiction is incredibly lively and often (not always!) looks at the future in ways European readers are not accustomed to – like living alongside aliens (as minor gods, friends and neighbors, symbiots, etc.) rather than defending our ground against them. Global warming is also very present in stories from a continent that knows first-hand about warmth, desired or forced migrations, the dearth of water and the importance of biodiversity.