The Applied Sci-Fi Project
How can we apply science fiction storytelling as a tool for imagining and shaping the future of technology?
The Applied Sci-Fi Project, made possible by support from the Sloan Foundation, is an event series and research project that brings together science fiction writers, futurists, scholars, and technologists to survey how science fiction narratives can shape the development of real-world technologies. We will examine the general influence of sci-fi on technology and the people who develop it, as well as the specific ways that sci-fi storytelling is being applied as a tool for innovation and foresight.
There’s little question that the imaginary futures of science fiction have influenced the direction of technology, from space travel to cell phones to cyberspace.
Recognizing this “Sci-Fi Feedback Loop” between speculative visions and real-world innovations, a growing multi-disciplinary field of practitioners is using science fiction as a tool for thinking about, preparing for, and perhaps even shaping our increasingly uncertain future.
This loosely connected but rapidly expanding field, which we’re calling Applied Sci-Fi, includes:
- strategic foresight consultants who partner with sci-fi writers to develop potential future scenarios for their corporate and government clients;
- designers and engineers using design fiction, sci-fi prototyping, and worldbuilding techniques to ideate new technologies and environments;
- policy think tanks commissioning sci-fi to envision creative solutions to societal challenges;
- professors using sci-fi to educate engineers, lawyers, and other professionals about tech ethics;
- venture firms and startup founders mining the latest sci-fi for product ideas;
- technical consultants working to ensure that visions of the future in TV and film reflect real science and technology;
- and much more.
The Applied Sci-Fi Project will bring together this emerging community of experts and practitioners in a series of public conversations and private workshops to examine different aspects of its history and practice. These events will inform a series of papers that will serve as a practical introduction to the Applied Sci-Fi field, its practitioners, and their tools: an Applied Sci-Fi Sourcebook surveying the history of sci-fi as both an unintentional influence on, and intentional tool for, technological innovation.
Reimagining “The Future of [X]” (Online)
Over the past decade, there has been a growing trend of projects from think tanks, companies, academics, and activists that use collections of science-fictional short stories, artwork, and nonfiction essays to help policymakers and the public better imagine a variety of potential futures on a particular topic. Join Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination on Wednesday, June 14 at 9:00 am Arizona time (9:00 am Pacific, 12:00 pm Eastern) for a virtual conversation that brings together science fiction authors, editors, foresight practitioners and researchers to discuss how to build “Future of [X]” projects that can actually change how we approach the future. We’ll be joined by our opening speaker, science fiction and nonfiction author Annalee Newitz (The Terraformers, Four Lost Cities) and four special guests: sci-fi author and futurist Tobias Buckell (Arctic Rising, “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance”); policy expert, foresight consultant and sci-fi author August Cole (Ghost Fleet, Burn-In); anthropologist Amy Johnson, who researches the use of speculative futures techniques at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center; and Tory Stephens, climate fiction editor at Grist Magazine. The panel will be moderated by CSI’s managing editor Joey Eschrich, who will also share his perspective on CSI’s own “Future of X” book anthologies, contests, and other projects.
Science Fictional Scenarios and Strategic Foresight
In this third panel in the series, held on December 8, 2022, we explore the past, present, and future of strategic foresight practice, map the similarities and differences between strategic foresight and science fiction, and consider how to leverage both fields to help us collaboratively design a better tomorrow.
Designing the Future with Applied Sci-Fi
In this second panel in the series, held on September 29, 2022, we explore how the tools of sci-fi narrative are used in the field of design to better imagine, experience, and shape possible futures. Whether these emerging design practices are categorized as design fiction, sci-fi prototyping, useful fiction, experiential futures, or worldbuilding, there is a growing field of futurists and design professionals applying these science-fictional techniques to advise companies, governments, and nonprofits on how to prepare for the opportunities and challenges that the future will bring.
The Sci-Fi Feedback Loop: Mapping Fiction’s Influence on Real-World Tech
In this first panel in the series held on May 12, 2022, “The Sci-Fi Feedback Loop: Mapping Fiction’s Influence on Real-World Tech”, we explore the past, present and future of sci-fi’s influence with experts Michael Bennett, Tim Chang, Cory Doctorow, Malka Older and Sherryl Vint, moderated by Kevin Bankston.
This project has been made possible by a generous grant from the Technology Program of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.