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December 07, 2008

5 Inventions We Owe to Science Fiction

In more ways than one can probably imagine, science fiction has helped generate ideas for investors dating back centuries. Human imagination generally has preceded ingenuity, which is increasingly catching up as technology accelerates, making ideas that were once solely in the realm of sci-fi more feasible in the real world. Over the past few decades, many literary concepts have entered the real world, including:

Electronic Book Readers

Say what you will about the level of sophistication of devices such as the Kindle, Electronic books are a growing segment today in large part due to the vision put forth by Douglas Adams. His classic 1979 work "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" used a self-reference to the novel to describe the process of how "you push this button here, you see, and the screen lights up, giving you the index.."

Wireless Tracking Monitor Bracelets

Using wireless technology to transmit the location of a person, tracking bracelets are used to keep tabs on house-arrest criminals as well as honing in on the location of various VIPs, for security purposes, using wireless technology. First mentioned in the 1990 novel "Shadowspeer" by Patricia Jo Clayton, in the context of government officials keeping track of inter-stellar travelers, the bracelets gained widespread use beginning in the late 1990s.

Light Sculptures

While Science Fiction has brought us its share of operational innovations, there are also a number of breakthroughs in technical art that can be attributed to the genre. In 1973, Isaac Asimov's "Light Verse" foretold light sculptures as means of creative expression. Asimov described them as "a new symphony of light...crystalline effects that bathed every guest in wonder..."

Networked Electronic Voting Machines

Although some might argue that we're still waiting for reliable electronic voting, John Brunner envisioned electronic voting in his 1975 novel "The Shockwave Rider". Interestingly, the novel is based on the premise of a network which had shifted the powers to the elites and a hacker who uses a program to help democratize society once again. While others foresaw electronic voting, none of them saw a full, decentralized network of voting the way Brunner did.

Computerized Language Translation Software

Since Adams' novel broke a lot of technical ground, we return to "Hitchhiker's" for our final invention reference. Not only did the novel foretell computerized language translation, but it would even lend the term "Babel Fish" to the web site that would make computerized translation available to the general public.

This guest post comes from Maya Richard (@ who writes on the subject of high speed internet.


November 22, 2008

When Fact Meets Fiction – Learning Science the Fun Way

iStockphoto / Ugur Evirgen

I don’t normally read science fiction, but Michael Crichton is an entirely different story. I fell in love with his work even before he gained a greater degree of fame with Jurassic Park and its sequels. Right from Andromeda Strain to the Sphere, I’ve enjoyed the way he combines a little bit of fact and a whole lot of fiction to spin a believable yarn about worlds of both the future and the past.

Another author who qualifies for such bouquets in my book is Dan Brown, not for The Da Vinci Code, the famous (notorious) bestseller that caused a ton of controversy, but for its sequel, Angels and Demons, which in book, was a better book than the Code. I particularly took a great deal of interest in the Large Hadron Collider and the way antimatter was explained and used to cause great mayhem and potential destruction. And when I saw the fine print that said that this fact was indeed fact and that fiction had been woven around it, I looked up the project on the Internet and read all I could about it. I admit I was a bit smug when I could tell all my friends that I knew all about this project more than a year ago, and even though they initially thought that I had turned into some kind of science junkie (which I definitely am not), they were surprised to learn that good fiction can have fact as its basis.

Science is a subject that not everyone understands easily; but when it is couched in fiction, when a compelling yarn is woven using the slightest thread of truth, it’s then that people want to learn more and discover more. That’s the best part of books, the fictional kind, because they teach you more than their subject-specific counterparts ever will. Just ask any aficionado of medical and legal mysteries – they’re bound to be familiar with a whole lot of facts, processes and procedures that relate to hospitals and the courtrooms respectively.

And that’s because they don’t consider the process as one of learning, but one of enjoyment. Reading these books are leisure activities for them, while slogging over textbooks is drab, routine work that must be done to achieve good grades. There’s a vast difference in the results achieved when a task is done just for the sake of it and when it’s really enjoyed wholeheartedly. And this delineating line is where fact meets fiction!

This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject of web learning versus class learning. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24 at gmail dot com


December 30, 2007

Hel's Bet

If you like Science Fiction, you may want to check out the forthcoming Singularity-themed novel entitled Hel's Bet by Doug Sharp:

Hel’s Bet is a fast-paced alternate history of the present. The heroes of Hel’s Bet steal the prototype American space shuttle Enterprise, smuggle it into Russia, and blast into space on an embezzled Energia rocket. NASA launches a mission to hunt them down. The crew think they are launching Channel Zilch – a pirate video space station – but once in orbit the real agenda emerges: to kickstart the Singularity.

Heloise Chin is the hardware tech and brains behind the mission. Hel has engineered herself to be The Pinup Grrrl for the Geek Rapture. She dresses like a centerfold for Wired magazine, runs multiple streams of consciousness, and toys with young men’s psyches. She calls it testosterone surfing. Hel bets her life to midwife the Singularity because she loves her disabled brother.

Heloise broadcasts her singular image to hype her message, an upgraded Pascal’s Wager, Hel’s Bet: “Work for the Singularity to increase your odds of living indefinitely. Don’t bother if you have a taste for dirt.”

HB features a shootout between robots and Russian gangsters, a clandestine Singularity group called The Choir Invisible, and Merzifon Karabuk - a billionaire Turkish Trekkie. The crew’s nemesis is head of NASA security, a washed-out astronaut with a Green Beret complex and a streak of cannibalism.

The first 22 chapters of the novel are available in PDF format. I especially like the quote in the preface from Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence Research Fellow Eleizer Yudkowsky:

"Someday… an awful lot of people are going to look back and kick themselves and say, ‘What on Earth was I doing? Why was I sitting around watching television while the fate of all humankind hung in the balance and almost no one was doing anything?’”

- Eliezer Yudkowsky, Research Fellow,
The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

10% of royalties from Hel’s Bet will be donated to the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, with 5% earmarked for the OpenCog open source AGI project (

Chris K. Haley, Subscribe here.