Can science fiction help save the world?

Here’s a Major Announcement of a project that’s been in my thoughts for a long time. A way that you — yes you — can be part of an action team of science fiction readers who might someday use your powers of SF’nal story memory to help save the world!

Bear with me while I explain.

Fretting about potential threats to civilization, members of the Protector Caste (intel agencies and all that) keep inviting authors of “hard” or realistic science fiction to offer big perspectives, or terrifying possibilities. “You sci fi guys think up the scariest things,” one official lauded. The same can be said for tech innovators and visionaries seeking insights into where we’re heading.

Yet, there’s a frustration. When pondering some real or hypothetical scenario, I often think: hasn’t some earlier author considered this, amid the vast number of past tales?

== A solution? TASAT (There’s a Story about That!) ==

Consider the vast library of science fictional thought-experiments published since Mary Shelley first wrote about how the creation of new kinds of life might be mishandled — a warning with new variants in Planet of the Apes, Jurassic Park, I Robot, and Ex Machina.

Some are “self-preventing prophecies” like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Soylent Green, Dr. Strangelove or Silent Spring. Other SF projections come true.

Alas, for every SF thought experiment that achieves renown, hundreds molder in back issues of Astounding or Galaxy, or some novel only recalled by a few dozen fans out there — tales about how the world might veer in unexpected directions. Shouldn’t those concepts be available, as a background library of worked-out scenarios, in case we ever face some sudden choice?

== Activate group memory! ==

Imagine some government or NGO must respond quickly to a First Contact situation, as in the film Arrival. In a hurry, they gather “experts” who leap to premature conclusions.

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So they call on the TASAT hub — part of sci-fi fandom’s collectively sagacious Group Mind — to cite and provide stories published across the last century. Short tales, novels, movies, think-pieces and art that offer unusual scenarios, potential mistakes, or surprise twists, helping our leaders or emissaries to perceive a wider picture.

Or take the developer of an augmented reality app, a spacecraft designer, or a company revolutionizing communication technology. Might even some outlandish tale help to inform the next wave of science fact?

You can be part of this informal network. The only qualification? Having read a lot of stories! Watched a lot of flicks. Played bunches of realistic games. There may come a time when you — by pointing to some obscure tale — could help to save the world!

== Examples! ==

Suppose a company has developed a new bacterium that pulls Nitrogen out of the air faster and better than anything known, creating massively cheap fertilizer? What could go wrong? A TASAT alert on this prospect would likely cause someone to cite Hal Clement’s novel The Nitrogen Fix, along with a warning to be careful.

Take the “Flynn Effect” …where the last three generations of children in the West have had successively higher average IQ. Suppose it accelerates, suddenly and rapidly. While some might ponder the “Children of the Damned” flicks, or cite Poul Anderson’s novel Brain Wave. Others might suggest Thomas Disch’s Camp Concentration, wherein IQ-rise is triggered by a venereal disease. No one suggestion need ever be right! It could be enough that such examples cause the responsible parties to widen their horizons, and not leap to the first, logical theory.

Then there’s the almost infinite supply of alien First Contact tales, with some even portraying a TASAT-like process. Take the Niven and Pournelle opus Footfall, in which the government wisely establishes both optimistic and pessimistic committees. Another of you (under comments, below) cited Gordon Dickinson’s “The Alien Way,” in which the protagonist digs through library stacks to find a half-remembered scientific article about bear behavior that will help him to understand the instinctive underpinnings of an alien race.

If ever we find ourselves in a possible contact situation, our very survival might depend on having available a wide variety of scenarios, suggesting: what’s “obvious” ain’t necessarily so.

== Sign up! ==

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So browse the TASAT Site! Join the community to get TASAT alerts. Even pose one, now and then!

This is not just another sci fi discussion/argument site, but a place to cite actual, accessible stories, perhaps even pertinent to hurried decision makers.

(Did I mention the TASAT Facebook site, as well?)

Harness your nerdiness for the good of civilization!

TASAT is affiliated with the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at the University of California, San Diego.

So sign up for TASAT! Be part of the nerdy community that might save us all, someday, by chiming up with an obscure link, saying:

“There’s a Story About That!”

Author, scientist, public speaker. My books include The Transparent Society, The Postman, Earth, Existence, and Startide Rising.

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