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A note from TASAT Director and Author David Brin:
For decades a number of “hard” science fiction folks have consulted with various companies, foundations and especially DC agencies, where earnest civil servants fret about potential threats to our unusual civilization. Aware of of their own constrained imaginations, members of the Protector Caste keep inviting some of the top authors of “hard” or realistic science fiction to offer either big picture perspectives or else terrifying possibilities. “You sci fi guys think up the scariest things,” one official commented, with evident approval, recognizing the value of science fictional thinking. The same can be said for tech innovators, social entrepreneurs, and visionary artists of various stripes, searching for insights into where we are heading and how we can design our way to a better future.
And yet, there has always been one frustration. When thinking about some real or hypothetical scenario, it might be easy to paraphrase an example or two, but there’s no one place to find truly relevant stories, amid the vast number of past tales and thought experiments.
The solution? TASAT (There’s a Story about That!).
Consider the vast library of science fictional thought-experiments that have been published since Mary Shelley first wrote about the creation of new kinds of life—an endeavor that is now coming true in dozens of ways. Shelley explored how that daring venture might be mishandled—a warning that found new variants in Planet of the Apes, in Jurassic Park, in I Robot, and in Ex Machina. Those famous stories already influence discussions about ethics and public policy. Indeed, some SF tales help us avoid mistakes—”self-preventing prophecies” like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Soylent Green, Dr. Strangelove or Silent Spring. A few SF projections come true. Far more of them say: “a time may come when you’d better think about this!”
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 fan readers out there—tales that worked through some way for the world to veer, in unexpected directions. Shouldn’t those concepts also be available, as a background library of worked-out scenarios, in case the universe chooses to confront us with some sudden choice?
What to do about this? Activate group memory!
Imagine just one possibility: say when governments and NGOs must respond quickly to a rapidly unfolding First Contact situation, as illustrated in the film Arrival. Rushed and confused by an event with only vague precedents, they gather “expert” committees, who (naturally) leap to premature conclusions.
In contrast, the TASAT hub—a loose affiliation of sci-fi fandom’s collectively wise and sagacious Group Mind—stands ready to cite and provide stories published across the last century. Short tales, novels, movies, think-pieces and art that offer up unusual scenarios, potential mistakes, or possible surprise twists, helping our leaders or emissaries to perceive a wider picture.
The same is true for the developer of an augmented reality app, the designer of a new kind of spacecraft, or the engineer behind the next communication technology to revolutionize life on Earth. The outlandish tales of science fiction’s greatest writers often become the basis for the next wave of science fact.
You can be part of this informal network. The only required 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!
TASAT is affiliated with the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UC San Diego.