Science Fiction: Gazing into the (technological) future through our present

A certain focus on development and innovation is an integral part of everyday life in any tech company. In order to fuel idea generation, you have to actively look for possible sources of inspiration – and this is the exact point in which science fiction becomes exciting.

Ever since it successfully made the leap from visionary literature to the big screen with works such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) the science fiction genre has enjoyed great popularity. Imaginative depictions of society and technology in future worlds have fascinated and inspired viewers for generations with their riveting glimpses of “what if…”-scenarios. Literary classics such as The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, blockbusters like Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), the TV success Star Trek, as well as more recent portrayals such as Tron: Legacy (2011) serve as insights into varied worlds that initially seem strange and impossible. Nevertheless, on closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear that some of these realities are already within reach and are anything but fictitious.

Source: METROPOLIS, Fritz Lang, Deutschland 1927

With its close ties to current states of technology and socio-political developments, science fiction is caught in a continuous state of evolution while at the same time constantly providing new models for art and science – all of this in accordance with the guiding principle that the limit of what is possible, is equivalent to the limit of human imagination. Holograms, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, time travel, lasers, teleportation, space exploration, video conferencing, flying vehicles and even touch screens might not have been explored to the extent which frequently leads to new discoveries and inventions in our day and age.

Source: BLADE RUNNER, Ridley Scott, USA 1982

Genres are dynamic, trends and themes come and go. There are numerous examples of this phenomenon – also in relation to the horror genre, which is renewing itself and the trends it follows over time in a similar fashion to science fiction. Accordingly, the nuclear trauma of World War II gave rise to the Kaiju Monster films, while zombie films became increasingly popular in the West as an allegory for the prevalent criticism of the consumer-oriented society in the 1980s. There are many cultural reasons why the genres of horror and science fiction overlap, and why one should differentiate between motifs and stories which either address moral ideologies, or the ones which focus more heavily on technological aspects.

Over time, science fiction has used a variety of leitmotifs, either focusing on moral questions or on the fascination perpetuated by technology. Similar to the Godzilla films, alien invasion stories were created as a metaphor for the cultural fear of invasion by other nations or immigrants and have therefore remained part of a relevant subgenre for decades. Since the turn of the millennium, the ideological themes from Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? or 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) have been taken up increasingly in works such as I, Robot (2004), which present the consequences of technological progress as a reminder of human hubris. However, at the same time, there are also numerous optimistic interpretations of technological progress in science fiction which demonstrate the inspirational side of scientific innovation and its limitless possibilities.

Source: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Stanley Kubrick, USA 1968

With this knowledge in mind, it is particularly interesting for tech-developers and companies to focus on the depiction of technology in science fiction films and shows. Contrasting the literary medium, films already offer visual clues and innovative impulses. Astonishingly many devices and everyday objects have been inspired and developed in this way. Do you find this hard to believe? We have a short overview with popular examples:

Mobile phones: What seemed like a fantasy in Star Trek in the 1960s became reality merely two decades later.

Tablets: Apart from a (malignant) forefather of Siri, 2001: A Space Odyssey also showed a rudimentary version of a tablet in action.

Video conferences: A very popular motif that premiered in Metropolis almost 90 years ago and has been taken up repeatedly ever since, until developers succeeded in turning the dream into reality.

Virtual Reality: The possibilities exhibited by the “holodeck” in Star Trek and later by Tron (1982) showed that VR could be a useful asset in the future. Since 2012, several major manufacturers have been competing on the market with their own versions of VR glasses and technology.

Autopilot for vehicles: Total Recall (1990) and countless other films provided the inspiration for this, because a world without accidents and human failure seems much more futuristic and desirable.

Gesture-controlled user interfaces: Tom Cruise made it look so simple in Minority Report (2002) – and now it has become a standard feature within the video game industry.

Personalized advertising: Here we have another idea from Minority Report. This one was inspired by the consumer industry’s desire to optimize targeted advertising – a vision which proved to be so tempting that it was implemented on a grand scale less than a decade later.

Usually, one only has to think briefly about the reason why a particular invention triggers a strong déjà vu before images from popular science fiction films and series are come to mind. And why not? Since ancient times, man has wanted to fly (as represented by the mythological Icarus), and after centuries in which geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci tried their hand at designs and theories, the Wright brothers finally succeeded in 1903. What is nothing more than an abstract dream for one generation, can be taken up in stories and mature into an idea which has the potential to turn into a realistic project with the help of technological progress.

Source: TRON, Steven Lisberger, USA 1982

Our company is part of an industry which is going through periods of rapid development with each evolution of the basic communication technologies. Even a few decades ago, many of our services and products appeared like nothing more than futuristic dreams. But thanks to the popularization of science fiction and generations of developers who may have been influenced in their youth by one of the numerous genre classics, these technologies exist today. For this reason, we have recently turned our attention to science fiction as it became clear that even our team had already been subconsciously influenced by certain concepts of the genre. Virtual realities and virtual conferences have many things in common, so it was only a matter of time before we entered Star Trekterritory.

With this in mind, in the coming weeks we will continue to focus on the connection between the science fiction genre and technology in everyday life. We are excited to dive deeper into the worlds of VR & Co. and look forward to sharing our findings with our readers!

Read the next article of this series here!