How do we envision a better tomorrow? That question is being answered by the XPRIZE’s Science Fiction Advisory Council (SFCA), which launched in June 2017 with “a mission to accelerate positive change in the world by bringing together those who can imagine a bold vision of the future with those who can innovate to get us there” (see the full press release here).
The council brings together 64 advisors from 9 countries for the XPRIZE Foundation — a stellar list of creative power that includes bestselling and award-winning sci-fi writers such as Charlie Jane Anders, Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, Robert J. Sawyer and Ramez Naam; visionary filmmakers such as Darren Aronofsky and J. Michael Straczynski), and a host of others. The collective number of doctorates, Hugos, Nebulas, and other awards is enough to make a sci-fi fan’s head spin.
If it’s surprising to think of this many science fiction creators gathered together to act as a think tank for scientific inventions, it shouldn’t be. Over the history of the genre, science fiction has actively been in the business of successfully envisioning the future, with some stunningly accurate results. Jules Verne, HG Wells and Isaac Asimov, among others, have famously predicted scientific breakthroughs like automatic sliding doors, moon landings, the atomic bomb, self-driving cars, and more.
It’s that uncanny, yet studious ability to predict the future successfully that XPRIZE hopes to tap into, says Eric Desatnik, Senior Director of Public Relations at XPRIZE.
“Science fiction storytellers make a living out of creating scenarios in which new or on-the-horizon technologies impact society,” says Desatnik, “and their unique viewpoints and backgrounds (many hold Doctorates or Masters degrees in science, robotics, space) provide critical lenses through which we can look at the future. Getting a creative’s input is useful for XPRIZE because it’s our mandate to consider the impact our prizes will have on the future, not just the technology that will be created.
And the SFCA isn’t XPRIZE’s first foray into tapping sci-fi creators for ideas either. “Science fiction has always been a key source of inspiration for XPRIZE,” says Desatnik. “The Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE was directly inspired by the Star Trek technology.” If you missed that news, it’s true —there are now working prototypes for a wireless, handheld medical diagnostic tool that Dr. McCoy would be proud of.
As you might guess, science fiction creators are just as excited to be involved in the visionary council as the XPRIZE Foundation is. Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, says, he is delighted to bring his creative powers to bear for work that may help better the planet.
“As a kid, I created imaginary universes, set up the rules, played out scenarios,” Yu says. “I spent whole afternoons, whole summers of my childhood in these mental worlds. Now, as an adult, I have what I consider a dream job. I’m lucky enough to have stumbled into the only job I’m qualified for — I get paid to think about hypothetical futures. When XPRIZE contacted me and asked if I’d be part of this Council, it was the ultimate in wish fulfillment.”
Being able to give back to the world with his gifts is mind-blowing, says Yu. “The chance to, in some small way, bring my very idiosyncratic set of competencies to bear on problems of actual import, and to have opportunities to collaborate with, learn from and cross-pollinate ideas with the incredible members of the XPRIZE team and the members of the Advisory Council, it’s just so cool. With the state of the republic, the state of the Earth and its environment, and me being a citizen and a father and an American who wishes to help in any way I can, it’s a unique opportunity and one I’m grateful for, humbled by and take very seriously!”