Do science fiction writers have "expertise" on future developments in science?

Illustration for article titled Do science fiction writers have "expertise" on future developments in science?

A recent article in Slate deals with the question of whether the internet could ever become the first artificial intelligence, perhaps by "waking up" one day as a mind. Dan Falk, the author of this article, was clearly inspired by Robert Sawyer's WWW trilogy, about just this scenario. Falk interviews Sawyer, as well as some scientists, seeking to find out whether Sawyer's premise might be plausible.


But CUNY philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci took great umbrage at this avenue of inquiry, making fun of the article on his blog. He reserved his greatest scorn for the notion that anyone would take a science fiction writer seriously as having "expertise" in speculating about the future development of technology. He wrote:

[Falk] sought answers from neuroscientist Christof Koch, science-fiction writer Robert Sawyer, philosopher Dan Dennett and cosmologist Sean Carroll. I think it's worth commenting on what three of these four had to say about the question (I will skip Sawyer, partly because what he said to Falk was along the lines of Koch's response, partly because I think sci-fi writers are creatively interesting, but do not have actual expertise in the matter at hand).

Basically Pigliucci disagrees with the premise that the internet could ever "wake up" to consciousness, a position I can sympathize with. But why does he need to trash science fiction's contribution to the dialogue about the future of science in order to make his point? After all, the entire premise of the Slate article was inspired by science fiction. It seems to me that science fiction is at the core of this discussion, and therefore SF authors have as much "expertise" in this matter as scientists and philosophers do.


Madeline Ashby

I'm a science fiction writer and paid futurist, with a degree in strategic foresight. Perhaps Mr. Pigliucci would like to interview me about my work.