Once upon a time, there was a lot of science fiction in which tech discoveries saved the day. Or so I’ve been told.
If you asked me to come up with something like that, it would be The Martian, which is very recent. The so called “Golden Age” stuff that I’m familiar with isn’t all that tech-driven. Asimov’s Foundation was rooted in psychology tempered by history. All the Heinlein I’ve read is about his philosophy.
Truth is, I suspect an awful lot of science fiction that is touted as “traditional” and “the way it ought to be” is mostly about some white guy solving all the problems with a well-timed punch to the villain’s chin.
Still, there were a lot of stories from the 1950s and 60s that either focused on or mentioned amazing tech, especially computers. Now most of us are carrying around that tech in our pockets.
These days, a story about a fancy new technology is more likely to show up on the business pages than in an SF/F mag.
Where we need to deal with tech in SF/F today, particularly in near-future stuff, is how we incorporate it into our society in a reasonable way. That is, we need tech tempered by economics, sociology, history, philosophy. Inventing new things is nice, but figuring out how to live with them is crucial.
Take for example the issues that keep coming up with the algorithms that underlie so much of our current technology. They’re supposed to be neutral, but they rarely are. And they’re being used regularly.
We have predictive policing and algorithms that look at sentencing. Yet these methods are rarely transparent, often due to trade secret rules, and difficult to challenge. It’s easy to see that an individual made a racist decision, but much harder to tell if an algorithm did.
Facial recognition systems are over-trained on white men, making them less effective for people of color and women in general.
On a more mundane note, our computer technology has been set up so that we have to adapt to the way the person who developed the program (or the algorithm they incorporated in it) wants us to do things, rather than being able to change it to the way we’d like to work.
I know a lot of writers who mourn the loss of Word Perfect or figure out a way to keep using it because they don’t like the set up of MS-Word. That’s one example.
There are those who use Linux because open source gives them more control, but the control is dependent on how much you understand about systems. Most of us want something simple that we can easily understand and modify.
Apple wants something so streamlined that we are tied completely to its system. I’m a Mac user — no way I’m going back to Windows — but I don’t like being forced into their idea of the best way to do things.
The fact that these systems are developed by corporations over which we have very little control is a deeper problem.
We need to see these issues in our science fiction. It’s one reason that the Murderbot stories work so well for me. We have the Corporate Rim, where everyone’s life is under strict control. And we have places like Preservation, where they’ve got a lot of individual freedom and use tech to their own advantage.
And of course, we have the whole idea of what beings count as persons. Is Murderbot a person? Is the AI we’re developing sentient? Where are we going with these things?
Dealing with those questions is the job of science fiction. I hope that, like the computers in our pocket, some of the SF answers eventually show up in real life.