If you've read any science fiction lately, or attended any of the blockbuster movies whose storylines can be traced to science fiction, then you know that most are dominated by post-apocalyptic, dystopian futures – environmental desolation, runaway nanotechnology, AI overlords, genetic discrimination, totalitarianism and the death of privacy. What happened to the future? When did our utopian dreams stagger into an alleyway, drunk on hubris, only to be mugged by our diminished expectations?
It's enough to make one pull up the blankets, go back to sleep, and dream of a better world, one where precision medicine is ubiquitous and inexpensive, and where personal, autonomous vehicles have eliminated traffic accidents and reduced urban congestion. In that better world, intelligent digital assistants make us more productive and creative, and the Internet of Things helps us minimize our environmental footprint and mitigate climate change. Tomorowland, come back, we miss you and your hope, coupled with The Martian'sscientific and engineering "work the problem" can do spirit. (The latter made me feel proud to be a card carrying geek, though I may never look at potatoes quite the same way again.)
Fear not, there is hope. Hieroglyph is a collection of science fiction short stories, filled with positive visions of the future, and anchored in foreseeable science and technology. The collection itself is an outgrowth of Arizona State's Center for Science and the Imagination. The brainchild of noted writer, Neal Stephenson, the center is a partnership among science fiction writers, scientists, and technologists, predicated on the premise that "… if we want to create a better future, we need to start with better dreams."
Hieroglyph is a wonderful juxtaposition of call and response: speculative, hopeful fiction, followed by dispassionate, technical assessment. It is also a call to arms, encouraging us to not only dream of the future, but also to marshal our broad intellectual assets and build the better world we all yearn to see.
At Iowa, we've been motivated by similar desires. Via ideation events and salon dinners, we are bringing together faculty from across the university – arts, humanities, social sciences, engineering, science and medicine – to discuss broad societal issues and collaborative actions.
Better dreams, better futures: the future begins with us. As Picard would say, let us "Make it so."