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Are We Just Storytelling Animals?

By Marty Resnick | September 13, 2019 | 1 Comment

Human AugmentationContinuous ForesightStorytellingTrendspotting

Shameless plug – our new podcast published today!

You can’t have a discussion with someone about the future, and especially emerging technologies, without eventually referring to a book, a comic, television show or some other form of science fiction. I can’t tell you how many times someone has brought up Ready Player One when I discuss virtual reality, or Kingsman when discussing mixed reality as the future of conferencing, or even the movie that gives my daughter then nightmares, Eagle Eye, which talks about what happens when an artificial intelligence system has access to everything and terrorizes them with everyday technology.

These science-fiction stories demonstrate the power of storytelling in helping organizations experiment with new ideas, escape the inertia of the status quo and overcome barriers of disbelief. Stories help us visualize plausible futures while engaging obstacles and opportunities not yet realized or even imagined.

Our guest on our latest podcast, Ari Popper, is the CEO of SciFutures, an organization that works with organizations to use science fiction, stories or Science Fiction Prototypes to help strategists, innovation leaders, and enterprise architects communicate their vision of plausible futures using science fiction. 

In our discussion, Ari states, “the best way to predict the future is to build it” and that’s what Science Fiction Prototyping is all about. According to Brian David Johnson who wrote the forward of the SciFutures anthology, The City of the Future: 

“The future isn’t an accident. The future doesn’t just happen. The future is built every day by  the actions of people.”

Science Fiction Prototyping is about envisioning preferred and plausible futures in a way that is transformative, inspiring, disrupting and in a way that will instruct organizations how to change our behavior today to create and invent the future with positive outcomes.

So without further ado, here is my first, and possibly last, attempt at writing a science fiction prototype. 

Pearson Taylor, along with his wife Whitney, looked over the tablet at Genomicorp designing their new baby. It had been 11 years since their last-child, Astrid, and back then it was so primitive. Mostly the ability to clean up the genetic code to include or remove a particular gene to prevent disease. There were those who were doing a little dabbling with choosing the sex, but at that time, they hadn’t considered the possibility. It was nothing like when they had our firstborn Erica, 19 years ago. It was as much a mystery if they would get pregnant, as to what “genetic lottery” natural selection would provide. But now, in 2040 the GeneSelector app they were using was more like an avatar creator for a video game, than creating a real-life person.

Pearson and Whitney had always wanted a boy, so after two girls, choosing the gender was the easy part. Now they were moving sliders to decide the shades of eye color, hair color, and even attributes such as artistic skills, athletic prowess, intelligence, and body type. Pearson contemplated the power he was being given to control their child’s prospects in life. His child’s potential career, hobbies, interests, and capabilities. Not much was being left to chance anymore. In what seemed much too short of time, there before them in full color, floating, 3D, the holographic display was a rendering of their future son, Kaam (short for Kaamil), an Arabic name meaning perfect. It even provided rendered images of Kaam at the various ages 15, 25, and 40.

Just as a tear of joy was forming in Pearson’s eye, a slight blinking green light was appearing in his upper right eye. His phone was ringing, and it was a number Pearson did not recognize. Answering the phone, he could hear the voice directly in his ear. “Mr. Taylor, this is Officer John Ortega from the Seattle Police. Is your daughter an Erica Joy Taylor?”. Speaking into what appeared to be mid-air, Pearson responded with a sigh, “what has she done now?”. “Mr. Taylor,” the officer responded, “your daughter was arrested for participating in a protest that turned violent. Many members of her ‘Human Purist’ group were boycotting a new transcendence center and barring people from entering. The ‘Life to Data’ group was also there to counter their protest and things got ugly.” Pearson could only respond with, “I am on my way.”

Although Whitney could not hear the words from the Officer, based on Pearson’s expression, Whitney knew exactly what was going on. “Go, I will finish up here.” Pearson lightly kissed his wife’s cheek, and then his two fingers placing them on the hologram of his future son.

Pearson tapped into the brain-computer interface implanted into his head and wordlessly ordered a ride from the shared autonomous flying car service, AirLyft. By the time he had exited Genomicorp, the car was waiting for him. During the ride, Pearson had time to reflect on the irony of sitting in a genomixing center, essentially architecting his son, while his eldest daughter, only 19 years ago, was born into a completely different world. Erica always took pride in her “natural humanity” and at 19 was idealistic and heavily influenced by the charismatic leader of the “Human Purist” group, Just Hughman. Pearson had no doubt that wasn’t his real name, but it was effective.

Soon after Erica was born the “shift” occurred. It seemed overnight humans went from fearing augmentation and bioengineering to endorsing and desiring it. The Architecting Human Bill was passed in 2026, and it encouraged innovation, research, and allowed for human testing for bioengineering. Embracing the Proactionary Principle from the Transhumanist Party, that said, “innovation must continue unless it proves harmful to humanity,” caused a global ethical framework to be adopted. Shortly after that, the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights was updated to include augmented humans as part of their definition of humanity. At this point, human dignity and human rights were now defined across the globe. With legal, social, and ethical restraints seemingly handled, the technology of bioengineering and other human augmentations moved forward exponentially.

Now only a small subset of the population, like the “Human Purists” stood in the way of a world that could completely be bioengineered in only a couple of generations.

The Taylor family, with the addition of Kaam, will be a modern-day blended family with members across the human augmentation spectrum. What could go wrong?

I invite you to take 30 minutes out of your day and listen to the latest episode of our podcast and learn what it means that we are all “storytelling animals” and how using science fiction prototyping helps us make sense of what the future world may have in store for us. 

Did I mention our new podcast was published today?

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1 Comment

  • Jamie Popkin says:

    Great story Marty!