Physics Concepts and Definitions

How does science fiction influence scientific research?
Answered by Dr. Michio Kaku, Beppe Raffa and 7 others
  • Dr. Michio Kaku

    Dr. Michio Kaku

  • Beppe Raffa

    Beppe Raffa

  • Vida Ilderem

    Vida Ilderem

  • Mic Bowman

    Mic Bowman

  • Colin Angle

    Colin Angle

  • Rodney Brooks

    Rodney Brooks

  • Christopher J. Ferguson

    Christopher J. Ferguson

  • Xingang Guo

    Xingang Guo

  • Karl Gudmundsson

    Karl Gudmundsson

  1. Dr. Michio Kaku Theoretical Physicist and Author


    There's a very interesting dialectic between science and science fiction. If you take a look at, for example, Edwin Hubble, the greatest astronomer of the 20th century, he was destined to be a Missouri country lawyer. He remembered reading Jules Verne as a child. As a consequence, he dropped his law career, went to the University of Chicago, got a PhD and discovered the expanding universe. Take a look at Carl Sagan. When he was a kid, he read "John Carter of Mars". He dreamed about chasing the beautiful Dejah Thoris across the sands of the red planet. There's always been this tight relationship between science fiction and science.

    When I was a kid, not only did I have Albert Einstein as this role model -- this shining figure on a quest to complete a theory of everything -- I used to always watch Flash Gordon on Saturday mornings. I was hooked. I mean, rocket ships, ray guns, aliens from outer space; that's for me.

    Years later, I began to realize that the two passions of my life -- that is, physics and understanding the future are really the same thing -- that if you understand the foundations of physics, you understand what is possible and you understand what could be just beyond the horizon. You have a headstart in terms of understanding science fiction if you understand the most advanced physics possible. Time travel, warp drive, antimatter engines, star ships; how could you possibly talk about these things unless you understand physics.

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  2. Beppe Raffa Systems Engineer, Intel


    I love science fiction, so it's a great, great way to imagine the future. And if you think about it, it's very interesting, because they are not technologists who are imaging the future, they are writers. So I think it's a very interesting perspective and it can give technologists a very clever idea of the future.

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  3. Vida Ilderem Vice President, Intel Labs


    I love science fiction, actually. I read the books. I love watching the movies. I think Hollywood has wonderful visions of how the future should look like, and I'll take some of my cues from that. If these technologies exist, how can we bring it to life? It's not that the computer takes over the world, but is you have all this fancy interaction with displays or with the data. And it makes you think, "How can we do this?" And I think they brought that futuristic view very nice, and I really enjoy that. That's a good challenge. I love challenges to go after and have the team address.

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  4. Mic Bowman Principal Engineer, Intel Labs


    One of my favorite books was Dave Brin's Earth, and in the book they sort of describe how search would work, and these notions of ferrets that would go around and find things. And we see similar sorts of services emerging in the Web that clearly had a parallel to the kinds of things that appeared in Earth. There are other books that talk about how work models change, that we become very outsource-driven and we start to see that in the contractors we work with right now -- that they're very outsource-driven.

    Science fiction creates these pictures for us, and sometimes they are very inspiring. Sometimes they're completely unrealistic with what we have today, but it always gives us that idea about how we might look at the problem differently and deliver new value.

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  5. Colin Angle Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, iRobot® Corp.


    I think science fiction can help and hurt. It's so easy to imagine a humanoid robot. It's so hard to build one that it can create incredible expectations, which are wholly unrealistic to actually build. So, part of the challenge in the industry is a mismatch between what can be done and what people expect to be done, and then with that expectation mismatch, people get disappointed.

    Where we've been able to succeed, it's by not just building a great robot, but managing the expectations about what this robot is and can do to make it seem like a success, as opposed to yet another failed robot that doesn't bring me a beer from the fridge when I want it.

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  6. Rodney Brooks Panasonic Professor of Robotics (emeritus), MIT


    From about the time I was probably 11 or 12, I started reading British science fiction. Then I think I was 14 years old when the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey came out. One of my friends had seen it and said it was a terrible movie, it was boring. But I ended up going to it, and it was an eye-opener.

    I still think it's a fantastic movie. It was made in the 1960s. It is the best movie in terms of not dating itself of anything that was made then or even later. It foresaw small-screen displays, it had speech interfaces. It was a pretty damn good prediction of what the computational world was going to be like. We don't have manned missions to Jupiter or Saturn, but the technology there was pretty good.

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  7. Christopher J. Ferguson Former United States Astronaut, NASA


    First, I was always amazed, as I matured, how much fact science fiction ended up turning into. I think the science fiction writers, they don't just invent these things. A lot of it is -- what they have is based on science and where they see science headed someday. I think about Star Trek. I was a big Star Trek fan, the old Star Trek, not the new Star Trek. And how many of those things that previously were science fiction eventually became science fact?

    I look at the space station and vehicles docking in space. Who would have imagined 40 years ago, other than on the pages of Buck Rogers and in the mind of Wernher von Braun, that we would be doing these things? But here we are, doing them on a regular basis.

    One thing always amazed me about the space station. I think when we were there, there were five vehicles docked, you know: the space shuttle, a couple of Progresses, a couple of Soyuz, an HTV, a Japanese vehicle had just left, an ATV, a European vehicle was on its way. Who would have ever thought that we need space traffic control? But just like air traffic control, we have vehicles coming and going. It's an enormously busy place. Who would have envisioned something like this 40 or 50 years ago?

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  8. Xingang Guo Principal Engineer, Connected Vehicle Research Program at Intel


    I think science fiction to me is a cue of, how do you think big? How do you think something unthinkable? Let your imagination fly. At the end of the day, it has to be solid science to deliver. I can make a very good PowerPoint to say that is the future, but where my credibility comes from is to deliver the real technology.

    More answers from Xingang Guo »

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