The Jetsons Fallacy: Science Fiction, Biotechnology, and the Future of the Human Species

Thursday, April 30, 2009
11 am - Noon
Elings Hall 1601
Michael Bess

Chancellor's Professor of History

Vanderbilt University

Science fiction films and novels often present us with remarkably imaginative visions of the future.  In this talk I argue that all the most popular and influential versions of such sci-fi visions – movies like Star Wars, Star Trek, Blade Runner, AI, Spiderman, and Iron Man – systematically mislead us in one important respect: they depict a future in which technology becomes very sophisticated, but most humans remain basically the same as they are today.  This is unrealistic, I argue, because today’s major trends in biotechnology suggest that a very different kind of world actually awaits our children and grandchildren.  Over the next half century, entire populations of humans will increasingly use pharmaceuticals, bioelectronics, and genetic interventions to enhance their physical and mental capabilities.  We are on the cusp of an era in which human beings will apply science and technology to the redesign of their own bodies and minds.  In this sense, therefore, the actual creations of technoscience today are already exceeding the imaginative reach of the “futuristic” stories we tell ourselves.  It is time for mainstream science fiction to take its head out of the sand and face up to the transmogrified future that probably awaits humankind.