Fiction is Innovation

There’s a sense of elitism amongst the tech crowd. Perhaps it’s due to the celebration and separation of “STEM” as this special set of disciplines that is constantly talked about. If one has been around higher education or even lower level education, there’s a persistent hum – there is a shortage of STEM students, educators need to encourage greater engagement in the sciences, science is the future.

Technology, at first glance, is an obvious extension of STEM – applied science; products of engineering.

As I often find myself, this post is inspired by an episode of NPR’s TED Radio Hour – “How Things Spread.” One of the speakers mentioned was Yuval Harari, Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The remark that really stayed with me was this notion that homo sapiens were exceptional to all other animals due to our capacity to imagine. Most animals spend their days finding food, digesting food, and sleeping. Meanwhile, humans have been able to engineer our ways around these aspects and find time and ability to imagine beyond these day to day needs.

According to Prof. Harari, the human ability to come up with and share these fictional ideas is unique to humans and allowed us to grow into beings that do not loiter under fruit trees all day, but send people to space, create supercomputers, and imagine much more.

Which brings me back to the idea and focus on STEM. I generally agree with the notion that the world needs more scientists. In large part, compared to our imagination, our growth as a species may be hampered by our inability to create the appropriate amount of human resources. That being said, I dislike the connotation that STEM or even the more modern, and cleverly reworded adaptation, STEAM bring to education.

In order for innovation to continue, humanity needs to continue to cultivate our fictions. These fictions drive the innovations of the future. It was science fiction, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and so much more  that have brought us the tablet computer, A.I. assistant computers, and space travel. Perhaps certain people may understand this to be a calling towards science fiction. In some ways that may be true, we are at a moment in human history where the technological and societal maturity is generally more in-line the need for technological advancements rather than moral quandaries. However, even to that point, when we see the great divide seen not just in the U.S., but in many developed countries around the world, we see that there’s still so much work to be done that is not STEM, but in the humanities, to bring people together.

Having said that, this is all rather ironic coming from me. In the past several years, I had stepped away from reading fiction in favor of non-fiction. I had found the exposition and steps away from reality to be suboptimal use of time. Although I’d been telling myself that other forms of media such as movies provided ample aspects of that in my life, perhaps it’s a good time to read a fiction novel.