Recently I have been reading a Stephen Hawking book – Brief answers to Big Questions – and I found it extremely thought-provoking.
A lot of science, particularly in the field of astrophysics, is now stranger than Sci-Fi. Who would have imagined the 11 dimensions of M-theory? I find that aspect of science fascinating. The quantum world and time are plain weird and do not seem to make sense in terms of our own reality. But it was the other topics that intrigued me (neither of which are particularly new but both of which are on the verge of becoming real).
There were two main themes that set my mind racing. One was A/I. Stephen found this a threat to humans. He was looking at the huge advances that have been made in computers over recent years, doubling their capacity every two years, and predicted firstly that these machines would soon exceed human intelligence and secondly that they would be conscious. His fear was that their intelligence might far outstrip us and they could consider us superfluous. Now I am aware that this has been a standard theme in Sci-fi for a long time – right back to 2001-A Space Odyssey – but this is real science and it appealed to me.
The second theme of Stephen’s that stimulated my creative juices was the idea that we now had the means to genetically alter organisms easily. Not only can we switch genes from one species to another but we can alter those genes and create entirely new characteristics. So we could take a gene out of a daisy or a jellyfish and put it into a human. We could take a specific gene, involved in our intelligence for instance, and play about with it to see if we can improve on it.
Stephen suggested that there was no way of controlling this. Even if experiments on humans was considered unethical and banned, there would be nations with secret labs who would not be bound by such ethics.
Stephen suggested that we were on the cusp of a revolution. Not only would our crops, farm animals and food be radically altered in the forthcoming years, but we would be too. We are on the verge of identifying the genes involved with intelligence. Once we have achieved that we could optimize them, perfect them and ultimately create humans who were immensely intelligent.
Once again, these ideas are not Science Fiction, they are real science – but my mind is already looking at storylines. Soon real science may become Science Fiction. We’ll see.
What Stephen’s book achieved was to inspire a few storylines. We’ll see if they mature into stories or novels.
Keep watching this space.