Jan. 27th, 2013

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Foresight and Fiction

Robert J Sawyer, Author
Friday 01 February 2013, 17:30-18:30
LMH, Lady Mitchell Hall.


Science fiction is often termed a literature of prediction, but is it really, and, if so, how does it accomplish that? Hugo Award-winning science-fiction novelist Robert J. Sawyer explores the speculative mindset, the role science fiction plays in the intellectual landscape, and how science-fictional thinking about the future can be applied to business and government. Along the way, he shows how 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired an entire generation of computer scientists, looks at why Star Trek sets so much of our research agenda, and examines the notion of the technological singularity. He points out some of science fiction’s greatest predictive successes, and he also spotlight where the science-fictional vision has come up short and explains the foresight lessons to be learned from those failures.


Robert J. Sawyer’s bestselling science-fiction novels are known for “marshaling a daunting quantity of fact and theory from across scientific disciplines” (National Post) to produce “page after page of bold scientific extrapolation” (The New York Times). New Scientist calls his work “scientifically plausible, fictionally intriguing, and ethically important,” and artificial-intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky says, “Lately, I’ve been inspired by the work of Robert J. Sawyer.” The TV series FlashForward was based on his novel of the same name.

Rob is one of only eight people in history to have won all three of the science-fiction field’s top awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won for Mindscan). According to the American science-fiction trade journal Locus, he is the #1 all-time worldwide leader in number of award wins as a science-fiction or fantasy novelist. His latest novel is Triggers (published by Orion/Victor Gollancz).

Rob has published in both of the world’s leading scientific journals, Science (guest editorial) and Nature (fiction), and he is a frequent guest on science topics on BBC Radio and Monocle 24. He has done consulting for Canada’s Department of Justice (on what laws Canada should adopt related to the privacy of genetic information) and for major corporations including Motorola, Lockheed Martin, Sanofi-Aventis, and CA (Computer Associates), and he’s previously spoken all over the world, including at the Library of Congress and the Googleplex (the international headquarters of Google). In 2007, he participated in the invitation-only workshop The Future of Intelligence in the Cosmos at the NASA Ames Research Center. In 2010 and again in 2012, he was the only science-fiction writer invited to speak at the SETI Institute’s first two SET Icon conferences on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. In 2011, he became an invited contributor to the 100 Year Starship initiative, sponsored by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Rob hosts the skeptical TV series Supernatural Investigator for Canada’s Vision TV. He is past president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and he holds an honorary doctorate from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. He lives in Toronto. Visit his website at http://sfwriter.com.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Lecture Series series.

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I went to see my dad in Liverpool Royal Hospital yesterday, and was relieved to see him looking far better than he did when we saw him before Christmas. He is on water tablets and the inflammation is going down.

I looked up nephrotic syndrome, and discovered it's probably a containable, rather than curable, disease (steroids). Then I looked up "nephrotic syndrome" and "coeliac" given that both are auto-immune syndromes, and promptly got depressed. "Rare" apparently, but with a surprisingly large number of hits for something "rare". This one is typical: http://www.casesjournal.com/content/2/1/7018 And there are quite a few others that mention a gluten free diet as helpful.

I find myself thinking back to 1997 when I seemed to know a surprisingly large number of people who had or knew someone who had coeliac, for something that was supposed to affect only 1 in 3000 people.

And I also find myself thinking about last Jan-April when I had very similar symptoms to my Dad now (blown up like a balloon, very itchy, but I didn't have a rash): my tests came back negative for rheumatoid arthritis, I tested quite high for sugar (odd for someone who usually has hypoglycemia), and really severe inflammation that was not reacting to anti-inflammatories *At all*. There is no question it was viral: as I started to feel warm again (I'd been very cold most of the time) we found the pain fluctuated with my temperature. But if it happens again, I will insist they add kidney function to the list of checks. Hypochondria is us, but I've been right almost every time I made a suggestion to the GP.

Anyway, that out of the way, I spent today catching up on Eastercon and Worldcon related emails and generally making it possible to get things moving. More soon on that I hope, but right now, if you fancy making me a life sized pigeon (knitted, sewn, papier mache) do get in touch.


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