There is a type of science fiction known as “mundane science fiction” that is generally limited to speculation that is within known science and does not require significant technological extrapolation. It’s possible to write fine science fiction with these limitations (e.g., Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson or The Martian by Andy Weir). This type of science fiction is hardly the most common, however. Most science fiction is more speculative and pushes beyond, often reaching the same types of technologies, even earning the label of “tropes.” I want to start exploring some of the common tropes in science fiction and how they are related — or not — to known science and reasonable extrapolations of technology. That is, I want to speculate about which of these tropes are the future’s mundane science fiction, and which are likely to remain non-viable due to hurdles that appear impassible, and by what criteria can we judge the size of these hurdles.
One aside: there exist tropes that are technologically feasible today, but are not part of our world for other reasons (economic, social, etc.), e.g., flying cars. I may write about these in the future, but will try to focus on the science issues that are barriers to science fiction technology, rather than others.
Here’s a list of ten items to start with, and I’ll use this list to select future blog topics.
1. Faster-than-light travel. Possible or impossible? Theory vs. practice.
2. Teleportation. There’s a lot of teleportation going on in stories, and sometimes in the newspapers, but is it possible?
3. True artificial intelligence. Can we build a conscious mind?
4. Downloading human minds. Even if we can build a conscious mind, can we copy our own into it?
5. Immortality. Do we have to get old?
6. Extreme nanotech. Utility fog and gray goo…for real or just for fun?
7. Ray guns. Bullets pack and deliver a lot of energy. Are handheld “ray” guns ever going to compete? Or are they limited to popping balloons?
8. Time travel???
9. Virtual reality as reality. Could we be living in a Matrix, or create one for ourselves?
10. Free or nearly free energy sources.
Any others to suggest? Please let me know! There are surely many others from solid light holograms to human hive minds.