Mad Scientist 101: A New MIT Class Aims To Turn Science Fiction Tech Into The Real Thing

A new class at MIT is devoted to building functional prototypes of technology from classic sci-fi works like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Transmetropolitan, and Flowers for Algernon.

Scientists and engineers, as a whole, love science fiction. At a recent technology conference I went to, a sedate collection of engineers suddenly jumped into animated discussion when one said Star Trek's teleporter would be impossible. Now a new college class is devoted to turning science fiction technology into real-life products.

A new workshop at MIT Media Lab, Science Fiction to Science Fabrication, helps top-notch engineers and researchers develop "physical fabrications or code-based interpretations" of technology from classic science fiction and science fiction-ish films, books, television programs, and comics. Instructors Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner believe sci-fi can not only help predict what science is capable of, but it can also help predict the consequences of new technology.

This week, the class is studying all-pervasive urban surveillance as portrayed in Warren Ellis' comic Transmetropolitan and Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Day Before the Revolution," after that they're on to developing technology based on Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Neil Stephenson's Diamond Age.

[Image: Flickr user Pasukaru]

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  • Clean up computer

    I love this concept. That scientists are starting to wonder if what they invent will negatively impact the world and how beneficial it might be. It's funny that this concept needs to be simulated, but maybe over time this will encourage individual responsibility.

  • NJ

    I'd ask them *not* to make the Total Perspective Vortex. Or, indeed, anything with a Genuine People Personality. As to the hitchhiker's guide itself - the guide within the Guide, as it were - we sort of have that already . .

  • Mitch

    "one said Star Trek's teleporter would be impossible." They're impossible because there's no such thing as a Star Trek teleporter. They call them transporters. ((nerd slurp))