In a science-fiction related mailing list, a friend of mine posted a link to a news story about the possibility of hacking into insulin pumps that have wireless capabilities. In her email, she lamented “It’s going to get harder & harder to write science FICTION when things like this are real!”

So the question is then: how can science fiction authors predict this kind of thing so that their fiction can be more realistic? And the answer of course is that they can’t. Nor should they try. There’s a reason for the saying “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Furthermore, however much personal satisfaction an author might get out of successfully predicting some future advancement, that’s not what science fiction is about.

Sure, there are SF stories that focus on a particular idea or invention – how it was discovered, developed or explored and its eventual fate. Most stories, though, focus on the consequences of the idea, either for some select group or for society at large. Science fiction can thus present hope that an idea will help make life better or a warning as to how things could go horribly awry – or both.

I contend that the job of authors who deal with technology (science fiction or otherwise) is not to try to predict what technologies will be invented, but rather to create convincing pictures of what could happen in a society with a given set of technologies. It is considered polite, among science fiction readers to accept the scientific and technological assumptions that the author makes but the author must then make a convincing case for the effects of those assumptions on society in general and the story’s characters in particular. Before he can make his case convincing, he must carefully consider what those effects will be and fans tend to be righteously annoyed with authors who overlook details they believe to be obvious.