Truth is stranger than science fiction
Do science and science fiction have a casual relationship, one finding direction from and fulfilling the science fantasy laid out before it?
Stephen Hawking stressed science fiction helps inspire scientists' imaginations, but Lawrence Krauss, a professor in the School of Space and Earth Exploration at Arizona State University, believes science fiction is not a match for reality.
Although science fiction has taken inspiration from the cutting edge science of its day, according to Krauss, "Truth is stranger than fiction."
"The imagination of nature far exceeds the human imagination, which is why we constantly need to probe the universe via experimentation to make progress," he said.
In fact, I tend to think that what makes science fiction most interesting is what they missed, not what they got right, added Krauss, a renowned theoretical physicist.
As examples, Krauss mentioned the world-wide-web (www), developed at the CERN scientific laboratory and which governs the world in ways that were not anticipated.
He also described 'The World Set Free', often quoted as a prophetic book by H.G. Wells, which was published in 1914 and anticipated the development of atomic weapons that could be used in war.
It even coined the term 'atomic bombs' decades before they became a harsh reality in the modern world and perhaps influencing some of the scientists who went on to create these weapons.
"Nevertheless not only did Wells' continually burning atomic weapons bear no resemblance to the engines of destruction in the real world, he thought it would unite the world into one society. We are painfully aware that it hasn't changed human thinking, except to divide the world into nuclear haves and have-nots," emphasised Krauss.
"It is instructive, and fun, to compare the 'science' of science fiction with that of the real world," he said.
"Rather than dwelling on things that don't work, it is fun to explore closely related things in the real world that might work."
Speaking at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, Krauss discussed a variety of classical science fiction standbys - space exploration, faster than light travel time travel and teleportation.
While it is not likely that humans will be 'beamed' from one place to another, quantum teleportation might revolutionise computing in ways that science fiction has just begun to come to grips with, said Krauss.
Krauss said that predicting the future of science is fraught with problems. "If I knew what the next big thing would be, I would be working on it now!"
(Posted on 16-02-2014)