Reading deep tech fiction novels can be a great way of thinking about possible futures.
What’s the difference between “deep tech fiction” and “science fiction”?
Of course, given the topic and the timing of this article (today is December 21, 2022), I asked ChatGPT this (I wrote the rest of the article myself). Here is part of the response I got:
“One key difference between deep tech fiction and science fiction is that deep tech fiction tends to focus more on the realistic portrayal of scientific and technological developments, while science fiction can include a wider range of speculative and imaginative elements.”A part of ChatGPT’s response to the question, ‘What’s the difference between deep tech fiction and science fiction?’
There you have it, this pretty much explains why I personally have a preference for deep tech fiction. Below are some of my favorite examples.
The Mysterious Island
By Jules Verne
“The Mysterious Island”, first published in 1874, is about five American prisoners of war who escape confinement during the American Civil War by hijacking a hot air balloon. They end up stranded on a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean, where they have to innovate themselves out of a very deep hole. Starting from almost nothing, they eventually make their own clothes, cooking utensils, glass, a boat, and even a telegraph connection. Jules Verne describes all of this in a quite hands-on way. In addition to all this, it’s fascinating to read how Cyrus Smith, the group’s engineer, envisions the future of technology.
By Andy Weir
“The Martian” is almost like a modern-day version of The Mysterious Island. Except that here, astronaut Mark Watney gets stranded not “just” on an island but on Mars. And there, he has to find a way to establish communication with Earth, and, probably most importantly, solve his food, water, and energy supply challenges. Even though not everything in the story is scientifically accurate (the effects of Martian sandstorms, for example), the story has many technology elements that seem quite plausible, and they are described in great detail.
The Quantum Spy
By David Ignatius
This is about the technology race, in this case between the US and China, to build the first quantum computer. Special emphasis here is on the purported capability of quantum computers to break all known encryption methods. The story features spies, suspected spies, government officials, and science entrepreneurs who face tough choices about the future direction and purpose of their work. “The Quantum Spy” is part of a series of spy novels written by David Ignatius (I recommend them all).
By Neal Stephenson
Earth, sometime in the near future. The effects of global warming have had substantial effects on human civilizations. For example, those who can afford them wear “earthsuits”. These are suits that help you cope with — or even just withstand — extreme heat. Against this backdrop, and in order to curtail at least even more global warming, Texan (well, of course) oil billionaire T.R. Schmidt has decided to build a solar geoengineering technology. Specifically, he builds launchers that fire sulfur particles into the Earth’s atmosphere to reduce the amount of heat reaching the surface. At least, that’s the plan.
By Marc Elsberg
Have you ever really thought through what a complete electrical power outage might mean for an entire continent? Even if the outage “only” lasts a few days? In his novel “Blackout”, Marc Elsberg has done this for you. And the result is, well, let’s just say it should be on the reading list of every politician.
The Fear Index
By Robert Harris
Former CERN physicist Alex Hoffmann has developed an AI algorithm that can predict financial markets, based on signals of fear that it detects in the contents of worldwide news and other sources. This algorithm is what drives Hoffmann’s hedge fund, elevating it to levels of performance previously unseen. And the algorithm keeps learning — perhaps too much for its own good, and particularly for that of its creators. One of my favorite passages from the book is when Robert Harris describes Alex Hoffmann’s office setup.