Research at AIIT

Dialog with an Uncertain Future / Excerp (Irregular updates)

The 32nd Installment“Recommendation for Technology Fiction (TF)”

by Shintaro Ishijima,
President of Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology

Recommendation for Technology Fiction (TF)

As many others do, I was once addicted to science-fiction novels. I believe the true charm of science fiction, above all, consists of freedom in conception which is not bound to physical restrictions (fiction) and the intellectual atmosphere science creates (at least it looks logical). I am still influenced by them and love such movies and animated films as The Matrix and Kokaku Kidotai. I am often glued to a video screen at home, while my family members give me a cold look.

The late Professor Shigeru Watanabe, the first president of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Technology, once told me that the weakness of sci-fi novels is negligence in physical feasibility and that technology fiction is important for researchers in the engineering field. For example, there was a sci-fi novel about an extremely evolved civilization that had existed on the earth in ancient times, and an intellectual species of the times chose to become a plant as a result of evolution in order to be purely devoted to contemplation. This and many other novels deviate from the framework of feasibility.

Indeed, “Mighty Atom is a child of science” and it is quite feasible at least in the future as a result of advances in scientific technologies. On the other hand, science is almost completely ignored in the Full Metal Alchemist. In other words, when the category of science fiction included all that is extraordinary, it might allow something occult to be included only if it contained scientific terms or atmosphere. Now, magic assumes a major role in children’s manga instead of science. A culture seems spreading where people avoid complicated logical extensions and steady efforts and jumping to a conclusion is widely accepted.

This is where technology fiction comes in. It is a story where both the extraordinary, which is shared by science fiction, and scientific feasibility are fully considered, and readers can enjoy the story and have an opportunity for contemplation. It is difficult to draw a strict line between technology fiction and science fiction—gray areas are inevitable. If we make it a condition that sufficient attention is paid to scientific and technical feasibility, they can be distinguished, at least, from magic and others that do not explain the mechanism at all. Technology fiction is, in this sense, a future prediction and a process of verifying a hypothesis.

Let me take a new technology, the iPad, as an example. The heart of the story of the iPad is as an information terminal that can be operated as you like in any position. This is the same as the concept of a wearable audio device that had been realized by Sony’s Walkman. What is common between the two is that they created a new life style. Seeking how they can be applied has the potential of becoming a technology fiction novel of significance. I don’t know the detailed circumstances of how the iPad was invented. But, the thinking process of Steven Jobs toward the completion of the product and the way in which it was enthusiastically accepted by the market could have become an excellent technology fiction novel, if it were written five years ago.

Then, what kind of story will the next innovation in this field be like? How about the concept of an information device that makes you clever when you have or wear it, a “Sub Brain”, for example? This is an extension of database, network, and information terminal technologies and obviously it is in the same direction as the iPad and Internet technologies. If the Sub Brain should be invented, what would the shape or the purpose of use and how would society be changed? If we could make a story about them, we would be able to write a technology fiction novel as a prediction of the future. That is why I want to write a story. But, it is not that easy, as it requires talent to build a story based on the idea.

It is possible, however, to stretch the imagination about element technologies, if you have the expertise and a little bit of imagination. It may relate to the project suggested by Mr. Kitamura, the chairperson of the working-level conference, at the opportunity of the Advisory Committee on Administration last year to compile a technological outlook for the graduate university. I am thinking about starting this enjoyable work to let my imagination run about the potential offered by technologies from the viewpoint of technology fiction. Here, I would like to call on the readers to develop an outlook for the element technologies required for the realization of the Sub Brain, the design of the product, and the purpose of use.

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  • The 33rd Installment

    “Graduate School for Students with a Variety of Backgrounds”

    by Seiichi Kawata,
    Dean of Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology
  • The 32nd Installment

    “Recommendation for Technology Fiction (TF)”

    by Shintaro Ishijima,
    President of Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology
  • The 31st Installment

    “Effort for research”

    by Kazuya Odagiri,
    Assistant Professor, Masters Program of Information Systems Architecture