The Fiction of the Science: A Meditation on How Artists & Storytellers Can Advance Technology

In ele­men­tary school, a play­ful teacher gave us an assign­ment. Every­one was to dream up some sort of amaz­ing inven­tion, then draw both a design and an adver­tise­ment for it.

It seemed most of my class­mates were primed for a future in which sneak­ers would come equipped with ful­ly oper­a­tional, built-in wings.

I suc­cumbed to peer pres­sure and turned in an ad show­ing a laugh­ing, air­borne boy, taunt­ing an earth­bound adult by dan­gling his be-winged sneak­er-clad foot just a few inch­es out of reach.

My Fleet Foot was award­ed a good grade, but I felt no pas­sion for it. The inven­tion that tru­ly cap­tured me was the one depict­ed in my favorite illus­tra­tion from Pat­apoufs et Fil­if­ers, the fun­ny French children’s book my father had passed down, about a war between fat and thin peo­ple. The thin char­ac­ters were indus­tri­ous and high­ly dri­ven, but the fat ones knew how to live, loung­ing in feath­er beds beside wall spig­ots dis­pens­ing hot choco­late.

Those spig­ots were—then and now—a tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment I would love to see real­ized.

Robert Wong, are you lis­ten­ing?

In the Fic­tion of Sci­ence, the short film above, Wong, a graph­ic design­er and Google Cre­ative Lab’s VP, shows how sto­ry­telling can put the spurs to those with the train­ing and know-how to ush­er these wild-sound­ing advance­ments into the real world.

Case in point, the cell phone.

Mar­tin Coop­er, an engi­neer at Motoro­la, is wide­ly regard­ed as the father of the mobile phone, but when we take a broad­er view, the cell phone actu­al­ly has two dad­dies: Coop­er and Wah Ming Chang, the artist respon­si­ble for many of Star Trek’s icon­ic props, includ­ing the phas­er, the tri­corder and the com­mu­ni­ca­tor—a “portable trans­ceiv­er device in use by Starfleet crews since the mid-22nd cen­tu­ry.”

(Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Coop­er was a huge Star Trek fan.)

Touch screens and 3D fab­ri­ca­tions born of hand ges­tures are among the many cre­ative fic­tions that have quick­ly become real­i­ty as sci­ence and art inter­min­gle on movie sets and in the lab.

If you’re inspired to take an active part in this rev­o­lu­tion, Google Cre­ative Lab is cur­rent­ly tak­ing appli­ca­tions for The Five, a one-year paid pro­gram for five lucky inno­va­tors, drawn from a pool of artists, design­ers, film­mak­ers, devel­op­ers, and oth­er tal­ent­ed, mul­ti-dex­trous mak­ers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Sto­ry­telling

Learn Python: A Free Online Course from Google

John Berg­er (RIP) and Susan Son­tag Take Us Inside the Art of Sto­ry­telling (1983)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and the­ater mak­er whose play Zam­boni Godot is play­ing in New York City through March 18. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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