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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