Corporate science fiction markets in everything

…the business world has been increasingly aware of the genre’s potential. In 2017, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the professional services firm that advises 440 of the Fortune 500 companies, published a blueprint for using science fiction to explore business innovation. The same year, the Harvard Business Review argued that “business leaders need to read more science fiction” in order to stay ahead of the curve…

A number of companies, along with a loose constellation of designers, marketers, and consultants, have formed to expedite the messy creative visualization process that used to take decades. For a fee, they’ll prototype a possible future for a [corporate] client, replete with characters who live in it, at as deep a level as a company can afford. They aim to do what science fiction has always done — build rich speculative worlds, describe that world’s bounty and perils, and, finally, envision how that future might fall to pieces.

Alternatively referred to as sci-fi prototyping, futurecasting, or worldbuilding, the goal of these companies is generally the same: help clients create forward-looking fiction to generate ideas and IP for progress or profit. Each of the biggest practitioners believe they have their own formulas for helping clients negotiate the future. And corporations like Ford, Nike, Intel, and Hershey’s, it turns out, are willing to pay hefty sums for their own in-house Minority Reports.

That is from Brian Merchant on Medium.


Do sci-fi writers really ever come up with anything that ends up making money? For example, the thing Heinlein figured out, in detail ahead of time, was the water bed. That's not at all bad, but Heinlein novels have a lot more flying cars, 3d televisions, and spaceliners.

Sure, he briefly alludes to the usefulness of having a telephone in your pocket while you are outside in 1951's "Between Planets," but that wasn't really all that genius.

Interestingly, Heinlein became a devout free marketeer later in his career. Maybe he noticed that, as smart and creative as he was, even he wasn't that good at figuring out how the future would work, so it would be best to distribute responsibility.

Arthur C Clarke was one of the first proponents of the communication satellite in 1945

"Do sci-fi writers really ever come up with anything that ends up making money? "

I'd say sci-fi writers have come up with a lot more ideas than any other genre of writers.

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Der Grund warum ich frage ist, weil Ihhr Layout scheint anders als den meisten Blogs
und ich interessiere mich für etwas einmalige. PS Entschuldiggung für Sein off-topic,
abher ichh hattte zu fragen!

Sci-fi authors have been describing the smartphone for decades...

The author is right. Military organizations around the world have been inspired by sci-fi since long ago. Jules Verne may be underrated as people motivator. A History of Bombing by Sven Lindqvist is a review of the relationship between sci-fi and modern weapons . Sci-fi may have not only inspired the new technology but also the decision-making of how and against whom use said weapons. Once you dehumanize civilians in fiction, it gets much easier to exterminate them.

As anecdote, Isaac Asimov (yes, that Asimov) got invited on 1959 to participate in the development new military technology. Asimov quit the project, but the people behind it saw the potential

One huge omission of the article about sci-fi prototyping is presenting the topic as novelty. Matt Novak from Paleofuture has thousands of proofs to show business world has been getting inspiration from sci-fi since long ago

Amazon may be the future of paleofuture "Amazon Promised Drone Delivery in Five Years... Five Years Ago"

Sad to see that Americans stoop to weaponize child-like imagination. Nothing is sacred anymore in America, but money.

Anybody else pick up the irony of the companies named as clients? (Q: what do Hershey's, Nike, Intel and Ford have in common?) (A: arguably they are big bureaucracies whose best growth is long behind them and are now struggling to keep their market share (or in Hershey's case, to keep solvent.) Not a client list I'd want to point to as examples of bleeding edge innovation.

I am not arguing about your point, except for Intel. They are the definition of bleeding edge tech. They have the smallest processors and most RnD in smallest processors. They have the on of the leading projects in: quantum computation, AI, deep-learning, automatization. It is actually pretty weird that they need futurists, because they are moving the field towards our future robotic overlords. They should already have some pretty good understanding what products do they need, the only problem is they don't have 100% how, and that's where futurists won't help.

Better to explore science fiction of tomorrow than to deal with the reality of today. Cowen's obsession with tomorrow is understandable: he's an economist, which is to say a soothsayer, and soothsayers are experts in predicting tomorrow not dealing with the problems of today. According to the Gospel of Matthew (6:34), Jesus said this about economists: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Jesus wasn't speaking just to economists, but to the human capacity for fear, in this case fear of tomorrow. Tackling and solving the problems of today, make the potential problems of tomorrow seem far less scary. On the other hand, if one is incapable of tackling and solving the problems of today, then obsessing about the potential problems of tomorrow takes one's mind off the burdens of today.

I’ve heard of corporations wasting vast sums of monies on external consultants, but this is just plain ridiculous.

Have these ever actually *seen* any science fiction? The corporation is always the villain. "So, gentlemen, for a modest consulting fee, we will help you build the global reach of E Corp, with the future-focused vision of Weyland-Yutani!"

There's the 1984 dystopia stuff, and not much commerce going on in Star Wars (trade seems to resemble caravans and merchant traders).

But it doesn't seem like people really believe in future prospects of dystopian states that are both competent on tech and powerful states (a few media do like depicted Hunger Games or Handmaid's Tale are about as far as it goes, but those are basically laughable as speculations.)

What is wrong with discovering ways to meet client needs? Putting people into a room to imagine what "future" people might like seems like a waste of resources. Get close to your current customers or you won't need to worry about future customers.

Clayton Christensen made his name on the traps that sometimes occur listening only to current clients.

The market is littered with companies that failed to meet the needs of their clients. New Coke is an easy example. Chistensen can talk about segmenting the market and finding attractive niches. That is the same as fulfilling the needs of clients by understanding that your clients are very often not monolithic. New makeup for an old pig.

I remember the team that worked on the Apple Newton. I told them that I thought handwriting recognition was a waste of time and I hated the stylus. Give me a camera, internet connection, and a built-in keyboard. That was in 1989. I missed the idea of music, didn't see the use but I also never liked Walkmen.

As the story says, this goes way back, and it seems an example of the principle "when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

A friend of a friend actually has this job: She is paid to place products with social media influencers. We hear about such things in the abstract, but it was kind of weird to encounter in real life.

That is her full-time job by the way, not some aspirational side project.

Always happy to oblige:

(This brief, cautionary tale also boasts modest explanatory power.)

Most science fiction is more about people than technology. As one would expect, as every science fiction work has to deliver narrative and characters that are interesting enough to capture the readers (and sometimes viewers, although high-concept S.F. seems to work better in print) interest.

Science fiction permits authors to explore the human (or sometimes transhuman) experience in very different cultures and environments than the present, and thus can offer greater freedom to explore the human condition than is possible in conventional fiction.

Yet between Twitter mobs punishing authors and publshers of works that fail to conform to contemmporary PC and a general decline in technological optimism (as ex ("We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters" -- Peter thiel) there's the sense that, other than those endless YA distopias, science fiction is in decline (and has been for some time).

So, perhaps the final step is for some business-method frauds to declare that one can use science fiction to predict the future? Because (of course) science fiction writers knew that mimeographs would be replaced by laser printers and the USSR would collapse and the transition from photographic film to digital would be abrupt enough to bankrupt Kodak?

So, perhaps the best evidence yet that SF is truly dying is that hucksters are now promoting it as a business tool. And, umm, when was the last time you picked up a business book that was worth reading?

It seems to me that you are the big pessimist about the future, not them.

What do you think of Ramez Naam (@ramez)?

LOL. Plus 1.

Back in 1981 I spent the summer on a NASA project to make recommendations about upgrading their computing infrastructure, in particular, about incorporating more AI into the mix. They had a science fiction writer on that project, and it wasn't the first time.

It's interesting to notice how non-literary manifestations of science fictional thinking today differ from the actual works of prose fiction being written and celebrated. There is a distinct absence of non-complacent net optimistic futures in recent works of prose science fiction (Kim Stanley Robinson's NEW YORK 2140, and much of the short fiction of Ken Liu and Ted Chiang are exceptions). The implicit or explicit message of much prose SF today is “beware progress” rather than offering engaging, exciting and challenging ideations of progress.

My guess is that the attitude of prose science fiction writers towards economic/technological progress is cyclical: in the absence of it writers dream big, but when a specific form of progress dominates—as the globalization/IT revolution does now—writers assume a more critical stance, unlike industry which is perpetually in search of growth.

"Progress" has been oversold by science apologists and futurists long enough to have provoked commensurate reactions in emerging forms of due science skepticism.

Progress has been sold by futurists and science apologists so as to suggest that heightened expectations (courtesy of applied tech) can NEVER diminish or be diminished: the leading question today is whether expectations furnished by tech applications can be met continually or whether profound disillusionment with scientific pretense resulting from the advent of Technogenic Climate Change, et cetera, might cure ailing humanity once and for all of its faith in pernicious and irrevocable "progress".

I generally agree, but you are stating only half the case. What I’m suggesting is more cyclical: yes, advocates for scientific progress over-sell its benefits, promote widespread pro-progress sentiment, and underweight the negative consequences. But when those consequences come home to roost the skeptics step in (perhaps you are one of them? I am, too, occasionally), and public sentiment towards progress shifts from favorable to skeptical to downright cynical. In both cases the pendulum of sentiment often swings too far, overstating both the benefits of progress and its negative consequences.

And in both cases prose science fiction is pro-cyclical, which makes sense since writers are naturally responsive to the demands of their audience (at least those writers who want to make a living and be read, anyway). Since we seem to be somewhere in the negative sentiment part of the cycle I wonder if science fiction writers and readers with a more pro-progress vision are looking to industry to underwrite that vision.

I take myself to be suggesting only that "institutional science fiction"--those inspiring works adored generation after generation, adored also by generations of screenwriters and graphic artists as by academies eager to enlarge the taxonomy of pedagogy--has hardly indulged in severe and sustained science skepticism (skepticism of the advertised values of science and applied tech themselves, mind you, not the heedless applications of same by any demented Frankenstein of Geneva or one of Silicon Valley).

Science and tech have become our designated agents of "change" (increasingly, in specific social, political, cultural, and economic contexts where science and tech have NO demonstrated competencies to boast): now that the two of them can reasonably be held to account for so dramatically contributing to changing climatic patterns (with what naïve trust we took up their invitations to "progress"!), our appetites for "change" (as for "irrevocable progress") may appreciably dwindle for the remainder of this century, at least, as we watch humanity flail away at a planet seeming to take issue with our cognitive competencies.

Would the same people who complain about dystopian science-fiction also complain that horror movies should stop putting scary things in the closet? Or say that in Liam Neeson movies no one should get kidnapped?

You're forgetting the underlying commonality. We want most of our fiction, and movies, to be scary and exciting. Except the Hallmark Channel of course.

Is there a equivalent Hallmark Channel science fiction? Sure, especially in the kids market. Look at the Despicable Me franchise. Inventing is big.

I think perhaps people seek the science fiction equivalent of the realistic mode of fiction. Most people do not read genre novels, after all. Rather than the saccharine extreme that you suggest they would adopt if they do not favour dystopian depictions.

See for one example of where an idea first developed in science fiction was given life in reality. "according to Rear Admiral Cal Laning, the idea for a command information center was taken “specifically, consciously, and directly” from the spaceship Directrix in the Lensman novels of E. E. Smith, Ph.D., and influenced by the works of his friend and collaborator Robert Heinlein, a retired American naval officer"

Heinlein got fed ideas by insiders. For example, after WWII a friend in the Navy high command got him invited to lots of cool things like a V2 launch in the desert in return for promoting the idea that the Space Navy should be run by the Navy rather than the Army or the Air Force.

Barry Malzberg pretty correctly predicted back in the 70s that everyone in the near future would be at least neurotic if not flat-out disturbed. Looks like Big Pharma has been able to monetize that

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