Can science fiction help us? 科幻小說能幫助人類嗎?

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Image caption Will robots be our friends or foes?

Vocabulary: positive / negative 詞匯: 正面 / 負面

What will the future be like? Good or bad? A lot of science-fiction writing imagines a world which is dark and scary. In Blade Runner, Harrison Ford hunts robots in a chaotic Los Angeles. Planet of the Apes shows a bleak future for humankind. And what about The Hunger Games? Don't get me started.

There's a word to describe the kind of future world which often appears in science fiction: dystopia. It means an imagined place where things are unpleasant or bad. The opposite is utopia. But does tomorrow's world have to be so depressing?

No. A new project wants to use the power of science fiction to inspire people to create a better future. Project Hieroglyph brings together writers, scientists, engineers and artists to create optimistic stories about things which really could happen in the next 50 years.

It's just a matter of making an effort. Experts say it's easier to create a dystopia than write a feel-good story. There's more conflict in a world full of problems, and stories are interesting when there are a lot of problems to resolve. No challenge, no story!

But the project produced a book with some promising plots. One of them is about environmentalists who fight to stop entrepreneurs from building the first hotel in Antarctica. Well, there's conflict there and it's plausible, so it could be a good story.

But will these stories actually change anything or just keep us entertained? Ed Finn, the book's editor, thinks the former. He says: "A good science-fiction story can be very powerful. It can inspire hundreds, thousands, millions of people to rally around something that they want to do."

The influence of science fiction can already be seen in modern research, says Braden Allenby, Project Hieroglyph participant and Professor of Engineering, Ethics and Law at Arizona State University. He asks: "Why are people working on, for example, invisibility cloaks? Well, it's Harry Potter, right?"

Time will tell how far we can go. Let's dream big and think outside the box. Who knows the wonderful things we can come up with.