Science fiction prototyping is a set of activities in which participants from companies or organizations gain inspiration through a series of workshops involving reading, writing, and discussing science fiction stories. The participants use their experience as catalysts to create innovation and develop new products and services.
Science fiction prototyping is adopted by global companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Facebook, as well as governmental departments in many countries. Elon Musk is famously known for basing his projects, such as SpaceX and Mars immigration, on science fiction novels. He has been inspired by the “Foundation” series by Isaac Asimov among others. The series is about the collapse and rebirth of a vast galactic empire in the future. Musk has said that the series taught him that civilizations move in cycles, influencing him to pursue space exploration and further mankind’s “upward cycle.”
Many science fiction writers have imagined technologies such as rockets and the Internet in their novels long before they were introduced into the world. Jules Verne introduced a submarine in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Isaac Asimov presented the development of intelligence in robots in “I, Robot,” and Neal Stephenson coined the words “metaverse” and “avatar” in “Snow Crash.” However, the purpose of a science fiction prototyping story is not to present concrete product or service ideas as they are. It is the client’s job to realize the actual products or services. The role of a science fiction writer is to give hints by drawing and showing future scenarios.
Science fiction prototyping has some advantages over other similar creative business methods. Experts in a company would have specialized knowledge of a particular field, but an external viewpoint can be valuable when out-of-the-box thinking is required. A future prediction based on data is useful, but if everyone uses the same data, all of us would arrive at the same boring conclusion. If you wish to stand out in the crowd, you need unique ideas of your own. Science fiction has its basis in science, but writers can exercise their creative imagination and come up with fresh and new ideas.
Science fiction prototyping can yield various derivatives, such as stories, illustrations, mockups, and videos before coming to fruition as actual products and services. As a writer, I am particularly interested in the power of stories. Visual presentations are extremely powerful, but sometimes they don’t leave room for imagination because artists have already imagined for you.
For example, even if you don’t read science fiction novels, you must have watched some science fiction movies or anime. They use huge budgets and spectacular special effects to visualize the future. Robots and spaceships are already conceived with their purpose, operating principle, structure, and history. They are presented in a concrete form in the story. You, as the viewer, only receive the finished product, leaving no room for imagination.
In contrast, science fiction stories require readers to exercise their imagination to create the future in their minds. If you are a writer and writing about a robot, you need to think about everything in detail: when was it created, why was it created, what kind of power does it use to move, what can it do and what can’t it do?
With a story, you can visualize the details of a product in the future in your own mind. A story also involves a dramatic development of characters taking actions with particular gadgets or in specific situations. The dramatic impetus drives our minds to further develop the continuation of the existing story.
I have successfully delivered workshops and stories for major companies. The participants may not be familiar with science fiction, but they gained stimuli that are otherwise hard to obtain. My award-winning short story, “Final Anchors,” can also be considered a sci-fi prototype story. It depicts an accident involving two self-driving cars and the onboard AIs that decide which party should survive through discussions. This work introduces concepts like the “final anchor” emergency braking system and the Mercury System traffic control system. It encourages readers to extend their imaginations into a future where traffic accidents caused by autonomous driving are certain to occur.