Why Microsoft, Google, and Apple Are Working With Science Fiction Writers

Science fiction writer Eileen Gunn recently wrote in Smithsonian magazine about how the science fiction genre informs the way we think about the real world. Here, Gunn writes that big tech companies like Microsoft have hired science fiction writers to do “design fiction”—coming up with new technology ideas through imaginative works:

Microsoft, Google, Apple and other firms have sponsored lecture series in which science fiction writers give talks to employees and then meet privately with developers and research departments. Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the close tie between science fiction and technology today than what is called “design fiction”—imaginative works commissioned by tech companies to model new ideas. Some corporations hire authors to create what-if stories about potentially marketable products.

“I really like design fiction or prototyping fiction,” says novelist Cory Doctorow, whose clients have included Disney and Tesco. “There is nothing weird about a company doing this—commissioning a story about people using a technology to decide if the technology is worth following through on. It’s like an architect creating a virtual fly-through of a building.” Doctorow, who worked in the software industry, has seen both sides of the development process. “I’ve been in engineering discussions in which the argument turned on what it would be like to use the product, and fiction can be a way of getting at that experience.”

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Photo: Arthur Cugun