Death of Sci-Fi?

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One interesting trend I've noticed is that Sci-Fi as a genre has been declining for decades now. Each year, sci-fi is seemingly less popular than the one before. We used to be comparatively inundated with science fiction films, television, etc, but their share of media has been steadily decreasing for quite some time. And I think that it has much to do with a society-wide change in our perception of technology.

Even a decade ago, it was still speculated that technology would solve all of our problems in short order and that a utopia was on the horizon. But then the reality of the years that followed smashed that optimism. People aren't optimistic about technology nowadays. Smartphones have more or less completely devoured the consumer electronics market. The rich got richer, and wages have stagnated since 1971.

What are your thoughts on technology and the future? Do you believe that advances in technology have the power to change the trajectory of humanity for the better?
 

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I don't think technological pessimism has anything to do with sci-fi becoming less popular (if it really is less popular now.) There's been a technoskeptic trend in sci-fi going as far back as Frankenstein, and I would be willing to bet that there are more sci-fi stories about future technology causing problems than there are about it solving problems. Robots going berserk, AIs turning evil, fabulous inventions with unexpected consequences, cyborgs losing their humanity, people playing God and getting punished, plans to improve society creating dystopias, etc. are all well-established tropes. I also don't think that any real-world problems are having a negative effect. Some of the best sci-fi stories (In my opinion) were written in the late 60s and 70s, a period that was just as turbulent as the past decade, if not more so.
I think the biggest stumbling block for sci-fi right now is how hard it is to write about the internet, the most important and most futuristic technology of our time. If you're going to write anything set in the near future you're going to have to deal with the internet, and so far it seems like people are still figuring out how to write about the internet in a believable way. (Shameless self-promotion: I made a thread tangentially related to this.) Same goes for neural networks and other kinds of cutting-edge technology society is still trying to make sense of. (We haven't even really made sense of smartphones yet - ever notice how so many "realistic" dramas these days try to downplay smartphone usage?) The futuristic technologies of today are harder to understand than rockets and robots were for people living in the 50s, and I think it's going to take a longer time for sci-fi to digest them and start producing works that actually feel relevant and forward-looking (not necessarily optimistic.)
 
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canalman

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Sci-fi is still definitely good, and as a Zoomer who has a problem (I really struggle to get into any piece of media unless it's related to science fiction), I can safely say that sci-fi isn't declining. It's just going through a bit of a meh patch at the moment. I mean, all the good stuff has already been made (doesn't mean we can't/won't make more, because believe me we will) so that tends to push new creators away because why bother?

And to be completely fair, sci-fi has often been used to show the issues of "maybe we shouldn't rely on technology, it probably won't fix everything in our lives". I mean, the entire subgenre of cyberpunk is literally good technology bad people, or "High tech, low life" as I so often hear (that saying, while correct, is really annoying for some reason)

Hope my ramble was able to give a separate perspective.
 
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Star Wars and Star Trek were kind of the poster children for Sci-Fi. Disney shit the bed pretty hard with the sequel trilogy and it honestly feels like Paramount is trying to be bad on purpose.

For what it's worth though, there's some talk about a Babylon 5 reboot. That might be pretty rad.
 

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I think in many ways, we're seeing the "steady state" of the industrial revolution finally.

When the neolithic revolution occured, you saw a rapid shift away from hunter-gathererism into hierarchical agricultural societies due to the discovery of agriculture...
You have the pre bronze age collapse period, where the early transitional societies experiment with the first social orders for running an agrarian society, the collapse puts them all to the test, and after a few centuries, you arrive at rebuilt civilizations that are 100% adapted to agrarianism. This is the "axial age", where we see the rise of philosophies that are 100% suited to agrarianism, and form the basis of most of our traditional religions and ways of thought, such as christianity, platonism, buddhism, etc.

After this ironing out of the social issues of how to be agriculturalists, society effectively stops its rapid change phase and goes dormant for the next 3000 years. From the onset of the iron age until the industrial revolution, civilizations only really had small incremental changes in EVERYTHING -- the technology, the social theories....all of it. It remained static, because ultimately, the axial age ideologies represented the "solved state" of agrarianism. The social order was fit for purpose, and ultimately, the technology capped, since there's only so many ways to grow fucking wheat.


I think the turn from agrarianism to industry was similar. The changeover from agriculture to the industrial world introduced major price revolutions that enabled the rapid development of technology, just as the development of agriculture enabled the rapid development of the first palace economies and monumental architecture. And that's what happend -- we rapidly advanced, but now we're effectively pushing up against our technological limit. The computer is capping as we reach the size limit of the transistor, the automobile is redesigned yearly mostly for style. We fly about in aircraft that were designed in the 1970s. We go to space in rockets that work on principles tsiolkovsky could model. There's only so many ways to grow fucking wheat...

Science fiction, therefore, has no meaning. We are at what will likely be the baseline norm for technology for the next 3000 years. We make incremental changes, sure, but there will never be another 19th or 20th century where rapid gains change technology and lifestyle in the span of a single human lifetime anymore. Science fiction is our projection of how heretofore unknown technologies will change future civilization, but as we increasingly reach the pinnacle of what industrial society can technologically achieve, speculation ceases, since we simply know what is and isn't possible.

The last great horror is that we haven't found the solved state of industrial society yet. That is, we're still effectively agriculturalists trying to figure out how to be industrial. Our bronze age collapse hasn't wiped out the last vestiges of agrarian thought and forced us into a second axial age yet. This speculation is mostly dealt with in speculative drama and fantasy, though.
 

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I think in many ways, we're seeing the "steady state" of the industrial revolution finally.
I would have agreed with you were it not for recent advances in AI. GPU technology is still making insane strides year after year. We're seeing some serious shit right now. Many jobs are on the verge of rapid extreme optimization if not total obsoletion. Artists, musicians, actors, coders, drivers. This will bring about unimaginable change.
 

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Science fiction is our projection of how heretofore unknown technologies will change future civilization
It can also be the opposite - stories about how changes to society could affect the use or perception of technology. The "Dying Earth" subgenre, where characters from a declining far-future world see technologies from the near future as incomprehensible magic, is a good example of this. As far as I know, sci-fi authors are the only people who have given serious thought to what 3000 years of technological stagnation in the future would look like, so I don't think this scenario renders the whole genre meaningless.
 
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Sci-Fi is in decline because people realized that the capitalist elites will never allow them to live peaceful, comfortable lives, and that sci-fi was lies and bullshit. That's why modern films and culture lean hard towards dystopian themes.

Star Trek was born in the 60s when society was much more united and people had strong communal ties and instincts. It was possible then to envision a "sci-fi" future where machines did all the work, and people's basic needs and the necessities of life were easily and freely available and humanity had achieved a post-scarcity utopia.

In the 60s, a post-scarcity utopia really seemed within grasp. The world had just emerged from the largest and bloodiest war in human history, but the generation that followed would reap post-war dividends in the form of declassified military technology. Technology advanced in leaps and bounds in the 50s and 60s with the invention of the semi-conductor transistor, and computers.

However the promises of sci-fi did not come to pass because there was no innovation in human culture. Technology advanced. Human cognition and culture did not. Humans are still little more than grasping, brutish apes.

People thought "machines will do all the work, and we'll lead lives of leisure". But what actually came to pass is that machines did all the work, and the owners of capital threw the rest of us to the dogs. There will be no flying cars, or replicators, or universal basic income. Instead there are 10-20 guys that own EVERYTHING, and you'll buy oxygen in tanks as a subscription service to survive in a polluted shithole, after everything good and beautiful on this planet has been raped and exploited.

That's why sci-fi is in decline. Sci-Fi is incompatible with capitalism. In contemporary times capitalism is busy cannibalizing itself, as Marx predicted. It can no longer withstand it's internal contradictions.

how can anybody believe in sci-fi crap, when they see dystopia growing in real-time?
 

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I think one of the current issues with sci-fi is that previous generations of science fiction were way to optimistic about the level of technological advancement we would have at this point, and tend to ignore the negative consequences of our technological development.

There are some exceptions to the latter claim (like blade runner), but they are few and far between.
 
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I think one of the current issues with sci-fi is that previous generations of science fiction were way to optimistic about the level of technological advancement we would have at this point

What I find interesting is how much old sci-fi simultaneously overestimated technological development in 90% of fields, but radically underestimated the advancement in computers, hand held devices, and the internet. When reading/watching old sci-fi, or even just old media in general, I frequently end up thinking about how our technology has really only advanced in (to borrow videogame terminology) a few specific branches of the tech tree while stagnating in almost all others.
 
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№56

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There are some exceptions to the latter claim (like blade runner), but they are few and far between.
There are plenty more exceptions if you're willing to look beyond movies and TV. I think most of the people who have replied to this thread would benefit from reading more print sci-fi. Anyone who thinks Star Wars and Star Trek are all the genre has to offer is seriously missing out.
 
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I think this is indicative of a bigger thing. I noticed that in the last decade there was no major technological shifts. From like 2014 progress came to a halt. Everything new is just a slightly better version of the previous thing.

If I am not mistaken, even AI is purely software and was possible in the past but just too slow to be really usable due to the hardware at the time.

Also, optimism in general kinda died some time ago. There is a reason why almost every sci-fi media is a dystopia.
 

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I think this is indicative of a bigger thing. I noticed that in the last decade there was no major technological shifts. From like 2014 progress came to a halt. Everything new is just a slightly better version of the previous thing.

If I am not mistaken, even AI is purely software and was possible in the past but just too slow to be really usable due to the hardware at the time.

Also, optimism in general kinda died some time ago. There is a reason why almost every sci-fi media is a dystopia.
Well, what in science isn't iterative? The artifical neurons are built upon the perceptron, and the transformer neural networks are built upon the non-transformer neural networks. Nevertheless, transformers are ground breaker because they, eh-hu, transformed the AI landscape. Never before could an ANN model maintain context of past event, the transformer model changed that. All of the people joke that AI generated South Park episode was poorly written, yet, if one lets a pre-TNN model generate a script for South Park, it won't even be remotely coherent. Now there's a story that has a start, a middle, and a end, and more importantly, those parts actually connect logically, even if certain things can be factually wrong -- the TNNs aren't databases, use a database for fact-checking; in fact, I won't be surprised OpenAI will soon train a model which can use tool to query the internet and also evaluate the "factualness" of the sources, before summerizing all "factual" data, for bing's new top-of-the-page briefing feature.

As for sci-fi optimism, I don't know, I guess I just never read anything like that before; When I was in school, some 2 decades ago now, I was very into sci-fi and subscribed to, among others, a few magazines that published sci-fi novellas. I can summarize a few that had left an impress on me (I don't remember the titles nor the authors):

Topic: cloning
Synopsis: a tragic subway crash happened a over one hundred people died, a governmental service used their database to "resurrect" those who had died and eligible for the service with their lastest uploaded memories. The protagonist began doubt his or her past and had an existential crisis.

Topic: teleportation.
Synopsis: a man was berated by all around him for driving a car instead of using the teleportation services, and one day decided to try it out. He ended up finding out that the "teleportation" only copies his memory to a new body in the destination, and everyone he knew has died many, many times. When his clone gets home from work and greeted his wife, he recalled the experience very pleasant and told her he'd love to try it again.

Topic: dinosaurs
Synopsis: earth was invaded by a vast fleet of aliens, who turned out to be intelligent dinosaurs who left earth many millions of years ago. They had conquered many planets and domesticated their population as foodstock. The humans fought but lost, when the lead scientist emerged from nuclear fallout, more than a decade had passed. He discovered that his grandson had accepted the rule of the dinosaurs and despise his resistance against them. He was told all human would be raised in worry-free environments, well-fed, and kept in pristine condition, so they may be slaughtered at the age of 16/18 for their tender loins. The scientist rejected the dinosaurs' offer with a permenant and honored place in their society, and laid down on the wasteland to die, so he may be food for whatever species that replaces humanity.

Topic: AI
Synopsis: a man is infatuated with a woman, with whom he struck a friendship. He found out that she had a talent for music but is unappreciated and mocked by the public because AIs can create far better music them humans. The woman eventually left her dreams behind to enter an academy that amounts to life-long celibacy in that society, and the man was alone and disillusioned.

There are more of these, like the works of Philip K. Dick, which are all very skeptical about the impact of technology on the human condition, some questioned while science can improve our lives, can it nourish something beyond the physical; others, like I have No Mouth And I Must Scream, straight up questions if human is truly the master of science.

In that regard, many sci-fi works today are like that -- more cynical, more dystopian. Black Mirror, even M3GEN, had all attempted to examine the contradictions between the human experience and technology, not how it may be improved by the latter. From my reading, Mercerism in Gibson's Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep is primarily a means for him to vent his belief that humanity inherently require spirtuality to exist, even if the source of said spirituality is fake. I think, at the end of the novel, when the novel version of Deckard found a tortoise in the nuclear wastes and brought it home, his wife casually showed him that this miracle is actually just another synthetic (robot) pet, implication being it's thrown away by some other human, Deckard simply accepted it, and treated it as a real pet -- this is Gibson's way of saying "mind over matter", that what's real is in the mind and mind alone, and thus Mercerism has value by faith alone.

In this regard, sci-fi has not died, it merely transformed. It now reflects how the world at large view technology: anxiety, worries, fears.
 
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Well, what in science isn't iterative? The artifical neurons are built upon the perceptron, and the transformer neural networks are built upon the non-transformer neural networks. Nevertheless, transformers are ground breaker because they, eh-hu, transformed the AI landscape. Never before could an ANN model maintain context of past event, the transformer model changed that. All of the people joke that AI generated South Park episode was poorly written, yet, if one lets a pre-TNN model generate a script for South Park, it won't even be remotely coherent. Now there's a story that has a start, a middle, and a end, and more importantly, those parts actually connect logically, even if certain things can be factually wrong -- the TNNs aren't databases, use a database for fact-checking; in fact, I won't be surprised OpenAI will soon train a model which can use tool to query the internet and also evaluate the "factualness" of the sources, before summerizing all "factual" data, for bing's new top-of-the-page briefing feature.
Well, it is true that science and progess was always been based on the previous thing. That being said, I think sci-fi was derived from the perceived massive technological jumps of the time and people extrapolating and speculating on what the future would look like (both in good and bad ways).

This thread reminds me of a book series called Bobby Pendragon that was writen in the early 2000s. At some point, the protagonist goes into the future for plot reasons. Many of the futuristic technology described such as voice command, physical ebook readers, massive databases and such are all things that exists today.