Big Picture Futures

with Gareth L Powell

Big Picture Futures

with Gareth L Powell

In this week’s episode of the futurists, award winning British Science Fiction author Gareth L Powell joins the duo to talk far flung futures and creating epic space operas from scratch. Powell talks through his process as well as discussing the possible future of humanity, and where we might go next . Follow @garethlpowell

foreign this week on the futurists in my last two books stars and bones and the one that’s coming out next year called descendant machine they’re set in a universe where humanity and I didn’t mean this to be topical when I started writing it but um they’re set in a world where Humanity you know for the planet’s in trouble the climates in trouble and then through a series of escalating International tensions a nuclear war is launched the day the book was published the tanks rolled into Ukraine so I thought oh my god um at that moment an alien entity intervenes and says the human race but Exiles them from the planet in order to give the planet time to heal itself and we’re set to Drifting some arcs which are intelligent and can look after every need nobody is starving nobody is is in love for shelter or medical attention it’s what you might call it Utopia in that there’s no scarcity there’s no inequality everyone has everything they need various historical periods have been considered Utopias by the people living in them but for the people who were catering for them and slaving for them it was certainly not a Utopia so Utopia is just I think depends where you stand

well welcome back to the futurists I’m your host Brett King with my co-host Rob turcek and uh we’ve got a real treat for you today we’re going to get totally sci-fi um so joining us on the show today is a British author of Science Fiction he has written several novels um he’s won the bsfa award for best novel twice for ACT Macau and Embers of War which is probably my favorite uh dealing with a sentient um um Starship that um you know has regrets of Israel in or its role in the war um that it was in um and also he’s done a host of short stories um magazines he writes uh in the uh the engineering space he’s given lectures on creative writing at many universities Gareth Powell Welcome to the futurists hi I guess so um you know you write these big epic sci-fi um pieces space operas is is generally the the genre that we identify with but I I maybe we can just start with what got you into this field what interests you about sci-fi you know in general and and what took you down this path um I think I’ve always been down this path um I don’t think there was a time I wasn’t at least halfway down it um some of my very earliest memories were going back to the age of three or four are of watching uh Star Trek the Original Series on an old black and white TV I think this was the very early 70s so it’s probably the first time it was shown in the UK um and at the same time while we were watching footage from the last moon landings from the Apollo Sawyers link up is is one of very vividly remember um and Skylab and then the space shuttle uh Star Wars came along Battlestar Galactica you know the early 70s early 80s were just it seemed obvious that by the year 2000 if we weren’t all dead from a nuclear war we would all be living on the moon so you know I was always in that um in that headspace I I read Larry Niven Robert Heinlein a lot of Arthur C Clarke growing up um

yeah I just had no no way to understand how you got from being a kid growing up in a village near Bristol to being Arthur C Clarke so and it wasn’t until I was a bit older um I always tried to write um but it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium when uh obviously we were going into a whole new millennium and I was due to turn 30 and I thought right it’s time to put up or shut up so I I wrote my first novel so how did it feel starting to write for the first time uh well I’ve made many first attempts over the years um so this was just this was just another one the difference was that I actually stuck with it um and got got through to a conclusion so how did you do that because quite a few people start to write something even people who start a blog and then they abandon it how did you manage to find a stamina to persist

um you could call it stamina you could call it sheer bloody mindedness but I was I was working sort of 40 hours a week um for a software company at the time so I would come home and then in the evenings I would write from about nine o’clock through to midnight um every night and that’s that’s obviously before I had children um so uh that whole routine took a nosedive after that but that was basically what I did every night I would come home I would write for three hours before bed um no TV at that point just reading I find it interesting um you you ride at home mostly yes because I I as I mostly ride a coffee shop so I like the White Noise it helps me creatively but then you know we had Kevin J Anderson Anderson on as one of our early uh episodes and he he records into a Dictaphone while he’s hiking that’s how he writes which I just find that extraordinary I still can’t work out how he’s able to do so so well with that but you know because dealing with all the different plot lines and things like that in your head but uh I guess you know he churns out these books like it was either six or seven books a year at least I think you know so which is just you know uh just phenomenal um throughput um but yeah yeah um so um you know I know you did uh light Chaser um with Peter F Hamilton um I I do you know I find some Synergy there from both of you guys because you do tend to write you know and and Ian Banks is another one um with the culture series um when you’re talking about far-flung human um you know Evolution and the species of humanity in the future um you know living with intelligent warships and and all of this sort of stuff but um in terms of envisioning these worlds and the World Views that that you’ve created do you do a lot of planning in the background and sort of mapping out what these civilizations are going to be like or is it more that this sort of develops in the narrative and you you know you take that core plot um like like in Embers of War you know with this uh you know sentient uh you know warship and build build on that or or you’re trying to create a longer term view of of humanity from a Space Opera perspective I do a lot less planning than people seem to assume um I usually start any story with the characters and then concoct background against which I can tell the story I want to tell about those characters um I will usually have a fairly good kind of notion of what the the background universe is like but I’m not one of those I mean I’m not J.R.R Tolkien I’m not going to invent um new languages and maps and and all of that I just um I flesh out what is needed in order to tell the story um so there’s no extraneous hopefully no extraneous explaining and uh scene setting hopefully everything that I put in there just increases the facilitude of the story and a lot of the time it will also evolve organically as the story goes along the for Embers of War for instance I wanted to tell a story about a warship who had accidentally developed a conscience so in order to do that I had to have a war and in order to do that I had to have two sides to the war so I went and thought of these two sellers to the war and it kind of grew out of that like um it wasn’t you know I didn’t come up with the universe first and think how can I explore this I came up with the character and thought how come at best how can this character best exist and what will present the biggest challenges to her in terms of kind of communicating that um I kind of just like to sprinkle details in and names that maybe aren’t explained um and I guess I got that from the first Star Wars movie um where we all watched it in 1975 or whenever and Ben Kenobi said your father fought with me in the Clone Wars and we were all thinking what the hell are the Clone Wars exactly but it just kind of fired your imagination and it made the universe seem so much larger and so I just tried to do that just little uh details that kind of sparked the imagination and make the universe seem more real uh you know when you start thinking about these far-flung um you know things you know obviously part of the fuel for this is thinking about the future Tech that we might deploy you know how this uh evolves um you know what do you do in terms of research to keep you grounded in areas like artificial intelligence gene therapy you know sort of the the stuff that we’re seeing develop now that could evolve in into this world view I keep up with the uh sort of Popular Science News um through new scientists and um Scientific American and other and Twitter feeds and you know just keep a general a sense of the temperature of the room so to speak um and on top of that if I specifically researching uh for instance artificial intelligence I’ll just try and read up a bit about the field some of the philosophy around the field and um enough to make it seem plausible obviously I don’t know how to construct an artificial intelligence otherwise I would not be a poor science fiction writer I’d be a multi-billionaire living in the Bahamas so I just kind of try to get it so it looks and feels authentic um my blueprint is for instance if I was writing a book set today I wouldn’t have a character walk out of his house get into a car and spend five pages explaining how the internal combustion engine works he would just get in his car and drive off so I tried to do that with the technology in my science fiction so I don’t trying to you know I don’t have characters telling to each other and say as you know the Quantum Drive works like this because it’s uh you know technobabble as it’s called in Star Trek right so I just tried to show it working and let the the reader kind of um imagine how that how that is working and kind of get an idea of the constraints of the technology and the limits of the technology which is where which is the important thing for the story that makes sense you’re doing a service for your readers because they don’t have to plow through all of that uh logical Exposition but you’re also saving yourself some effort because really it’s a story people want to be entertained they don’t want a technical manual uh to read through I noticed uh I think on your blog you wrote something about um Interstellar Transportation uh and the notion that you know if you’re going to have spaceships then you’re going to have to explain how they get from point A to point B and and there’s a series of logical fallacies that can happen if you don’t think that through carefully so you know while you’re telling us that you’re writing you’re first and foremost writing about characters and drama and conflict and situations I see that you also have at least party processes to uh then kind of apply a logical constraint uh to some of the assumptions in the world and then uh from that you know extrapolate out what what the mechanisms are to make that world work even if you don’t have to flesh out exactly how the mechanisms work or how the physics behind it work uh did I get that right is that kind of on on track yeah for any technology you invent you have to look at the potential downsides it’s the old saying you can’t predict the car without predicting the traffic jam if I wish we did that with social media about 10 years ago and we spent a minute to think about the potential downsides maybe we wouldn’t be in the situations that we’re in right now yes it’s the old Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park yeah right right yeah maybe you shouldn’t have done it um it’s um so with um for instance if you have an Interstellar Empire with ships that can travel cheaply and instantaneously between planets in Stellar trade makes sense if you have a a situation more like kind of 17th century Earth where voyages are dangerous and take a very long time that trade makes less sense so you would have for instance set up a colony in America that Colony has to become self-sustaining rather than you wouldn’t be importing the food from England every month so you have to kind of look at that situation and apply that to Interstellar I think it you know there has to be a very good reason why you would take anything across light years because of the cost and the the difficulty so that has to be a very good reason why that Colony can’t simply make it itself so it’s things like that that set up the society and and the more you think about things like that the more it kind of shapes the society and shapes the characters um and also if you introduce limits to your to your technology so for instance if the Starships can only travel it one light year an hour or if they can if they appear to travel instantaneously but from an external Observer it takes the same amount of time as light would take to go from point A to point B something like that then you have to think the implications of that and the implications of that can create a great story yes in a way it’s a bit like um the analogy I was thinking of before this car is uh a tennis court uh you know you have a tennis court with um you know with with lines on the court those are the those are the boundaries without that you’re just batting a ball around in a field and it’s not as much fun really it’s not as challenging what makes it interesting and what makes it fair is to define those constraints and then within those constraints that’s where the drama occurs that’s basically your stage right so your stage is a set of technological or physical constraints on what that world’s possible uh what’s possible in that world I should say and then within that you can start to tell a story I think your inspiration you mentioned uh in in your writing that you’re inspired by Ian Banks who encourages you to dream big and don’t be encumbered by too much logical constraints uh but rather think big one of the things you mentioned is that most sci-fi writers tend to write about dystopias um and what you like about Ian Banks is that he can Envision a Utopia and find the drama in that I like and I like that too I think that’s a really interesting notion because we’ve heard plenty about dystopian Futures on this show and you know Brett knows I tend to go there anyway without the science fiction writers helping me um uh it’s easy to Envision dystopian worlds so it’s easy to to extrapolate from the problems that we face today in today’s society and then you know think gee what’s the worst case scenario some of us tend to do that naturally um but you go the other way you actually envisioned Utopias tell me about that part of your practice I’m with you Gareth by the way I wouldn’t necessarily call the society’s iron Vision utopian um obviously in the members of War they’ve just had this cataclysmic war between two different human factions with very different political beliefs um I guess it’s you could call it utopian in the fact we survive the 21st and 22nd centuries as a species which um some people would find

doubtful at the moment with their challenges we face yeah in my last two books stars and bones and the one that’s coming out next year called descendant machine they’re set in a universe where um humanity and I didn’t mean this to be topical when I started writing it but um they’re set in a world where Humanity you know for the planet’s in trouble the climates in trouble and then through a series of escalating International tensions a nuclear war is launched and

the day the book was published the tanks rolled into Ukraine so I thought oh my god um but um at that moment an alien entity intervenes and say is a human race but Exiles them from the planet in order to give the planet time to heal itself and we’re set to Drifting some arcs which are

um intelligent and can look after every need nobody is starving nobody is is in what for shelter or medical attention it’s what you might call Utopia in that there’s no scarcity there’s no inequality everyone has everything they need however one or more of the characters argue that maybe this has been infantilized us as a society um in the fact now we we have nothing to strive for and it’s a world where there’s nothing to strive for is maybe not a world that humans can exist in so there are still there are still people going out there exploring there are still people getting into trouble um they’re still crying um even though there’s no money there’s still people you know they’re still murdered there’s still Crimes of Passion so they’re still a police force they’re still laws so any Utopia is only Utopia from a certain point of view um and one could argue that

um various historical periods have been considered Utopia as by the people living in them but for the people who were catering for them and uh slaving for them it was certainly not a Utopia so Utopia is just I think depends where you stand uh how do you you know um you obviously incorporate um artificial intelligence and and sentient machines and so forth into a lot of your writing how do you feel AI is going to affect the human species you know um politically socially economically you know have you got some thoughts on that I know it’s a bit of a broader question but at least I yeah I’m

it depends it could go many ways and there’s been you know many books written you know around about the term the Millennium there were a lot of books written about the The Singularity where we would get runaway intelligence that the parent strippers and take over the world and so forth um I think it’s inevitable that we will eventually create a machine that thinks or at least appears to think as well as we do um I think it will be philosophically incredibly difficult to say categorically whether that machine is self-aware or not um I think that’s going to be a very very hard thing to actually Define I think there will be a lot of claims to artificial intelligence before we get real artificial intelligence um and I think through those claims we will get

um I don’t think there’ll be a huge trumpeting in society like we have created AI like in The Matrix Morpheus said the humanity is United as they create that’s not gonna happen so we’re going to get it in a lab and it’s going to leak out in the paper some people yeah okay you’ve got AI whatever and it won’t be till it causes a problem or presents us with some drastically Brilliant Solutions so that we will actually start to appreciate it you know uh like in a widespread kind of way it could be a niche interest um longer term um assuming it’s uh amiable to coexistence with humans um I can see having um creating extremely intelligent AI could help a great deal with planning with dealing with very complex systems such as the climate and the economy um I mean every company system from like traffic flow um it would be extremely beneficial um whether or not they would be amiable to that kind of coexistence um depends I think how we treat them to start with so if we treat them as a slavery is basically then obviously that’s how you get Terminators so um we yeah it’s going to be a very interesting time and I think it could like any tool it could be um of extreme benefit or extreme hazard

as you’re mentioning that about AI um you know the way it could be very beneficial for some complex challenges that we currently can’t get our hands wrapped around um it occurs to me that this is one of the reasons why people often focus on dystopia why it’s easier to focus on a dystopia it’s because as soon as we solve a complex problem we tend to take that solution for granted you know one example of that is um is the vaccines right so you know without a doubt this is the greatest medical advance of the 20th 20th century is the ability to immunize people against communicable disease um and then just you know two generations after we’ve achieved that after we’ve stopped smallpox the scourge of civilization for centuries um we take it for granted so much so that people start to attack vaccines and they start to cast out on them you know I noticed something in in your book um stars and Bones uh that is uh the this idea this um entity that can infect anything and um so that you can’t tell who’s real or who’s been infected and who’s who’s you know who’s fake okay suppose or uh yeah maybe you start to create this element of Doubt persistent doubt right in an otherwise very very pleasant world and um and it seemed to me I don’t know if this is accurate but it seemed to me that’s a reflection a little bit on our pandemic situation you know during covid-19 there wasn’t just one pandemic the the Infectious Disease coveted 19. there was a second pandemic which was this which was sent distributed through social media which was misinformation right so you saw this kind of horrifying experience at least for me uh where you’d see people that you thought you knew well people who you were connected to on social media and they’d start to spread utter nonsense um you know disinformation stuff that was easily disproven you know were you five minutes of searching on Google would quickly show you that that notion was not uh not at all accurate but people would stand behind it and they’d sort of double down on it you know if you can’t if you called him out and said hey that’s actually not true they get quite Surly about it and um I found that experience to be really unnerving during this during the pandemic it’s like well you know one thing we all face this problem this this infectious disease but now among us there people who are actually you know quibbling and arguing and resisting and spreading false information about things that might solve the problem um what was that I’m wrong at work when you were writing star bones were you thinking about that notion of uh doubt when you created that entity when I first sort of planned that before the pandemic and I was thinking more of sort of John Carpenter’s movie the thing I’m thinking of uh you know I think there’s a line where they say you know if this escapes into the wider population it’s game over so I thought well let’s take something similar and set it loose in a wider population nice um um you know and Havoc ensues um but as I said when I started writing that and I so I was there writing about these quarantine measures of this disease and then lockdown happened and I was in the middle of writing that and it was just like my brain was like oh my god um what am I doing nobody will ever yes because it’s it’s too too topical um so yeah and that was a challenge and I’ve actually found the writing of that book very hard because of that because of the stress of the pandemic and the fact that I was talking about related subjects it became very very difficult uh I think I say in the afterwards that that book nearly broke me it got to the point where I didn’t think I would ever finish it and if I didn’t finish it I would never write another book so that was one that was a big challenge I I sort of had to fight through with the pandemic and eventually came out the other side do you think of yourself as a philosopher in that respect Gareth because a lot of what you’re talking about is is human philosophy right I I have studied philosophy um and psychology a bit um you know I wouldn’t claim to be any kind of authority at all but I do think about these these things and you know I’ve got a Shelf full of um Greek and Roman philosophers books all right awesome well let’s take a quick break and then when we come back um let’s uh let’s maybe talk about your new book um descendant machine and um talk a little bit more about um you know where you see Humanity going you’re listening to the futurists uh I’m your host Brett King we’ll take a quick break and be right after right back with more from Gareth power welcome to Breaking Banks the number one Global fintech radio show and podcast I’m Brett King and I’m Jason Hendricks every week since 2013 we explored the personalities startups innovators and Industry players driving disruption in financial services from incumbents to unicorns and from Cutting Edge technology to the people using it to help create a more Innovative inclusive and healthy financial future I’m JP Nichols and this is breaking Banks


welcome back to the futurists I’m Rob terracek with my co-host Brett King and today we’re talking to Gareth Powell who’s a multiple award-winning science fiction author who’s also written a really useful manual for aspiring writers Gareth it’s been fun talking to you because this conversation has bounced around between three points one of them is writing drama writing stories that are compelling another point is this notion that you’ve got to put some boundaries around that otherwise you’re just out in the field bouncing a ball and that’s not much fun and so there’s some notion of imposing some logical constraints on that possible world but where we just got to before the break with some of the philosophical underpinnings uh some of the thought the bigger thoughts about how does that affect us as Humanity uh how does that affect our relationships with each other uh so on that note I thought we’d bring back uh we’d start with that a little bit and and maybe you can tell us a little bit more about your most recent book yeah a descendant machine is a book set in the same universe as the previous novel stars and bones but set 50 years later and I don’t think um any of the same characters so it’s a standalone novel and can be read independently but it’s just set in the same universe and this one is much more about the nature of time and the nature of religion and the um the nature of

who we are and the purpose of what different races have in the universe and and who sets that purpose and who and who um who decides and you know is tradition toxic it’s you know because we’re not deciding for ourselves what we should be doing we’re following the dictates of people who’ve been dead for a long time you know it’s just peer pressure from dead people and it’s it’s kind of exploring those um those kind of Notions while at the same time um exploring uh this sounds awful but it inter-species love you know does love transcend um physicality is it is it more of a mentally spiritual thing than a physical thing and so on so there’s a lot of different things going on in there around a kind of quest style narrative so I I gather that the a couple of the main characters in the new book the Senate machine um you know tend to be sort of a high priest type figure or something like that like this this uh you know just from reading the description like this order of monks have been um you know there to protect this uh uh this machine from re-waking up because the the issue is of course uh what’s the machine going to do when it’s turned on um but you know um you you mentioned this sort of Yin and Yang you know of religion from a traditional perspective uh you know lots of writers like Ian Banks um you know you know even Alistair Reynolds um you know they don’t tend to tackle they they if they do mention religion it tends to be with these primitive societies that are are out of the loop in terms of technological advancement you know but as a human species uh you know how do you think we’ll develop in in respect to that relationship with religion just an easy question um I think religion is something apart from technology in a lot of ways I think religion is I I think it’s fairly fundamental part of a human makeup and I’m not necessarily talking about organized religion here I’m talking about you know even I know perfectly rational or scientifically minded people who will tug a forelock when they see a magpie or um you know all who will sleep with the lights on after watching the horror film even though they they know that you know those monsters don’t exist at at three in the morning maybe they kind of do so it’s and we have people who who people who I think recently instead of saying well God will provide God will do this people say oh the universe will provide instead of saying prayers to to God you you Manifest manifesting this yes Jim Carrey talks about that a lot yeah I mean and it’s very much prayer with the serial numbers filed off in a new terminology I like that so I I think we will always have part of us that is a little bit spiritual a little bit kind of superstitious um and a part of us you know we’re with we’re pattern recognizing machines so when things happen that we can’t explain we put together patterns of coincidence and patterns of um you know different events and stuff and and ascribe them a cause and I don’t I don’t see that changing because I think that is a fundamental part of humanity and it goes hand in hand with our storytelling yeah imaginations that we we invent stories to explain things we do we create mythology we do it all the time and even when we think we’re being scientific and rigorous about it we’re still inventing mythology you know there there’s a strong argument to be made that there’s a cult of the singularity this this belief that ever increasing progress uh and ever ever improving machine intelligence is someday you know going to convert to something magical and it’ll change the world and there’s there’s quite a number of people that believe that so fervently um but even though that’s just a projection right that’s that’s a a theory it’s it’s not reality I was just talking to a gentleman the other day about Homo economists and he was giving me this kind of mini lecture uh about rational thinking how people make rational logical decisions and economic decisions and so on and I stopped and I said hang on you do understand and that there is no such thing as homo economicus there is no rational human we are all irrational on some level and we have a tendency to fantasize um and and you know invent these scenarios uh that aren’t grounded in any kind of reasoning and they’re not grounded in scientific logic either and people make all sorts of irrational economic decisions and we see that in the way people vote as well uh you know we can point to examples in the UK where you are in here in the United States quite recently where people vote against their own economic self-interest um part of that is what makes stories storytelling so interesting right that’s sort of why we’re driven to consume things like science fiction because we wonder what will I feel like in these alternate worlds or these future worlds and uh G will humans ever escape the Affliction uh of of you know being haunted or doomed by these irrational thoughts um and and maybe that’s where this impulse this religious acid the impulse Springs from some people say that there’s a Transcendent impulse right this is um more online’s the Freud and Jung where people have a craving or desire to be a part of something that will Outlast them that we’re fear we’re fearful morality of mortality and so there’s a desire then there’s some mechanisms within us uh to strive to be part of something bigger that will Outlast us and that’s why we want to be a part of a religious uh tradition because we believe that we’ll continue that will endure yeah go ahead I would think that was more true in the Victorian era when the victorians were obsessed with death um because obviously Victoria was in mourning for 40 years and they were obsessed with death and legacy and our cities are covered in statues of Victorian men who wanted to leave a legacy and you know they built theaters they built art galleries to put their name on there so it would last and that was that was their kind of and you don’t see that quite so much now there are fewer people are putting up statues to themselves and um there doesn’t seem to be that obsession with with death and with with leaving something behind that they’re you know almost a kind of um you know I think that’s one of the victorians were so obsessed with the Egyptians as well because then they were leaving legacies and Grave goods and so on you know I’m sure yeah I’m sure there were some Victorian um noblemen who who if they could have got away with it would have built a pyramid um and then mummified themselves for all time and you know that that partly drove Victorian society um to become more um egalitarian and to build these libraries and theaters and things for that for everybody and hospitals um and also technologically that it drove the engineers like Brunel and Stevenson to build and to create and to you know strive to build these edifices and these these engines and things so yeah in in a sense there for an obsession with death was really a strong driver of Victorian society now I think we have much longer lifespans we have much less kind of infant mortality we have fewer diseases um you know I suffered from whooping cough about six years ago and it was nasty it was really nasty but I got antibiotics and I got over it right right and you’re confident that you’re gonna you’re not doubtful about that you’re very confident you’ll get over it right we don’t we don’t go to the hospital now fearful that we’re going to die inside of it yeah and the Victorian times you’ve got whooping cough you were condemned die you know you’ve got you’ve got a wound you were let me play with that notion for a second let me put up that notion because today certainly you know the most famous and perhaps the most successful entrepreneur and CEO in the world right now is Elon Musk uh you know he’s got Legions of followers millions of people who are fans of his and he’s very explicit about his motivations he doesn’t hide uh the stuff and his motivation is there is a mathematical certainty at some point the planet Earth is going to be hit by an asteroid and it would just be it would be foolish on a cosmic scale for us not to diversify and hedge our bets and colonize or you know move to another planet uh and so that’s everything that he does every waking moment of his time is devoted to getting humans to Mars whether or not he’s successful whether or not that’s a pipe dream leave that aside I know he’s super controversial but isn’t that kind of a modern continuation of that Victorian impulse you were just telling us a bit about isn’t he kind of the you know Islamabad Bernal of the 20th to 21st century it’s interesting interesting way of looking at it um I is here philanthropist or is he actually have self-interest it’s you know that’s a a debate maybe somebody else is more qualified to have I mean I don’t know the man particularly but um yeah I mean we can all agree that having your eggs in more than one basket makes a lot of sense the actual methodology of that you know for instance once say for the the sake of argument Elon Musk takes a thousand people to Mars

um how they set up a society there

will lead on must be in charge will Elon musk’s son be the next person in charge you know when he when his money Lord Emperor mask yes exactly but when he came his money isn’t worth anything there is no economy there there is no everybody is suggesting in the same breathing the same air you know how does he remain in control does he have a finger on the turn the air off button and suddenly we have a you know we have a dictatorship so how does he keep control how does he inch how does he keep order how it’s he police crimes suddenly we’re getting into these sociological issues that can turn very very nasty very very quickly uh it sounds like a pretty good science fiction story for a book actually yeah he certainly would be uh you know he’s not he could very well be a benevolent dictator and maybe not so benevolent yeah but you see this a lot with the billionaires who are planning on on um building bunkers in New Zealand or whatever but how do I keep my security forces in check after the apocalypse right at the moment you know I can’t pay them because what’s money going to be worth so you know and they’re talking about we put exploding collars on them do we hold the key to the food cabinet and that’s you know there’s going to be a revolution and you’re going to be shot and somebody’s going to take your bunker because you can’t yeah you can’t default to slavery as as yourself you know in order for your personal survival so there have to be wider and more kind of communal Solutions um it is astonishingly characteristic of the time that we happen to be living in that we have some of the richest people in the history of the planet and what those people are focused on is not like Andrew Carnegie’s mission to educate the public and build public schools and so forth they’re not interested in equal access to voting or equal access to education or Economic Opportunity what they’re really interested in is building a bomb proof bunker someplace nice someplace pristine loading up their snowmobiles with gold bars so they can get across the border to Canada in the winter or something it’s it’s really it’s really quite shocking it’s like they want to take it all with them talk about the impulse this is this is your uh your Transcendent impulse right these people are like I made all this money I’ve got to take it with me into the next Dimension but fairies yeah yeah yeah it’s interesting um so looking at some sort of bigger picture stuff you’ve mentioned Ian Banks Arthur C Clarke you know Heinlein um um you know talk about um how your world view was changed by sci-fi you know as you were growing up I think sci-fi it makes you think about things in a completely different way than you’re used to and when I was growing up I was reading I remember reading the very World Engineers by Larry Newton right I’d must be in about nine or ten years old and I remember very specifically walking down a road thinking well why does that work like that why does that work why do we do things like that because the way the book is written the main character is figuring out the world around him and you know PC together and I having got immersed in the book I found myself doing the same thing and it changes the way you think and so I was picking up book sci-fi book covers and instead of going oh that’s a pretty Monster I was going ah how would that monster work what would it eat you know how does it maintain buoyancy in the clouds like that and it it just starts you thinking and asking questions and you know those questions turn into stories um but also it makes you look at the world and think well just because we’ve always done something like that is that really the best way to do it yeah now Gareth that is very much like what um what we do when we do forecasting you know for corporations and organizations that wanted to plan for the future many companies many organizations uh you know they want to have a five-year or ten year plan and they’ll talk to someone like me or Brad now increasingly even you’re you know you’re getting those opportunities as well um can you make a connection between the process of building scenarios for a story for a science fiction story and then developing similar kinds of scenarios for corporations or organizations that want to do future planning yeah this is uh something I do for the engineer magazine in the UK I write monthly column called sci-fi I where I look at something that’s in the headlines and then just spin out crazy kind of extrapolation of what that could do nice nice I’ve done stuff about medicine about um automated battlefields and what do you know about um you know everything up to building Dyson spheres and so on so it’s um what science fiction does I think it doesn’t predict the future but it predicts a range of features and it instead of telling you

um you know a dry kind of prediction it just tells you what it would be like to live in effect yeah um and so you can uh from that you can extrapolate other features and kind of get a sense of what it is to um what what the predictions mean on a human level um I think there’s a I remember seeing a cartoon years ago um on Facebook of some scientists um having just having cloned a Tyrannosaurus Rex and it says science will tell you what you can do and then there’s a picture of the Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing the scientist and says but fiction will tell you what you should be careful and it’s that there’s that kind of thing whereas it can I said before you can’t predict the car without predicting the traffic jam so science fiction I think is very good at predicting traffic jams at taking a scenario and thinking well how can I mess this up how can I make life difficult for my characters um you know examining this so yeah from that point of view I think science fiction is a very good kind of modeling tool for future predictions yeah yeah in a way were you describing and with your with your uh your column sci-fi I uh what you’re telling us about is that you’re kind of exercising this muscle for scenario planning right it’s like a it’s like a workout routine and if you do that routine often then you’re gonna sit when it comes to generating new scenarios because you you know uh we see that a lot here you know we see a lot of sloppy unathletic thinking about things like robot vehicles uh you know everybody I know would love to have a vehicle okay but then they don’t stop to think like what will happen when there’s millions of these things on the road how will they interoperate how will they who gets priority if there’s a traffic jam uh how will you you know how will they deal with each other the robot Vehicles how will they be aware of each other what will change the traffic laws what happens over the truck drivers insurance right so so there’s sort of this Cascade of consequences some of them good some of them positive some of the mixed you know some unpredictable uh and what I’m hearing you say is that it’s useful to to exercise that muscle to start to think through some of the consequences and not just the happy ideas so before we do that I’ll just make that one observation Rob that I think that’s quite common amongst the people we talk to either the Sci-Fi guys or the other futurists that they get used to thinking of those future paths or scenarios and it does change your world view because if a new technology is announced or some you know some breakthrough is announced you’re immediately thinking what are the implications 10 20 30 years out and and it’s a very different world view than I guess most people have which is worrying about putting food on the table next week right but sorry go ahead no that’s okay let’s zoom out a little bit let’s talk about the far future so taking today is our starting point Gareth tell us what your vision is uh for the next 20 30 years out and what you’re what you’re uh excited about well I think so I I recently came across a new term um in a review of Kim Stanley Robinson book called throughtopia which is not that we get a utopian society or we get dystopian Society but we just kind of muddle through and I think that’s our best shot at the moment the climate change is going to be devastating it’s going to cause widespread trouble but we can we can get through it and I think at some point some of us will muddle through and I think that’s been the human history since the dawn of time is that we’ve muddled through at one point our entire species consisted of about 100 people living on a beach and that was the entire human’s history there’s a bottleneck um but we bounced back and we’ve done that a couple of times and I think climate change is going to be another bottleneck but we can hopefully um get through there are Technologies we can use there is um we are as a species we are curious and we are lucky we are very bad at long-term planning so I think if we can get through the next 50 years I think we’ve got a pretty good shot of getting through the next hundred and if we get through the next hundred I think we will be in a place where we can have a much better control of our climate and much better um way of living in harmony with the planet um that’s the challenge I think yeah I would not like to put money on which way we’re going to go because right now yeah David Green says we’ve got about a 40 chance that was his estimate which I thought was interesting he’s thrilled about that he was like it’s excellent news we’ve got a 40 chance we have a chance that’s what he said to us yeah uh uh Gareth book it’s been phenomenal to have you on the show um tell us a little bit more about um descendant machine and um when that’s out that comes out from Titan books in the UK and the US um in April next year awesome awesome and um where can people I know you are quite active on Twitter because I that’s how we met through through Twitter and follow you there but where can people follow your musings and your thinking and and stay in touch with what you’re doing uh well my blog is on my website which is um um I’m also very active as you say on Twitter and Instagram um and on both of those I’m at Gareth El Powell so simply enough awesome now just before we go could you name your favorite sci-fi book or your favorite sci-fi also we’ve talked about a lot of them in the past just as a oh my word that’s like I know she’s naming your face yeah exactly off the top of my head probably Nova by Samuel uh Delaney oh interesting you can see a lot um I think Ian bankso is a big tip of the hat to that book as well there’s um and a lot of this he prefigures a lot of the cyberpunk imagery as well in there as well and it’s the science in it is very questionable now in hindsight right but it’s it’s a rattling good retelling of the Grail law and the uh you know the literary fireworks he employs it’s amazing he wrote it when he was 20 years old well that’s one I haven’t read so good foundation I would have guessed you I would have guessed you’d say Ian Banks I would say Delaney mask has been influenced strongly by Ian Banks too you can tell you know like just read the instructions you know his ocean-going drones and so forth but uh have the neural lace neural link you know it’s uh obviously by uh Banks is politics though no no true

thank you so much Gareth for joining us uh you’ve shared some really good philosophical musings uh about the role the writer in creating scenarios so we’ve enjoyed hearing from you thank you for joining the futurists like that’s that’s it for the futurists this week if you like what you heard uh don’t forget to check out our previous uh backlog back catalog of episodes and make sure you leave us a review on iTunes you know uh wherever it is that you listen to your podcast because that helps other people find us our thanks to the team that helped us with production this week’s week Elizabeth severins and Kevin hersham on the production side Sylvie Johnson and Carla Navara on the social media side and to all the team at the futurists and provoke for uh getting the show up we will be back with more uh insights on the future next week but until then we’ll see you in the future in the future well that’s it for the futurists this week if you like the show we sure hope you did please subscribe and share it with people in your community and don’t forget to leave us a five star review that really helps other people find the show and you can ping us anytime on Instagram and Twitter at futuristpodcast for the folks that you’d like to see on the show or the questions you’d like us to ask thanks for joining and as always we’ll see you in the future foreign

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