Science Fiction has a lot to answer for; not just for the fact that the name is an oxymoron- unless you believe the most cynical of people, or the strictest religious types- but for the absolutely enormous amount of time and energy it has sucked out of the lives of people. Sure, it has created endless opportunities for story-telling and enlivened the imaginations of countless generations, but it has definitley wasted a lot of people's lives on what is in the end pure fiction. Or is it?
I'm not going to write about the bad parts of Science Fiction, believe it or not, after that introduction. Actually, one of my strongest-held beliefs is that Science Fiction is amazingly good at exploring ideas and concepts for us ahead of time. This eventually will save people a lot of time, as they will rarely have new ideas to grasp. If you haven't caught my drift yet, I'll explain. Take one of the major players in almost every Science Fiction setting: robots/androids/AI etc. They crop up everywhere!!
What Science Fiction has done for us is practically explore the entire ethical background of their use. Countless Science Fiction books, movies, tv shows and more have explored the moral and ethical dilemmas around creating artificial intelligence and, normally, enslaving them, to a lesser or greater degree. So prevalent is this strain of thought that most every argument that could be developed has been, and pretty much every side of the story has been examined- before the things even exist! Now when (or if!) in the future we get to the stage where artificial life is developed, we are hardly likely to go charging in with no regard for morals/ethics, because this idea has been so widely portrayed.
Obviously in the end it will come down to the situation and the technology, but at least when we get there we will have a much better understanding of some of the more complicated elements of the debate. This can only be good; unless people are put off developing these things for that very reason, which would be a shame. But I think scientific endeavour would win through. I personally don't believe the technology is as easily created as in Science Fiction. Humans are amazing complex beings, far more complex than any machine every conceived. Yet think about what computers were like 50 years ago and that might change your view. There's a little bit of a cause and effect thing here, since because people are so convinced that the future/space will have robots, a lot of time will be likely put into developing them and so it could very well come true.
Science Fiction has given us the lingering notion that technology and science will continue to develop at something of a set rate, and things will keep getting smaller, faster and cheaper. That has been the case in the computer age, though you wonder if that is really infinite... microchips can only be so small; there will come a point where a radical step will need to be taken. And so much of scientific and technological development is like that: radical steps in a new direction that just happen to work. Most don't, but it's a bit of a trial and error thing. Many, many of science's greatest discoveries were by complete accident- so how can we expect these 'discoveries' to continue at a set rate?
A great analogy for this is the growth of social media- you just have to look at Facebook to see something which soundly believes it is doing things right and will continue to grow forever and ever. But then you just have to look at Twitter to see how something can come way out of left field, that people never expected or imagined would be successful. So in those two examples we see the contradiction that is science- which leads me back to the contradiction that is Science Fiction!
May the Force live long and prosper!