How Science Fiction Shapes Our Reality — Mensa’s Comic-Con 2019 Panel

From augmented reality to biomimicry, our expert panelists explore the science of science fiction

With one swashbuckled boot planted firmly in the past and another stepping toward the future, a landing party of Mensans boldly told a packed Comic-Con audience what science fiction holds for them now and tomorrow.

The July 18, 2019, panel featured five Mensan members and San Diego State University historian (and Star Trek expert) John Putman, all discussing “How Science Fiction Shapes Our Reality.” With science fiction larks including cell phones, 3D printers, and space ships now the norm, the panel moderated by American Mensa Chair LaRae Bakerink discussed futuristic ideas that are nearing reality — and some that are already here.

“We’re already seeing videos where you look at someone doing something and that didn’t happen,” said educator Jenny Rankin, referencing the technology behind computer-generated imagery, special effects, and neural networks and AI video generation. Likewise, holographic technology like augmented reality has made virtual reality a perceived reality.

“I think, at some point in the next 20-to-30 years,” said Putman, “we’ll be able to have a full experience in holographic technology.”

“The thing I see coming next is biological sciences,” said Ian Randal Strock, RVC-1 and a writer and editor. “Genetic modification, preconception testing of biological organisms and changing them.”

And with the idea that nature has already figured out the smartest design approaches, actor-writer-filmmaker Nevin Millan sees bio-mimicry as the guide to what’s next. “Bio-mimicking technologies are on the forefront now,” Millan said. “We’re going to start hopefully to work with nature more. Incorporating technology with that would be pretty cool.”

Panelists also gauged the overall value of science fiction to our culture — “the celebration of what-if” as Rankin put it — as well as addressing fears of a dystopian direction.

On the notion of corporation states, attorney and sci-fi writer Doug Ecks asked: “What’s going to happen when corporations are more powerful than nations? Hey, we’re here. Fifteen, twenty years ago we had a road map and a warning.”

Similarly, Rankin noted, is a movement toward private towns. “I can see the world moving more and more toward not just private communities, but I can imagine there actually being towns where the rich live.”