most vibrant and valuable of all
literary genres. It is an invaluable
way to think, design, and create a
Many thanks to all of the attendees—
and in particular those who
commented critically—at our
presentation of these ideas at the
Consortium meeting in June 2017.
We wove these stories while strolling
along the silicon dioxide beaches of
Monterey County in California.
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2. Gunn, W. How America’s leading science
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Smithsonian Magazine (2014).
3. Marcus, A. The history of the future:
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4. Meeker, M. The Internet Report.
HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
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ÓhÉigeartaigh, S.S. The errors, insights
and lessons of famous AI predictions – and
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The Tauri Group, 2012.
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prototypes and the role of popular films in
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8. Dourish, P. and Bell, G. ‘Resistance is futile’:
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9. Bosch, T. Sci-Fi Writer Bruce Sterling
explains the intriguing new concept of
design fiction. Future Tense Web magazine
(Mar. 2012); http://www.slate.com/blogs/
Daniel M. Russell is a senior research
scientist at Google in the Search Quality group,
working to understand how people search for
information online. He has been reading and
viewing science fiction since the days when Star
Trek TOS first aired.
Svetlana (Lana) Yarosh is an assistant
professor in the Department of Computer
Science and Engineering at the University of
Minnesota. Her research focuses on embodied
interaction in social computing systems. She is
also an unrepentant Trekkie.
• Envision 5–10 years out rather than
predicting a distant future. Predictions
beyond five to 10 years quickly fade to
the accuracy of coin tosses. It may be
more tempting to resort to magical
solutions (e.g., pain-free effortless data
integration) rather than solving specific
• Consider the writer’s cultural context
and how their experiences,
demographics, and the concerns of the
time may bias the technologies and
social structures explored in the fiction.
• Question the use of common tropes that
are ordinary in science fiction (e.g.,
humanoid robots) unless they are
explicitly justified as a design choice.
• Evaluate the plausibility of proposed
design ideas based on empirically known
principles (e.g., ergonomics, physics).
• Imagine the downsides of the fictional
tech. Science fiction has a long and rich
history of imagining the failure modes of
technology, social systems, and well-intentioned systems changes.
In industrial practice, design
fiction tends to follow these guidelines
to go from a clever idea to an
innovative design that’s pragmatic
instead of an unimplementable,
impossible blue-sky idea. Rather than
working to “actively suspend disbelief
in change” ([ 9], quoting Sterling), the
use of design fiction in industrial
practice seeks to devise and tell a
compelling story about what could be
believable and what could be
implemented in the not too distant
future. The design fiction artifacts
created have a nearer-term
perspective and a point of view that
can be seen as an imaginative and
organic extension of current practices.
That is, the purpose of these design
fictions is to show a path from now to
then, with a plausible story (if not
fully worked out at the moment) about
how to go from the current state to the
envisioned future technology. The
story is a fiction, but still subject to
critical review and analysis. The
fiction informs us about what’s just
over the horizon—it’s a way to see a
bit further into the future with a
speculative design that makes no
implausible leaps depending on
like antigravity or instant walk-up-and-use interface designs.
Both science fiction and design
fiction can have a place in the
designer’s toolbox if approached with
the appropriate caution. These are not
a source of predictions, but rather
laboratories for the exploration of
possible worlds. These laboratories are
reflections of the current priorities and
cultural contexts—they may be biased
by common tropes or memes that cloud
rather than enhance the process of
envisioning the future.
CAN WE LOOK TO
SCIENCE FICTION FOR
INNOVATION IN HCI?
It’s clear that science fiction is a
powerful force in the technology-development world, and in our HCI
design space in particular. Amit
Singhal at Google is well known for
reminding us that the Star Trek
voice-driven computer inspired their
work on voice-recognition, spoken
actions, and question-answering
support. Carl Sagan credits science
fiction for sparking his interest in
science. Science fiction also provides
a set of ideas, language, and scenes
that create a kind of common ground
for people in the field. However,
we’ve also described the limitations
of looking to science fiction for HCI
innovation. We provide evidence
counter to the popular media
narrative that science fiction may be a
source of predictions of future
technologies. We also caution readers
to consider how a fiction may be
biased by the context of its author or
may fall prey to common tropes that
lead to implausible, bad, or “magical”
solutions. It is important to consider
whether a particular technology
posited in a science fiction narrative
is an actual proposal of a future
design or simply a trope driving the
That said, we do see a substantial
potential role for fiction in driving
design. Science fiction can be sources
of inspiration, common language,
and both aspirational and cautionary
tales. Used with appropriate
discretion, science fiction can inspire
experts in creating design fiction—
stories whose primary purpose is to
elaborate and explore new
technologies in their context. Seen
from this point of view, science
fiction has the opportunity to be the