In 2017, Pricewaterhousecooper published Using science fiction to explore business innovation, a guide for corporations that wanted to work with sf writers to think about the future of their businesses; it was part of a wave of corporate interest in the insights of sf writers, which also coincides with a parallel trend in academia (see, for example, ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination and UCSD's Clark Center for Human Imagination, both of which I have some involvement with).
Some science fiction writers are now experiencing a small boom in consulting contracts, which often take the form of writing short stories (here's one I wrote for Intel) or participating in workshops.
I've done a small amount of this work myself, and I've been getting more offers over the transom, including one this week, which I passed to my agent to negotiate; he told me that his other clients are also getting these gigs.
I can't see any downside to this, to be honest. I recently spoke to a bunch of senior Audi people about the link between DRM and Dieselgate, and how a lack of competition in the corporate sector has led to market concentration, weak regulation, and a festering corruption problem. I don't know if the top management will take what I had to say to heart, but the people in the audience definitely connected, as I learned in speaking to them one to one afterwards.
I don't think that science fiction is a very good way of predicting the future (I also don't think that the future can be predicted), but I do think that science fiction is a great way to influence the future.
There's a "Sci-Fi Prototyping" business around the corner from my house that I keep driving past and meaning to go and check out -- clearly, there's something going on in the sector beyond these gigs that keep mysteriously materializing for me. They get some press in an article on the trend, and cite Boing Boing pal Brian David Johnson as inspiration.
Popper says he relies on a process called “science fiction prototyping.” The man who literally wrote the book on the method is Brian David Johnson, a professor, engineer, and sci-fi author based in Portland, Oregon. In his book Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future with Science Fiction, Johnson outlines “How to Build Your Own SF Prototype in Five Steps or Less.” It begins by exhorting practitioners to “Pick Your Science and Build Your World,” moves on to instructions on how to identify the inflection point upon which that science or technology will collide with people, and suggests a framework for considering the ramifications. It’s sort of a basic sci-fi writing prompt guide through the lens of business management literature. “It’s science fiction based on science fact,” Johnson says. “It’s used as a way to prototype the future, and sci-fi is about people.” The best example, he says, is Intel, where until recently he served as chief futurist. “It took Intel 10 years to design and deploy a chip, so they needed to know 10 years out what people would do with computers.”
For an initial fee in the range of $50,000, SciFutures will take a prompt from a client — say, the Future of Sustainability for Naked Juice, or the Future of Home Improvement for Lowe’s — and farm it out to 30 or so writers. Popper and company read the stories, which usually clock in around 1,000 words (he typically pays writers $300 to $500 for each one, though more seasoned writers can command more), and scan them with an eye to intellectual property, novelty, and technology. Then they’ll choose five or so and polish them up for delivery to the client, often translating them into graphic novels or other media. If the client is hooked on a specific science fictional idea, SciFutures will help them develop further blueprints, even actual prototypes.
“The program we helped set up for Lowe’s is a phenomenal case study for how science fiction prototyping can transform culture, bring genuine innovation into the business,” Popper says. The hardware chain told him it was having trouble getting customers commit to home improvement projects, so SciFutures put forward the idea of decorating in virtual reality. “This was before Oculus — VR wasn’t a thing, AR wasn’t a thing.”
Nike and Boeing Are Paying Sci-Fi Writers to Predict Their Futures [Brian Merchant/Medium]
(via Marginal Revolution