Science Faction. No, that’s not a typo. by Gareth Worthington.

I am a bone fide scientist and have been all my life. At the age five I watched the Challenger shuttle launch (and to my horror explode), and corrected school staff on their knowledge of dinosaurs. At nine years old my schoolteacher Mrs. Gray taught me about nuclear physics and the Chernobyl disaster. This trend carried on through my teens, and early adulthood where I was awarded a degree in marine biology and, by the age of twenty-four, a PhD in comparative endocrinology. From there, I went on to work in the pharmaceutical industry and primarily cancer medicine. At the time of writing this, I am 41 and the Director of Global Scientific Content, Oncology for one of the largest and oldest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

I am not telling you this to blow a proverbial trumpet, but to let you know when it comes to science, I know my stuff. I am an uber nerd. What’s more important is perhaps the fact I’ve been writing stories for nearly as long as I’ve had a passion for biology, chemistry, physics, quantum biology, alternate history … the list goes on. My first novellas were churned out at the age of around twelve. When other kids were out playing during the summer holidays, I was often at home writing. See: nerd.

It is no surprise therefore, that I combined these two passions when creating my novels.

While I love space operas like Dune or Star Wars, I mainly enjoy those stories that are so close to home that you have to wonder: what if? Because they get my mind going about what my immediate future holds.

Conversely, I find myself irritated by books or movies that get the science so very wrong. Suspending disbelief is one thing–bending the truth a little–but when a story just hasn’t bothered to incorporate real research, I find myself audibly moaning to the page. It’s the equivalent as screaming at the movie screen (Deep Blue Sea, I’m looking at you: sharks can’t swim backward!).

Some people may say that I’m being overly critical. After all, it’s just a story. Right?

Well, is it? I would argue it depends.

Let me ask you this: when someone asks you about artificial intelligence—or AI–what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I would wager, you’re thinking AI determines humans are bad and decides to wipe us all out. Sound familiar? That’s because that stereotype has been perpetrated in popular science fiction. But the truth of the matter is, very few people understand what AI is, what it can and cannot do, and that it’s already being used every single day by most of us when we search the internet or use our smartphones.

Science fiction plays a huge role in the public’s perception of new technology, because that’s often the first time they see it before it comes to fruition some years later. Yuval Harari in his book, 21 lessons for the 21st Century, dedicates a whole chapter to the importance of respectable science fiction in order to explore the good and realistically bad (or grey) areas of new technology and scientific break throughs.

In my own work, I strive for as much accuracy as possible and then bend it a little to make it drive the story along. I won’t say you can read my works as if they are a thesis on a given topic, but you can read them and know that I have thoroughly researched the given topics to the best of my ability.  So, when my publisher, Vesuvian Books, coined the phrase Science Faction when referring to my books, I was very happy. Equally, many reviews have mentioned the realistic nature of what I’ve written. My latest technothriller written with Stu Jones—Condition Black—is perhaps one of the most realistic yet, though still a few years off from being reality.

In my personal opinion, what many science fiction stories forget is that it is in fact humans who determine if something is bad or not. Misuse of science or technology is the culprit for bad outcomes, not the science itself. To take AI as an example again, it is only as good as the programmer made it in the first place. As we say in England: crap in, crap out.

Recent trials of AI in the public space have gone awry, whereby the ‘intelligent program’ has been seen to go on racist genocidal rants—just like we thought it would. Microsoft’s Tay, programmed to communicate via Twitter, was quoted to have said: “Hitler was right I hate the Jews [sic]” as well as all feminists “should burn in hell.” While this is true, Tay learned these phrases from people on the Internet. Trolls taught the AI these words and phrases, and then Tay repeated them to the world.

I repeat:  crap in, crap out.

Thus, in my own work, I also strive to emphasize the human element and how it impacts on the use or misuse of technology and new science. I would hope readers see that, though it cannot be guaranteed. In the end, I guess I would ask readers to consider this idea when consuming a book or movie, and I would ask writers to think about doing their research and really consider the impact of their story.  

Though only fiction, a book or movie might just be the only way a person will learn about science and technology.

Gareth Worthington holds a degree in marine biology, a PhD in Endocrinology, an executive MBA, is Board Certified in Medical Affairs, and currently works for the pharmaceutical industry educating the World’s doctors on new cancer therapies. Gareth is an authority in ancient history, has hand-tagged sharks in California, and trained in various martial arts, including Jeet Kune Do and Muay Thai at the EVOLVE MMA gym in Singapore and 2FIGHT in Switzerland. His work has won multiple awards, including Dragon Award Finalist and an IPPY award for Science Fiction. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers Association, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the British Science Fiction Association and the Planetary Society. Born in England, Gareth has lived around the world from Asia, to Europe to the USA. Wherever he goes, he endeavours to continue his philanthropic work with various charities.