re:view – science:fiction from Cow-Reporters to Trump as Golem

The relationship between science and fiction, technology and utopia, was the subject of many sessions at the re:publica. Speakers and visitors put their heads together, to come up with strategies on how to bring the visions of science and fiction closer to a broader audience.

What seemed Utopian in the series “Knight Rider”, is in fact standard practice today: back then K.I.T.T., the talking car, was a sensation. Today, we speak with our smart phones and ask Siri or Google Assistant for the nearest petrol station.

Many technological inventions have their origins in popular culture. “Star Trek” already featured a holodeck and the universal translator; in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, precursors of tablets and digital media were presented; Frankenstein and Golem were ahead of researchers, when it came to artificial intelligence.

An Avatar from Jewish mysticism

How to transfer science fiction ideas into reality was also debated during the sesssion, “Curating Science Fiction Art”. For one exhibition, Martina Lüdicke, exhibition curator of the Jewish Museum Berlin toyed with the idea of Artificial Intelligence in the shape of Golem. Golem, is a figure from Jewish mysticism and a type of avatar created out of clay by powerful people. Afterwards he carried out their orders.

“At the exhibition we asked ourselves: How can we make Golem relevant for audiences?” says Lüdicke. The curator then decided on the following variation: exhibited in a glass cabinet, the audience saw a white baseball cap, with the Trump slogan, “Make America great again”. Is Trump therefore a Golem, who will be unleashed in the future? The visitors were encouraged to speculate. Speaker, Eden Kupermintz from Utopia Filmfestival emphasized: “Those curating science fiction festivals or exhibitions are influencing what image the public have of science fiction, based upon their choice of content.”

Science for everyone

The societal image of science and technology was the main topic for visitors of “#Scicomm: Meetup Wissenschaftskommunikation”. Which challenges do scientists face when conveying their research to the public? “Together with the University of Wien, I run a podcast in which I try to explain complex scientific topics in a way that is easy to understand”, says Daniel Meßner, one of the session's speakers. However many researchers are afraid of simplifying, interjected one participant, who has a blog at the Fraunhofer-Institut Stuttgart, that encourages scientists to present their work in an understandable way.

Lieke Ploeger and Michael Ang are convinced that it is important that everyone of us, has at least basic knowledge in topics such as physics and technology. So in their session, “Community Building in Art, Science & Technology”, they presented their project “Spektrum”. It offers users the possibility online to exchange views about Virtual Reality or Artgame projects, as well as creating working groups. “The users can benefit from feedback that they get from others”, says Ang.

Will technology lend itself to giving previously unheard actors a voice in the future? In “What the cow says – sensor journalism. How animals and things become reporters”, three developers and journalists present their ambitious project “Super Cows”, in which animals become reporters: three cows receive sensors. From autumn 2017, a text-robot will then generate stories – a break-through into a new world of journalism.

Of course, these were just some of the discussions, talks and meet-ups featured in the science:fiction track at #rp17. You can find all the track topics here. Video and audio clips can be found in the respective sessions or directly in the audio archive or on YouTube.

by Laura Esslinger (EJS)

Photo credit: re:publica/Gregor Fischer (CC BY-SA 2.0)