"I think we built the right future," declares David Gerrold on Expand NY's stage. "If it's a choice between the flying car or the internet, tablets and smartphones, I'll take what we've got." It's almost a shocking statement, considering the choice: Gerrold had a hand in writing episodes of The Twilight Zone, Sliders, Babylon 5, and three different Star Trek series -- not to mention dozens of original novels envisioning a future of his own. As an architect of fictional futures, his statement is almost puzzling, but as he elaborates, his true feelings become clear: He doesn't need to choose science fiction when we can build science fact.
"In the entire history of the human species, every tool we've invented has been to expand muscle power," he elaborates. "All except one. The integrated circuit, the computer. That lets us use our brain power." Gerrold explains it as a game changer, the invention that puts us on the path to create the kinds of worlds he's envisioned. Those too, he says, are important.
"There's two tiers of science fiction: the McDonalds sci-fi like Star Trek, where they have an adventure and solve it before the last commercial, and there are books that once you've read, you never look at the world the same way again." Like the integrated circuit, he explains how the right stories can help us grow our minds, specifically citing Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and his own War Against the Chtorr series as examples. He quotes Jerry Pournelle and describes science fiction as the research and development division of the human race. It's "supposed to say that the world we have, the way things are is not necessarily the way it should be. Science fiction is a literature of possibilities." It's this, he says, that keeps these stories relevant, and what keeps giving him ideas.
These days, he says he's dreaming of more sustainable future. "I'm optimistic, and the reason why is because we have the tools. We have the information-processing tools to actually create energy independence. We know how to do it; the science is there -- it's just a question of political will." He's dreaming of less-sterile cities, skyscrapers with gardens and even farms built vertically. He envisions crops grown in an enclosed environment that eliminate the need for pesticides and add an organic element to the cities of the future.
The problem, he says, is that cities are essentially "giant machines with too many moving parts, and any machine with moving parts is going to break down very fast." Maintaining our cities -- contemporary and futuristic -- requires constant maintenance. "We need a system that can maintain itself," he says. "When your car comes on and says it's time for an oil change, that's the system telling you that work needs to be done." Here, he's talking about the Internet of Things we're developing today, but on a grander scale: Gerrold wants to see literally everything connected.
"Everything is going to be connected to everything else," he says: Your car will tell you when it needs maintenance; your cottage cheese will tell your refrigerator it's about to expire. All of these connected objects will help create a self-maintaining city. He also admits that it's hard to imagine, comparing it to the synergistic effect of the smartphone -- until we had it, we couldn't imagine the impact it was going to have.
Naturally, Gerrold is a big dreamer -- but he isn't a daydreamer. As a writer, he envisions fictional (and fantastic) worlds, but he also firmly believes we can build them, or at least build our own amazing realities. He admits, he's optimistic, but it's a good worldview. His final words at Expand NY? "Study what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life. It'll be one great adventure."