Science Fiction inspiring Computer Science Educators

I particularly like attending panel and special sessions at conferences, as I want to get the most out of my time and I feel that I can read more about the paper sessions after the conference, or between sessions. One of the panel sessions I attended today was on using Science Fiction to inspire Computer Science.

This was a collection of presentations by several academics who use Science Fiction as inspiration in different ways in their CS or CS-related courses. One that particularly interested me used CS in Science Fiction movies or stories to help engage students in exploring and researching cutting edge CS. The idea here is that students can choose from a wide range of Science Fiction materials, and then identify some CS aspect within that movie or story to explore. What a great idea – particularly for a security, networking or AI course, I think this would be fascinating. The idea of seeing something cool in a movie, and then undertaking the research to see whether it is really possible? Can we already do this? How? If not, how far are we from it? What parts can we already achieve? Is Science Fiction actually Fiction?

I used to teach a communication skills course where we included an Innovation Report – the idea was to engage new CS students in the field by allowing them to explore a new innovative topic of their choice in CS. The only problem that I had was that students rarely could identify a new innovation – they were new students, and didn’t really have a passion for the field  – so they would ask me to suggest topics, and the point was lost. As a contrast, using Science Fiction movies or stories as a basis is so much more interesting.

Another speaker talked about using Science Fiction to discuss CS ethics – again, a great source, as Science Fiction often pushes the boundaries of ethics, and also often exploits CS to do this. Although I don’t actually teach any of the obvious related courses, I am sure that I am going to take inspiration from this panel back with me, and will be sharing with my colleagues.

I had talked once with some colleagues in English and CS about writing a paper on the overlap of CS and Science Fiction, how CS is portrayed in Science Fiction, and how Science Fiction has changed with the development and ubiquity of CS – might be time to get this back on the books as a way of exploring these ideas.

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