Missing Link: When science fiction and reality cross paths


Madness, it's like in the cinema! The similarity of current events with the scenarios familiar from science fiction stories should have been noticed – and approached – by many. At the latest when the restrictions in connection with the worldwide spread of the corona virus became noticeable in Germany and when the first police bans in Europe were seen on television, the parallels to relevant disease thrillers could hardly be overlooked. It is deeply disturbing and unsettling, but at the same time fascinating and exciting.

What is missing: In the fast-paced world of technology, there is often time to rearrange the many news and backgrounds. At the weekend we want to take them, follow the side paths away from the current, try different perspectives and make nuances audible.

The worry is obvious: If the events so far already follow the descriptions that authors like Stephen King, Michael Crichton or Sakyō Komatsu have come up with – the unsuccessful attempts to prevent the spread of the virus, roadblocks, empty supermarkets, excited television news – what else can we expect? You'd rather not think about it. What once gave you goose bumps when reading or watching it would now be more likely to cause sweat and panic.

The fascination results from the fact that science fiction and reality rarely come so close. One of the few other examples is robotics, in which the visions of fantastic literature and cinema have been intertwined with real developments for decades. Initially, this happened largely unnoticed: Hardly anyone noticed that the US warship "USS Vincennes", which protected shipping in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, because of its equipment with the automatic defense system Aegis and his aggressive behavior was called "RoboCop" by the crews of other ships.

What was initially meant as a joke became bloody serious when on July 3, 1988 the ship mistakenly identified an Iranian passenger plane with 290 people on board as an attacking fighter jet and shot it down with two rockets. The terrifying parallel to the film RoboCop, which had been released in the US cinemas a year earlier and shows a shooting robot in a legendary scene, was ignored for a long time. Neither was anyone interested in the fact that in February 1991, a few months before the release of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, real ones on the Kuwaiti island of Failaka Soldiers surrendered to a robot for the first time had.

RoboCop: Director's Cut | REMASTERED – ED-209 Malfunction Scene

However, since Honda presented the first complete humanoid robot in public in 1996 with the P2 and the RoboCup has created a stage on which the evolution of artificial intelligence can be followed practically in real time, the reality of tension can be relaxed with the fictional adventures on screens and keep up between book covers. The relationship between reality and science fiction is now a topic regularly discussed at conferences. It is now also a matter of life and death, an indispensable element of every thriller: armed robots (drones) have targeted several thousands of people since 2001. And the impending takeover of artificial intelligence is no longer a distant fantasy, but a tangible reality.

However, the friction between reality and vision, which has been dragging on robotics and AI for years and is gradually penetrating collective consciousness, is now virtually time-lapse with the virus epidemic. There doesn't seem to be time to deal with science fiction. What is that supposed to bring, except that you freeze with fear and become completely unable to act?

Now there are moments of torpor and denial anyway. Most will have, or will experience, these weeks, this sway between demonstrative carelessness and fright, between feeling invulnerable and helpless as the epidemic progresses. It takes time to grasp the dimension of the event and the seriousness of the situation. When everyday life is suddenly torn apart like now and all plans for the near future lapse at once, it is difficult to accept. Anyone who has ever had a serious accident, had to cope with the death of a loved one or was confronted with a devastating medical diagnosis will know this: you don't want to admit it at first. None of that should have happened.

Anyone who has overcome this phase, pulling the science fiction business games out of the poison cupboard and taking a look at them again will see that they are not as discouraging as initially feared. On the one hand, the catastrophe is usually followed by the reconstruction of society, possibly stronger and better than before, as in Stephen King's "The Stand" or in George Stewart's "Life Without End". Even Sakyō Komatsu, who wrote one of the most pessimistic variants of the pandemic scenario with “The Day of Resurrection”, leaves at least a little room for hope in the end. In fact, in our current reality, discussions about the time after that have already started. The commercialization of the healthcare system has been recognized as a major mistake, and some are talking about the end of the neo-liberal policy that has shaped world affairs for forty years.

On the other hand, the fictional scenarios are always about killer viruses. Their death rates are close to one hundred percent. They often come from secret military laboratories, sometimes (as in the film "Outbreak") there are naturally occurring pathogens that the military is so interested in that it hinders the fight against the epidemic. It's always about human survival, all or nothing. It has to be like this: If you only have two hours to build up maximum tension, you are well advised to screw the stakes as high as possible.

. (tagsToTranslate) Coronavirus (t) Artificial Intelligence (t) Missing Link (t) Robot (t) Science Fiction