Science and Knowledge in the Apocalypse

Of the subgenres within speculative fiction, science fiction in particular has always been effective at inspiring discussions of potential problems in the real world. The exploration of the unknown through technological means that are simultaneously familiar and alien (in their advanced forms) serves both as a source of entertainment as well as a cautionary tale against the blind pursuit of scientific advancement. It offers us a lens through which we can examine complex social issues that may lie under the surface of everyday life.


Given its immense power and capacity for destruction, much of this speculative fiction naturally tends towards the apocalypse. However, this apocalypse can present itself in many different ways, shapes or forms, as is reflected in the various texts discussed in this issue of Digital Patmos. Beyond typical doomsday visions of widespread desolation and mass destruction, the apocalypse can also manifest itself more subtly — in changes to our way of life or how we view ourselves and the world we live in. This is where the phrase comes into play: “the end of the world as we know it.”


Of the countless scientific apocalypses that exist, one that has piqued public interest since nearly the inception of the science fiction genre has been the end of the world as a result of artificial intelligence (AI). Indeed, the creation of sentient machines would have far-ranging implications on all of humanity, which works such as The Bicentennial Man, Westworld, and Psycho-Pass all seek to explore. Psycho-Pass, for instance, which depicts a world where AI is used to measure citizens’ propensity for crime, aims to understand the different ways in which such technology can be misused and exploited by humans, resulting in society’s ultimate detriment.


In contrast, Westworld and The Bicentennial Man both deal with the ethical and philosophical implications of the creation of AI. The former discusses the problematic aspects of treating AI as mere tools to do humanity’s bidding and the argument for instead treating them accordingly as conscious, self-aware, and sentient beings. The latter, on the other hand, considers how the creation of AI might force us to re-examine how we define humanity. It depicts a sentient robot’s ultimately successful mission to be recognized as a human, prompting us to consider the validity of more fluid definitions of humanity beyond biological.


Following the theme of advancements in science forcing us to review our preconceived notions, Geostorm compels us to reassess the extent to which we should entrust our fate in technology in the event of an apocalypse. It strives to let the audience understand that instead of sophisticated equipment and technology, our hopes for salvation would be better pinned on our own humanity.


A common criticism of science fiction, however, is that issues portrayed are often sensationalised and painted as unrealistic, thereby impeding the messages meant to be conveyed. However, upon a closer inspection of a film such as The Day After Tomorrow, we can see that this sensationalism can in fact work in the film’s favour, by engaging otherwise blasé audiences.


All things considered, science fiction is an ideal platform for launching investigations into the human condition and asking deep questions in a veiled atmosphere. We would like to thank Prof Yew Kong Leong for his guidance in crafting this issue and we sincerely hope that you will enjoy reading our articles as much as we enjoyed writing them.


Thank you Prof Yew!

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