The roots of the Creative Science Foundation (CSf) and the use of science-fiction stories as a formal tool to advance science and engineering can be traced to two independent threads of activity that came together during a conversation late on the 24th September 2007 over a few glasses of weißbier (white beer) in the beautiful old German town of Ulm between Brian David Johnson (then of Intel), Michael Gardner (then of BT), and Victor Callaghan (Essex University). The three had been attending the ‘Intelligent Environments 2007‘ conference where Brian was an invited speaker, giving a presentation called “Do Digital Homes Dream Of Electric Families? Consumer Experience Architecture As A Framework For Design”.
The first thread of activity related to work the Victor Callaghan had been doing for the European Union as part a proactive research initiative called ‘The Disappearing Computer” which was funded under FP5 of the European IST programme, ‘Future and Emerging Technology’. Sixteen projects were funded starting on January 2001, comprising 37 institutions from 13 countries with a total effort of around 300 person years. The objectives of the ‘The Disappearing Computer’ initiative were to explore ‘how everyday life could be supported and enhanced through the use of collections of interacting artifacts to form new people-friendly environments in which the ‘computer-as-we-know-it’ had no role‘. Victor Callaghan led the work at Essex University on a project called ‘eGadgets‘, investigating the role of embedding intelligence into network-enabled gadgets. He quickly recognized that there was a security / privacy issue relating to the wide deployment of such technology in people’s homes, workplaces and cities. Because networks don’t recognize national boundaries, he decided United Nations (UN) was the best body to consider this issue (eg the International Standards Organisation – ISO- was founded by the UN in 1947). As a consequence, in September 2004 he gave talk at UN forum called “The Role of Cities in an Information Age” concerning these issues (see “Some Socio-Technical Aspects Of Intelligent Buildings and Pervasive Computing Research”). However, most of the audience were not of a technical disposition, coming from a diverse set of disciplines which created a challenge concerning how best to communicate these complex issues, in a jargon-free and accessible way. His solution was to use a set of six short science fiction stories (vignettes) that extrapolated the work his group were doing forward in time, highlighting threats to people’s way of life that agencies such as the UN, and national governments needed to be aware of (and, possibly, legislate against). These six vignettes can be read in the original paper ‘Some Socio-Technical Aspects Of Intelligent Buildings and Pervasive Computing Research‘. Thus was the beginnings of Science Fiction as a tool facilitating conversations between a wide section of stakeholders about technological innovations.
The second thread related to work that Brian David Johnson had been conducting in Intel labs to promote product innovation. At that time Intel were particularly worried about the potential impact of disruptive innovations on their businesses (including their customer’s business). In response he expanded and a scenario driven product innovation framework that Intel were using (the Experience Architecture Framework) to include ‘SciFi Prototype Usage Scenarios’, proposing the name Science-Fiction Prototyping (and the Intel Product development process as the Expanded Experience Architecture Framework), publishing these ideas in a paper at a workshop (Creative-Science 2010) that was convened as a vehicle to discuss how these different threads of ideas could be combined into a new discipline for product innovation, threat-casting and facilitating society wide discussion on science and engineering. His original paper, ‘Science Fiction for Scientists: An Introduction to SF Prototypes and Brain Machines‘ is available on the Creative-Science 2010 website.
Later threads included the seminal paper “Using Multiple Personas in Service Robots to Improve Exploration Strategies When Mapping New Environments” written by Simon Egerton with psychoanalyst, Graham Clark, which became became the inspiration for Johnson’s first Science Fiction Prototype, “Nebulous Mechanisms” (taken from a phrase in that paper relating to the processes of the mind, that are crucial to making us what we are). Later, this story became the driver of the Intel led ‘21st Century Robot‘ project and the Creative Robotix ‘RobEE’ project.
While story telling as a tool for development is not a new idea in itself, most earlier approach minimal stories to illustrate the use of a new technology. However, Science Fiction Prototyping differs in that is aimed to create stories with such detail and emotional engagement, as they served as a prototype of the proposed product, and provided an evaluation based around believable (if fictional) people. The nature of SciFi is that it looks at future worlds, no less than 10 years out. As modern complex integrated circuits can take 7-10 years from conceptualization to production, it principles fitted companies such as Intel, particularly well. In fact, they had such impact within Intel that they lead to seed-funding from Intel Corporation, to form the Creative Science Foundation which was inaugurated on the 4th November 2011, registered in London, but operating internationally. A more detailed and personal perspective from one of the founders can be found at this link (including key milestones). Of course, however it started, the Creative Science Foundation would be nothing without its members who have made it what it is today, so the real story belongs to all of you, especially those who have attended our events, written SFP’s and help run the organisation. This is your foundation, so please make your voice heard so we can build something special together.