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business models, strategies and technologies

Sci-fi angles on the human condition from an alien perspective

Science fiction delivers intriguing new ways to describe what we mere mortals are up to – and a different perspective on intriguing conceptual fundamentals

I warily admit to having a wobbly weakness for good sci-fi, fully aware that such a foible can risk getting me branded as an intellectual lightweight fleeing from reality. This prompts a scramble to emphasise that only certain selected authors get deemed worthy of the Lalley nod – particularly Peter F. Hamilton and Iain M. Banks (RIP). I revel in the thought-prodding alternative perspectives on the human condition and technology choices that they provide.

I was recently ploughing through the brick-like tome of Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star for the third time when I realised that chapter 18 was providing me with the first-ever description of the human organism and consciousness as seen from a completely different – alien – perspective. Two humans had been inadvertently captured by a fundamentally different kind of sentient organism elsewhere in the universe, and the whole chapter provided a description of beings with the head as a fleshy sensor stalk on the top of the organism and the skin as unusual organic circuitry stretched over the surface.

It also describes the fundamental difficulties involved for a distributed, collective consciousness to be able to comprehend the basic architecture of individual consciousness. And Hamilton also provided the first attempt I can remember seeing of putting an alien form of awareness into words, and of describing the challenges of analogue/digital interfaces, if your starting point is fundamentally different biology and engineering constellations.

This seemed to be the first time I’d ever seen human life conceived and described from an alien perspective, and I am full of admiration for the conceptual leap this entails. Sci-fi isn’t just Dan Dare and the Mekon.