While scientists and technologists work to create the latest shiny, new digital gadget, it is the writers who place that new technology into the hands of their novel's characters, then write about its social impact. Sometimes the outcome is good. Sometimes, it does not end well.
It is just such works of speculative fiction that the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, aims to award with its new literary prize.
The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards will award creative works from authors that describe our "near future." That genre is not quite science fiction, but more — it's "fantastic but not far-fetched," describes Dartmouth professor Dan Rockmore.
Rockmore teaches computer science and mathematics at Dartmouth and is director of the Neukom Institute. He recently spoke to VPR about the new prize program.
"It feels close. It's in the future but it feels like it's not too far away," Rockmore says of speculative fiction. "With just a few sort of shifts of the parameters, one might say, we might actually be there tomorrow. It's that kind of work, and often I think science and technology has a significant influence on the way that kind of stuff gets written."
The Neukom awards program is open to all writers and playwrights across the globe who are "putting the future into their works — and generally the future with some kind of computational, digital angle," says Rockmore, and whose work touches on themes that describe the effects of artificial intelligence and digital technologies on society.
Rockmore said that as a judge, he'll look for writing that is "really considering social kinds of issues — social and cultural [issues] — and embedding those in the works."
"I do feel like the artists are sometimes way ahead in that, whereas often the scientists and the technologists are just thinking about, you know, the next new gadget that they're putting out there," Rockmore says. "So it's that extra dimension and that critical eye which I think is often missing from technology and science debates [that] is often made very clear and very emotional in great creative work."
This first round of awards will be announced in the spring of 2018, and prizes will be given in three categories: playwriting, speculative fiction and also one specifically for first-time authors of speculative fiction. The judging panel will consist of both scientists and authors, and Rockmore says that in addition to the judging, the Dartmouth community will be involved in production of the winning play and award winners will also be invited to speak at campus.