New Thinking

Sir Ridley Scott on science fiction and how it influences the future of tech

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Sir Ridley Scott, the director of the Oscar-nominated film The Martian, has long looked to the future in his work. From Alien (1979) to Blade Runner (1982) and now The Martian (2015), he has created compelling and highly visual narratives that make alien discoveries and artificial intelligence seem very, very real and believable.

For the latest television ads for Watson, the cognitive system that learns, reasons and interacts, IBM interviewed Scott. In this new series of Watson ads, which will debut during the 88th Academy Awards broadcast on February 28, Watson itself appears to ask him questions about the genre of science fiction. (The depiction of a talking system is the consistent theme in IBM’s ongoing series of Watson ads, which have millions of views on YouTube alone).

As an extension of the ad interview series with Scott , IBM conducted a bonus interview with the director on the power of science fiction and how it might influence the future of science itself. They are bits of creative wisdom that provide thought-provoking takeaways for chief information officers, chief executive officers, chief human resources officers, chief marketing officers and other members of the C-suite. We summarized these C-suite takeaways, below.

1. “Science fiction opens the curtains on an entirely different universe. You go into a world where anything goes. You’re able to invent beyond the present-day tech. I take it very seriously.” Leaders at companies with strong research and development initiatives could learn from science fiction movies. The design of a robot or a vehicle could very well inform the design or actual functionality of a marketable device in real life.

2. “We are in a marvelously evolving time in human history….[But] artificial intelligence will be difficult to keep in line in only useful entities and elements.” To ensure the safety of humans, C-suite leaders will need to make sure their teams consider the potentially negative actions or outcomes that might result from artificial intelligence efforts. Any innovator in this field, as in any emerging technology field, must not only be conscious of creating devices and systems that meet current safety standards, but also must avoid the creation, whether intentional or not, of potentially dangerous conditions for humans in coming years.

3. “I am realistic about the future. You’re silly to be pessimistic, and also silly to be optimistic.” With so much technological advancement happening in the 21st century, with more data being generated at blinding speeds each day (2.5 quintillion bytes daily, according to IBM research), so much opportunity for product development, and so much hype for tech start-ups valued over a billion dollars, it can be tempting to be either a “blue sky” thinker or extremely skeptical. Scott sensibly advises to simply be “realistic,” and it may seem highly obvious. But leaders who keep a cool and rational head, like Scott, a leader in the science fiction genre, are likely to follow in his footsteps and build strong personal and professional brands that are synonymous with “the future” itself.


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