The Policymaker’s Guide to the Galaxy: What science fiction can teach us about the future of work

Science fiction can offer us entire galaxies of possibility models for the future. In this series, we interview leading science fiction writers about the future of work and the economy.

Project Team

Nisa Malli
Work Stream Manager, Innovative + Inclusive Economy
Jessica Thomson
Marketing and Communications Specialist
Coralie D’Souza
Director of Operations + Employee Engagement

Why we’re doing this project

Typically, the Brookfield Institute’s future-looking research analyzes present-day data and historical trends to make near-future predictions, or uses strategic foresight techniques such as horizon scanning to analyze signals of change and identify possible future implications. We use storytelling and narrative in knowledge translation and research dissemination, but our analysis is always grounded in facts. This project is a bit different.

Science fiction can be a window into the future, offering us entire galaxies of possibility models, as well as alternate pasts and worlds that exist entirely unconnected to our own timeline. Often, science fiction imagines technological or scientific advancement and what that advancement makes possible or instigates, for better or for worse. But it has also been applied to great effect to imagine alternative economies, labour markets, and employment models; community and family structures; social stratification and wealth distribution; and political and governance systems, freed from current (perceived or real) limitations such as affordability, scientific feasibility, political and electoral viability, and social norms; and widely-accepted stylized facts about our current systems, markets, and society. 

We believe science fiction can provide frameworks within which to ask ‘what if’ questions, and answers them through imaginative, and imaginable, narratives and characters. For researchers and policymakers, especially those of us interested in anticipating and preparing for the future, near and far, science fiction can help us pose the questions we may not know we need to ask and create space to imagine both incremental and disruptive change; dystopias, utopias, and everything in between; and the medium and long-term impacts of maintaining the status quo. What if corporations replace governments and citizenship becomes tied to employment? What if intergalactic mining creates enough shared wealth that work becomes a choice, not a financial necessity? What impact could normalizing space travel or major climate disasters have on skills demands and future occupations? 

Through the Policymaker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Brookfield Institute’s team interviews leading science fiction authors, both Canadian, and international, to answer some of these questions. Many of our authors are experts in their own right on technology and media, democracy and governance, science and social science, and draw on this expertise in their worldbuilding and plots. Join us as we examine the future of work and the economy, on Earth and in space!

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"I often tell people that I think that policy is actually just hard science fiction, because when we make policies about anything from urban planning to regulations around the environment, it's always based on an understanding of how things will be in the future, and how we think human culture will function. A lot of the time, the worst policies are the ones that don't take the future into account"

Annalee Newitz

Authors

Interested in following this project? Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. A full list of participating authors is coming soon!

If you are a science fiction writer, and want to get involved, please contact Jessica Thomson.

Nisa Malli
Work Stream Manager, Innovative + Inclusive Economy
Jessica Thomson
Marketing and Communications Specialist
Coralie D’Souza
Director of Operations + Employee Engagement

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Deep Dive

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Jul 17, 2020

An interview with Annalee Newitz exploring labour rights and working conditions, anthropomorphisation of AI, and a cultural obsession with productivity.
Abstract illustration of robot and human with the inner workings of their heads exposed.

Jul 2, 2020

An interview with Martha Wells, author of The Murderbot Diaries, about the far future, work in space, the role of sci-fi in empathy-building, and a Murderbot who just wants to watch TV
Illustration of cyborg watching TV show in bedroom.

Mar 3, 2020

An interview with Malka Older, writer, aid worker, and academic, on policy planning as speculative writing, benevolent surveillance, and the ongoing work of democracy.
Policymaking in an Infomocracy: An interview with Malka Older

Jan 31, 2020

An interview with Cory Doctorow, author, journalist, and activist, about writing the near future, decentralized innovation, and intellectual property in the Internet era.
The Machine Without the Factory: An Interview with Cory Doctorow
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