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Stanley Chan Gave a Lecture on “How science fiction stimulates technological innovation?”

Laureate of the Galaxy Award (China's most prestigious science fiction award) and Nebula Award for Global Chinese Science Fiction winner, expert of sales and marketing at Google LLC, graduate with a liberal arts degree from Peking University…Stanley Chan’s enviable curriculum vitae makes him seem like a genius far above normal people. But when he walked into the door of NNU’s west lecture hall on Friday afternoon, October24, 2018, wearing a casual grey coat, he just looked a like a knowledgeable mentor and a young, energetic friend.

“Before we jump into the topic “How science fiction stimulates technological innovation?”, we need to be clear that there is a distinct difference between science fiction and fantasy novels,” said YanFang, host of the lecture.

It is true that before the late Qing Dynasty Chinese people were only familiar with fantasy novels such as “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio” (《聊斋志异》,a classical Chinese fantasy novel written by famous writer Pu Songling), until at the first climax of science fiction development in China, western science fiction such as “Around the World in Eighty Days” was brought into China. The latest climax was in 1999, the audience was astonished when Chan pointed out that “The essay topic of the 1999 Chinese College Entrance Examination was about memory transplant, which only appeared in science fiction. That was when people realized the reading of science fiction could benefit them in the college entrance exam. Since then, science fiction has rapidly grown in popularity in China.”

The influence between science fiction and technological innovation is mutual. “Their relationship is like the chicken-and-egg problem. Science fiction can provide fresh ideas and bold predictions for technological innovation, and technological innovation can provide new elements for science fiction writing,” Chan explained. He also showed the audience “The Fiction to Reality Timeline” that vividly explained how science fiction and technological innovation are closely related.

For instance, Apple launched the 1st gen iPad in 2010, but 17 years earlier, in the Star Trek movie: “Deep Space Nine”, a personal display device, called a video tablet, which looked very similar to the 1st gen iPad, had already been designed. Also, in the 1981 movie “Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy”, the imagined universal database was the same as the 2001 Wikipedia.

It’s crucial for innovators to train their creativityto keep technological innovation active. Chan referred to “The Innovator's DNA”, published by Harvard Business Review Press, to introduce a system that trains creativity:

a) Associating: the ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas from different fields.
b) Questioning: keep asking provocative questions. Chan suggested: “Keep asking ‘what if?’”
c) Observing: consistently look out for small details—in the activities of customers and suppliersin the market—to gain fresh ideas for innovation.
d) Experiment: don’t be afraid of failure and make the world your laboratory.
e) Networking: connect with diverse individuals and obtain radically different perspectives from a wide range of fields.

Chan is good at networking. When he wrote his science fiction novels, he also worked at Google LLC and Baidu Inc. “Getting the newest technological information from Google and Baidu really inspires my writing,” he said. Also, when asked about his impression of on Google’s technological innovation he mentioned that “In the field of AI research and development, Google focuses more on basic programming while Baidu focuses more on its application. Therefore, there is a good opportunity for them to learn from each other.”

Chan’s profound knowledge and amiable charisma drew lots of fans waiting in long lines to get a signature at the end of the lecture. A student holding a yearbook of 2016 Galaxy Award records told the reporter excitedly, “This is the moment I have been waiting for.”