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The Role of Science Fiction In the Future Of Our Health

25/08/2016 10:34 | Updated 25 August 2016

Every year, sci-fi blockbusters offer various perspectives of the future of the human race. As familiar yellow lettering soars across star-filled skies once again, more than just the force should be awakening. Science fiction works such as The Illustrated Man and WALL-E have provided stark projections of the future, and we may be carelessly heading straight for them.

Science fiction has been hailed as a unique genre that encourages us to evaluate the implications of human behaviour. Dystopian or utopian, we are able to watch the horrifying consequences of our actions unfold without actually having to experience, say, a world where the only food left is each other. But with sci-fi prophecies fast becoming realities - wearables as we know them were once impossible parts of the arsenal of protagonists from cyberpunk novels like Neuromancer - perhaps we should be acting on the lessons we can learn from them before it's too late.

The genre has already told us much about our current path of destruction when it comes to health.

We are so much fatter than anyone ever expected

Obesity now affects 1 in every 8 adults. In the next decade it will be 1 in 5. With over 641 million people unable to see their shins, did science fiction see this bloated future wedged in the pipeline?

Actually, the genre seems to have almost completely overlooked this scenario. The most accurate insight into our podgy future has only recently been released. 2008's WALL-E portrayed an Earth in which every single human being had become morbidly obese. Unfortunately, rather than helping humanity take on positive messages about our bodies and our planet, the movie was met with a lot of anger from members of 'fat pride' groups.

Prior to Wall-E, there have been a few dark, futuristic food themes in sci-fi circulation: shortages, advanced meal replacements and cannibalism, sometimes all at once. None of these are particularly appealing, but necessity is the mother of invention, and dystopia is the lifeblood of science fiction.

The tragic state of our mental health

Our global population is growing as quickly as our waistlines. But despite our close proximity, there is a good chance we will all be incredibly lonely (and fat). Almost half of British people surveyed by the Mental Health Foundation felt that, as a nation, we are lonelier than ever before.

With recent studies linking loneliness to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, isolation is a serious health risk. Esteemed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who has been credited with predicting a number of trends and inventions well before their time, saw this modern malaise coming a mile off.

One theme which ran through much of his work was the intrusion of screens on our daily lives. Bradbury believed massive televisions would be everywhere and that they would quickly interfere with our social interactions and make us lonely. He even developed a futuristic cyber system called the 'The Wall' which people used to communicate with their friends. Today, we call it Facebook.

Sex with robots

Despite being the likely cause of the problem, technology is set to have a bash at providing a solution to loneliness: though you'll know sexbots and artificial intelligence as the bread and butter of sci-fi, they might well be the future of companionship.

However, as you may have already guessed, sexbots are also likely to aggravate and complicate our relationship with technology. As The Telegraph reported, Professor Noel Sharkey from Sheffield University argued that sexbots could create serious attachment disorders in their users when speaking at Cheltenham Science Festival.

We've been expecting the arrival of sexbots since the number '58008' was first mashed into a calculator, but did we ever think it would happen in our lifetimes? It was much easier to imagine the next generation being the ones socially deprived and depraved enough to bring these sci-fi creations into existence. Yet, it seems people of all ages are eager to wrap their heads around VR headsets and intimate virtual relationships.

It's not so much surprising--or arousing--as it is worrying. Reflecting on many representations of sophisticated AI and robots, there are precious few, if any, examples that left humanity in a state of bliss. Terminator style world-wars, Ex Machina-esque manipulation of the humble human, even classic Austin Powers sex-bots sent to seduce and destroy--none of this exactly makes for a happy ending.

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