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Imagine I want to write a fictional book, whose purpose is to show what will happen to the world, if something changes.

For example: How will we live, if...

  1. crowdsourced funding (microfinance in M. Yunus style) is widely adopted?
  2. cheap robots replace low-paid workers (cleaning jobs, waiters etc.) ?
  3. final consumers of news (instead of news corporations) pay journalists to deliver information on topics, which interest them (X thousand people each pay 20 bucks to send a neutral journalist to Crimea to show and tell those paying people what is actually happening there) ?

Most of such innovations affect different aspects of life.

To write an interesting book, I have to take the current world, change one variable in it and see what happens to different aspects of life.

Note that I'm primarily interested in modelling near-future worlds, i. e. our current world with only one innovation added (I do not want to invent a completely new world).

What tools (except FCM, see below) can I use to make such "what-if" analyses?

Fuzzy cognitive maps

Fuzzy cognitive maps work in this way:

  1. You define a set of variables, e. g. probability of war in region A, influence of country B in region, influence of country C in region A, degree of rivalry between countries B and C, economic growth in region A.
  2. Then you define how the variables affect each other. For example, degree of rivalry between countries B and C may increase probability of war in region A, while economic growth in region A decreases it. Basically, you put a plus (A increases B) or minus (A decreases B) sign on every connection between variables. A connection means that one variable affects the other.
  3. Then you quantify the effects of one variable (formalize your opinion on that effect). For example, degree of rivalry between countries B and C increases probability of war in region A by one unit and economic growth in region A decreases it by 10 units.
  4. Once you've setup such graph, you can use some mathematical apparatus to set values of the variables and look at what happens to other variables. In that way you can model different scenarios.

Update 1: Another useful tool may be some of the system dynamics software.

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Possibly of interest: There's a worldbuilding proposal on Area 51. –  Neil Fein Apr 20 at 1:19

2 Answers 2

The one tool you need is expertise in the affected areas.

How would you know what effects cheap robots replacing low-paid workers would have? By being an expert in psychology (how does it affect the persons owning, using or working with them?), economics (how does the changing money flow influence the economy?), job market (what would you do with the unemployed?), criminalistics (how does unemployment change crime and what can be done?) etc. If you are not an expert in any of the relevant areas, you will find yourself unable to make meaningful predictions.

To become an expert, writers have been know to read books (i.e. study those fields like any student would) or consult experts (i.e. have them as advisors). The acknowledgements in many SF books or thrillers testify to both strategies.

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First of all, if a fiction book's purpose is "to show what will happen to the world, if something changes," then that's going to be one booooring book. Take, for example, Gattica. You might say the book's purpose was to show the effect of widespread genetic engineering on society -- and you'd be wrong. The book's purpose was twofold: 1) to entertain, and 2) to show the triumph of the human spirit over technology. See Robert Heinlein's essay, "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction." (Summarized here.)

Second, to answer your question, start by reading a bunch of articles and books by futurists, whose entire job is to predict the future based on current trends and emerging technology. For example, this one, which I found by Googling "futurist." Or go to an online bookstore and search for "futurist" or "near-future." Since you're looking for NEAR-future, you won't have to read far into any book. Another good source for very solid near-future predictions is the beginning of every issue of Science, Nature, MIT's Technology Review, and a plethora of other journals and trade magazines. There the editor(s) will summarize the main articles in that issue and will often speculate on the importance of the articles' findings. You can find these online and at your local library. For example, search for "trade magazines", and follow the links. End-of-year and start-of-year issues are especially rich in predictions.

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