Indistinguishable From Magic: New Technologies, Science Fiction & Us

E E 299

Scientist and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law states that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Most of us now regularly use amazingly powerful electronic objects — smartphones, tablets and other digital devices — with little understanding of how they actually work. This course explores how science fiction, electrical engineering technologies and society have influenced and impacted each other, with profound ramifications for the world.

Course Curriculum and Features

The course focuses on three main technology topics: computers and communication, robotics, and neural engineering. We’ll examine the development of these areas over the last century, along with some likely innovations coming in the next two decades. You’ll study the underlying engineering principles of these technologies and explore their many social, economic and political impacts.

In addition to lectures and readings, students will visit select UW research laboratories. We’ll also meet with a published science fiction author. Assignments include individual essays, group presentations, and a group project to develop content for a wiki page (collaborative web page).

Designed For

Those interested in engineering, computer science, mathematics, and/or the applied sciences, along with those who want to explore the impact of new technologies on society.


Howard Jay Chizeck
Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering

Dates & Times

Aug 21–Sep 14, 2018

UW Seattle
9:30 a.m.–12 p.m.