I’ve been a science fiction fan all my life, and it seems to me that the very best science fiction makes us ask questions. SF stories very often start with a “what if?” kind of premise, making predictions about future technology, or turning a concept on its head and then seeing where the premise will lead. That’s the writer’s job: letting our inner prognosticator loose with a healthy dose of imagination. We say to the reader, “Here’s a direction this could go, and what I think things will be like if it does.” Then it becomes the reader’s job to decide whether or not the end result is really something we want.

The same thing could be true about developments in real science if we know they’re taking place. Did you know that scientists have produced monkeys that glow in the dark (and pigs, and kittens)? Genetically-engineered horse/zebra and lion/tiger cross breeds? Insects and rats that can be controlled like robots by remote control? A light-activated machine controlled by a disembodied eel’s brain? You’ve heard about Dolly the sheep, but did you know that many other animals have been successfully cloned, including wolves? You can see examples of all of these things and many more in a TED talk by bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe. Wolpe doesn’t give his own opinion about anything—that’s the point. These developments have the potential to affect all of us, and we all have a stake in the decisions made about them: the ethical and practical questions raised by the ability to create such things.

Wolpe says we’ve begun a third stage of evolution: directed evolution, or evolution by design. It’s not just the realm of science fiction anymore.

In our SF it’s OK to let our imagination run anywhere it has the ability to go.

Can we say the same thing about our science?