So to Susan Schneider, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, sci-fi seemed a logical way to illustrate some of the existential conundrums of philosophers over the ages, from Plato to René Descartes to David Chalmers.
“Science fiction fires the imagination and can get across conceptual ideas and thought experiments, or scenarios, that test philosophical theories,” she says. “Consider Isaac Asimov and his stories about robots and what happens if they become conscious. What does that tell us about the notion of a person?”
S.A.R.A.H. (Self-actuated Residential Automated Habitat), the talking, thinking, usually helpful house on Eureka is such a regular on the show that she could qualify as just another wacky genius in a town full of them. But though she’s smarter than any smart house ever known, she has a bit of a problem: her power source. We’re told that her radioisotope thermoelectric generator supplies plenty of power for energy independence, but these devices only output power at low levels, albeit for a long time, plus they depend on radioactive materials—which is why in real life they’re used on long-lived unmanned probes and satellites.
S.A.R.A.H.’s designer, Douglas Fargo, should take some cues from the Solar Decathlon, a biennial contest hosted by the U.S. Department of energy. This year, representatives from 20 teams have reconstructed their high-tech solar-powered houses on the National Mall in Washington D.C. for inspection by the public and judges alike. (See 80beats’ gallery of some of the houses.) Houses are scored on 10 criteria, from efficient appliances to market-worthiness.
Most of the houses share a few themes: They maximize the insulation to minimize heat and cool loss; they have large sections of walls that can be opened onto decks and patios to increase the amount of livable space in the house; they had ways to access appliances or climate controls remotely, whether from an iPhone app or an Internet connection; and all of them can, at the minimum, operate without electricity from the grid, though many generate excess power.