Elsbeth Magilton, the executive director of the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center and the Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law program, appeared virtually at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival as part of a panel that combined pop culture with real life law. Joined by Gabriel Swiney, Attorney Advisor, U.S. Department of State and Kathryn Waldron, National Security & Cybersecurity Fellow, R Street Institute the panel, ‘A Star Trek Model for Space? How Scifi Impacts Law’ was first accepted into the notable festival in 2020, but was forced to cancel in light of the pandemic. The group was again invited to present during the 2021 festival.
In general the panel posed the question, “has the future already been explored in fiction and does science fiction impact real world policy?” Magilton, Swiney, and Waldron, experts in security, technology policy, and space law, examined the Star Trek universe against America’s consistently shifting domestic space policies and existing international agreements. The panel discussed the relevance of science fiction to lawmakers generally, and dived into a comparative analysis of Star Trek to the real world. Discussion ranged from access to space, to war in space, to government structures for regulating space, to the questions raised by the landmark television series, ultimately asking “are we as optimistic as Gene Roddenberry?” In the end, the panel decided “maybe.”