Science fiction movies and TV shows have shaped today’s technology, but what about the future technology promised to revolutionise our lives?
If Back To The Future Part II is to be believed, by the end of 2015 kids will be out and about on Mattel’s hoverboard, our clothes will self-dry if we’re caught in a downpour, and we’ll be heading to the multiplexes to see Jaws 19 in our flying cars. Of course, when the film was made in 1989 some of these innovations were deemed to be entirely feasible, especially the flying car, which has long been the touchstone for ‘future technology’. But today, as 2015 dwellers, many of us are left wondering: where exactly is our flying car?
The Star Trek effect
That is not to say that science fiction has lied to us completely. Think back to Star Trek in the 1960s. The idea that humanity would be able to talk to each other via portable communication devices was crazy, but today, we all have one in our pocket – and Captain Kirk couldn’t even play Angry Birds on his!
In fact, Star Trek has had such an influence on technology over the past 60 years that the term ‘Star Trek effect’ is used to describe sci-fi concepts that scientists are inspired by and try to duplicate.
Way before the technology even existed, the USS Enterprise crew were using universal translators (illustrated above right), and this has already come to fruition in the real world. Skype Translator, for example, understands spoken words and translates them into another language, and then speaks them back almost in real time.
Medical technology is also experiencing parallels with Star Trek – the University of Washington is experimenting with a tricorder-like tool to scan patients and help diagnose illnesses. While an MIT engineer has created a jet-injecting tool that gives inoculations without having to break the skin, not unlike the handy hydrospray (illustrated above left) used by Dr Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy.
There are other examples where science fiction has predicted future technology: the 1968 sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey predicted video calling and using iPad-like devices to pass the time, while 1982’s Blade Runner predicted the use of biometrics, such as retinal scanning.
Predicting the future
When Minority Report came out in 2002, it predicted that the future – specifically 2054 – would see technology woven into our daily lives. To make sure everything was as accurate and as ‘realistic’ as possible, director Steven Spielberg gathered a brain trust of futurists, inventors and designers to create an array of technologies that they felt would anticipate real-world gadgets. The results were unerringly accurate.
One of the film’s scenes has Tom Cruise’s pre-crime officer using special gloves to perform gesture-based computing. Since 2007, our phones have allowed us to ‘pinch’, ‘pull’ and ‘swipe’ for information, and Xbox One’s Kinect system lets you control the technology, not only with your hands, but with your entire body.
From fantasy to reality
Commuters in Minority Report were also seen reading e-newspapers, home entertainment units had 3D video capability, biometric systems were used to identify people, adverts were personalised to users as they walked by and there were computer-guided cars.
Astonishingly, almost all of this future technology has either been developed or is close to being realised a mere 13 years later. Driverless cars, in particular, are a technology on the cusp of becoming standardised, and were trialled in the UK earlier this year.
So there you go – while we may not be commuting to work in jet packs or flying cars, the technology we see in science fiction is appearing quicker than we first predicted. Here’s hoping we don’t make that classic sci-fi mistake and give too much power to the machines.