It’s that time of day when I find myself confused. Of course, that time of day usually starts around 9 AM and lingers on until I fall asleep. For today, the existential question that faces me [and thereby is a challenge for the whole universe] is what kind of mind can have the vision to write science fiction, versus the kind of mind that creates a startup to implement real science that quite often draws inspiration from science fiction.
I don’t know if anyone has actually tried this, but what if the top science fiction writers were all pulled into the same room, presented with a concept and then asked to write a story about it. A classic example would be living on Mars. There are many existing, decades-old science-fiction stories and books related to life on Mars. But let’s say we offer these fiction writers access to the cutting-edge technology that is presently in use, being developed or just even being dreamed of by the engineers at NASA or potentially other interests. With that kind of foundation, what magical predictions could these writers come up with?
I think at this point, the majority of the population is acquainted with the name of the movie “Minority Report”. The movie was a very good science fiction film, but stood out for its predictions about data management. The ultimate scene in the movie, which definitely every science fiction geek has seen countless times, is where Tom Cruise uses a special set of gloves to manipulate holograms. The purpose is to arrange these holograms in such a way that they tell a story, which is in fact foretelling of a murder about to occur in the next short period of time.
The special effects people on this movie are gods and they created an astonishing scene. They created an imagery that truly stands out in the memories of the people who have seen the movie. And until today, you will often hear people referring to holograms and virtual reality in relation to the experience as displayed in this movie. I would not be surprised if quite a number of science majors chose to study engineering or computer science, based primarily on their experience from this movie. I’m not exaggerating when I am saying that it had that profound an effect on people.
For a quick video that shows one technology along the line of Minority Report, click here (I have no connection at all to this company).
There are certain concepts that have been around for decades, and for which it seems there have been grand promises of “soon to be” success every decade. The problem with grand promises is that people remember being disappointed when those promises don’t come true, or don’t live up to the hype. There is a tendency to not only be upset about the failure to be able to purchase and use these technologies, but there also tends to be an increase in the general malaise about technology. One could say that people’s patience has simply been exhausted. They are tired of being promised things that simply do not come to life.
On the other hand, if you look back 10 years, which is just before the release of the first iPhone, many of the science fiction like promises over the previous decades have come true. I was just viewing an advertisement for one of the android-based smart watches, and one of its features was the famed Dick Tracy like video phone. Interestingly, as cool as this concept has been since Dick Tracy comics have been around, at this point in history, people almost dismiss the technology as being less effective than what they have already in their superpowered smartphones.
When one watches a legal-related TV show, especially those that involve secret agents, it is hard to believe just how much information is available to the kind of people who know how to access it. A drop of blood from 20 years ago can still be enough to solve an open murder case. Facial recognition has become incredibly effective, and like it or not, can spot you coming and going to places that perhaps you should not be visiting.
Now that we are truly expecting self driving cars to be standard by somewhere between 2030 and 2040, what will be the next step? Of course, the entire interior experience of such a car will be fundamentally different than it is now. With advances in clean energy, it is very possible that future automobiles will require no fossil fuels to run or be maintained. Of course, this is the ultimate irony. Not that long ago, people were screaming that no one is taking the energy crisis seriously, and that our reserves of fossil fuels will soon be gone, and disaster will soon follow.
At the moment, we are dealing with a glut of oil on the market, and we are ever closer to alternative forms of energy that are renewable. It actually makes one wonder what will be done with all the oil fields, when the day comes that oil requirements around the world are far less than they are now [despite growing economies]. And of course, there will be the question of what happens to all of those workers who will now have to find other employment [if it exists].
By the way, this is one example of job elimination that really has nothing to do with computers and robotics. While it’s true that robots might take over the dispensing of gasoline, and might even automate a great deal of what a mechanic does, there are clear economic trends that will have a drastic effect on employment, independent of any specific technology. People need to understand this when they try to suppress the advancement of technology, thinking that technology (independent of market forces) is what is ultimately going to leave people homeless.
So there it is. I’m confused because I can’t really understand how the imaginations of science fiction writers and scientists differ. Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps it is just the destiny of one person with vision to write stories about the future, and another to actually build a future. If and when the aliens finally do strike, it will be absolutely fascinating to see if any of the scenarios that have been drawn out on paper or celluloid [I know, it’s all digital now] will be used to protect ourselves from the invaders. Will we use a computer virus to destroy their systems, just like in the movie “Independence Day”? Will we use real viruses to make them sick and kill them off, like in “War of the Worlds”? Will killer satellites with high-powered energy beams [which don’t yet exist?] be able to fight back an armada of Cylons? What if the aliens want our air and suck up the air over Los Angeles and then choke to death?
Imagination is such a marvelous thing. From our tiny spot in this universe, it is imagination that has created stories and real science that tell us the details of the beginning and then the processes that make our universe work. If there are other beings out there, the interactions we will have with them, the questions we will ask them, our interpretation of their actions will all probably have been played out in science fiction stories from decades ago, and fantasy movies that are yet to be made.
We have the gift to be able to experience wonder. And that has brought us to where we are today, and will continue to inspire us for as long as humans roam the cosmos.
Thanks for listening.