What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Future Tech” or “Science Fiction Technology?” Humanoid robots walking the streets? Genetic engineering? How about life in space?
Today we’re looking at science fiction technology that was once just a fantasy, that is now part of our daily life. We are also going to take a peek at some of our favorite sci-fi tech, and see how close it is to being a reality. So buckle up!
Believe it or not, credit cards were first mentioned in science fiction. You might expect that the person who envisioned the credit card to be a genius businessman or bank executive of some sort, however the person who first developed the idea of the modern credit card system was a Utopian science fiction author Edward Bellamy. His novel, Looking Backward, made some very accurate descriptions about how the credit card system would currently work today, even down to the concept of one receipt for the store owner and one receipt for the consumer. His book, written in 1888, and the idea that you could simply take a card into a store, swipe it, and have the item paid for was, well, science fiction. During this time, “credit” only existed as a method for stores to allow certain buyers to purchase extra items.
… a credit card issued him with which he procures at the public storehouses, found in every community, whatever he desires whenever he desires it. This arrangement, you will see, totally obviates the necessity for business transactions of any sort between individuals and consumers.
– Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 1888
Nuclear weapons are a staple story point in science fiction novels. Similar to “credit card”, the phrase “atomic bomb” predates the actual weapon, used in 1945. This phrase is first mentioned in H. G. Wells‘ The World Set Free, published in 1914, in which scientists make the discovery that radioactive decay implies potentially limitless energy locked inside of atomic particles. Robert A. Heinlein also wrote about atomic weapons in his 1940 book Solution Unsatisfactory, which poses radioactive dust as a weapon that the US develops to end World War II, however, the dust’s existence brings drastic changes into the postwar world. Cleve Cartmill predicted a chain-reaction-type nuclear bomb in his 1944 science fiction story Deadline, which led to the FBI showing up on his front porch, over concern there may have been a potential breach of security on the Manhattan Project.
In Ray Bradbury‘s Fahrenheit 451, earbuds were described for the first time. Mildred relies on little “seashells” to sleep. She puts them in her ears, and they constantly plays music, entertainment, news, and talk radio. They are described just like earbuds, but wireless, and Bradbury refers to them as Seashells.
“The little mosquito-delicate dancing hum in the air, the electrical murmur of a hidden wasp snug in its special pink warm nest. The music was almost loud enough so he could follow the tune. And in her ears the little Seashells, the timble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming on on the shore of her unsleeping mind.” -Farenheight 451
Inspired by Captain Kirk’s hand-held Starfleet communicator on Star Trek, Martin Cooper, decided to develop a hand-held mobile phone. We have seen many improvements to the cell phone since Cooper’s first prototype in 1973 which weighed two and a half pounds, and there are now a registered 6.8 billion cell phone subscriptions active.
We have discussed a few things that science fiction has inspired in the past. Let’s check out the future.
Genetic Modification In Humans
Is Genetic Engineering still something only of science fiction? “Genetic engineering” or “Genetic modification” is the process of adding or modifying DNA to an organism to bring about a change to the structure and nature of genes, using techniques like molecular cloning and transformation. This is currently being done in food (often known as GMOs), has been successfully tested in animals, and is now the discussion for human genetic modification is open.
There are many important things to consider when discussing all the possibilities genetic engineering could bring. People from all different fields, faiths and backgrounds weigh in on this issue, with many ideas and concerns. The standstill to actually begin trials is more on a moral level than scientific level.
Some amazing scientific leaps could be made through genetic engineering, such as eradicating deadly diseases. Genetic mutations would be able to replace bad genes with correctly functioning copies. For instance, Tay-Sachs, a terrible and incurable disease could be completely wiped out with the help of selective genetic engineering. Genetic engineering could potentially get rid of all diseases in unborn children. There are illnesses that doctors can foresee your child will suffer from in the womb, such as Down’s Syndrome and sickle cell disease. Genetic Engineering would help all babies be born strong and healthy, and could stop the passing on of hereditary diseases such as Huntington’s disease, which children have a 50-percent chance of developing and passing along to their own children if one of their parents has it. Genetic Modification could also exponentially increase the human lifespan. Once the full understanding of genetics and aging is realized, it may be possible to slow down some of the cellular mechanisms that lead to our body’s degeneration.
However, there are some major concerns with the topic of genetic modification in humans as well. Scientist do not know everything about the way a human body functions yet, and so making changes on a cellular level may lead to genetic defects. What if we wipe out one disease, only to introduce something even more deadly? If scientists genetically engineer babies in the womb, there is still a possibility that this could lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or a premature birth. The human body is so complicated that scientists simply cannot account for everything that could go wrong. Also, is genetic engineering right? Many people believe it is like playing God. Besides religious objections, there are a number of ethical objections. If we eradicate all disease, this will lead to an overpopulation of the earth, according to some. Longer lifespans would also cause more social problems down the line. The most important question to ask with genetic engineering is, “will it go too far?” It could be used to stop diseases and give humans better quality of life, however, where does the research end? There has already been talk of “designer babies,” in which you are given the option to choose the hair color, eye color, height, intelligence, skill set, and sex of your child. Is this right and fair?
Writer Dinesh D’Souza states his position on this in a 2001 National Review Online article:
“If parents are able to remake a child’s genetic makeup, they are in a sense writing the genetic instructions that shape his entire life. If my parents give me blue eyes instead of brown eyes, if they make me tall instead of medium height, if they choose a passive over an aggressive personality, their choices will have a direct, lifelong effect on me.”
There is a lot to think about when it comes to the possibilities of genetic engineering in the future. I don’t think you’ll be needing to worry about “clones” like in The Island showing up at your door, but as science advances, possibilities in genetic engineering become a real issue, with both pros and cons needing to be heartily examined.
Life in Space
‘The way species get endangered and wiped out is by being dependent on a limited environment. Humanity started in East Africa and now live on literally every continent – even Antarctica – albeit for a small time. We live in snow, jungle, deserts, savannahas, forests; we have spread out about as far as we can spread out, and the next step is to move to space.’ – Dr. Al Globus
Dr. Al Globus, a contractor at NASA, believes humanity may not be far from having the technology to build human colonies in space. The International Space Station currently houses six astronauts at a time, ideally a space colony would have hundreds or even thousands of people on board. Many designs of a “space settlement” rely on a central cylinder, around which is a rotating living space. The force of rotation provides artificial gravity for the humans on board.
Dr. Globus believes the space colony could be potentially feasible by the end the century, if major national disasters are avoided. However a number of important obstacles that would need to be overcome first, before these settlements would be able to be built. First of all, the cost of getting rockets to space is too high to ferry hundreds or thousands of people up to the stars. The cost of rockets, fuel, and getting to space must decrease. Secondly, there needs to be a way that the space colony can be self-sufficient, using indoor farms and solar energy. This will also be very, very expensive, but the price could be paid either through “space tourism” or by all the nations of the world banding together to focus on the common goal of getting to the stars.
So life in space may not be in the cards for us, but perhaps for our children. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
Sentient Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence. How could we discuss future tech without talking about AI?
Humans have always been wondering about sentient robots. Will robots ever get smarter than humans? Will they decide to wipe us off the map? Maybe they are already here, like Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, and we just haven’t noticed them yet!
If you worry about artificial intelligence taking over the world, you’re in good company. Speaking at the Zeitgeist 2015 conference in London, Steven Hawking said:
“Computers will overtake humans with AI at some within the next 100 years. When that happens, we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.”
Elon Musk, inventor of Tesla Motors, agreed with him and had this to say:
However, some people disagree, for example, in Anil Ananthaswamy’s New Scientist article titled “Sentient Robots? Not Possible If You Do The Maths” He argues that robots will never be sentient, according to a study of a mathematical model of how our brains create consciousness.
However, there’s no doubt that future AI will have the ability to do great damage. For example, an unconstrained virus spreading throughout the whole internet, or machines programmed to set off atomic weapons, and so on. Some people have other worries, like artificial intelligence stealing our jobs. In Martin Ford’s book “Rise of the Robots” he talks about a jobless future where AI have overhauled the economy.
I see the advances happening in technology and it’s becoming evident that computers, machines, robots, and algorithms are going to be able to do most of the routine, repetitive types of jobs. That’s the essence of what machine learning is all about. What types of jobs are on some level fundamentally predictable? A lot of different skill levels fall into that category. It’s not just about lower-skilled jobs either. People with college degrees, even professional degrees, people like lawyers are doing things that ultimately are predictable. A lot of those jobs are going to be susceptible over time.
So what does our future look like with artificial intelligence? We build more and more advanced AI every day.
One of the world’s most lifelike androids was built by Japanese designer Hiroshi Ishiguroand is named Geminoid F. She can smile, blink, furrow her brows, talk and even sing. She is able to mimic human expressions due to the 12 motorized actuators in her face, and she was so convincing she was cast as an actress in a Tokyo play.
With recent technological as well as automotive advances, Uber, Google, Tesla and more have all been working on self-piloting cars. The AI that drives these vehicles will work alongside with multiple sensors, radars, and lasers to drive the vehicle, accelerate when needed, brake at the right places and stop when the car arrives. These vehicles can spot objects as far as two football fields away and make calculated turns. AI cars have an advantage over human-driven ones as they will have a 360-degree view of the surroundings from the dome on top of the vehicle.
Amazon is making use of AI technology in many of its warehouses in the U.S. where human and artificial intelligence work hand in hand to dispatch over 1.5 million packages each day. The need to deliver the right products to right customers in the fastest time has made way for artificial intelligence to come to the forefront in warehousing, logistics, and soon, delivery. Amazon is excited about their “Prime Air”, where they boast, “a delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles, also called drones. Prime Air has great potential to enhance the services we already provide to millions of customers by providing rapid parcel delivery that will also increase the overall safety and efficiency of the transportation system.”
So what does our future look like with advanced artificial intelligence? Will robot overlords overthrow us and take over? Will they take our jobs and enslave us? Only time will tell, I suppose. For now, I suppose I’ll enjoy my Amazon two day shipping. Thanks, robots!