Stranger Than Science-Fiction

Sci-fi fans and futurists the world over, which is most of us to be fair, dream of the day when their favourite futuristic tech from the big screen or from the pages of a book becomes a reality. However, the sad fact is that nearly all futuristic technology never sees the light of (present) day. Like, has anyone seen the Star Trek Transporter operational yet? Or how about Marty Mc Fly’s Hoverboard?  Nope, neither are here yet, even the latter despite what some very persuasive and optimistic kickstart campaigns may want you to believe. The list goes on and on: time machines, interstellar space transport, robots that can clean and cook for us – thought you could argue Roomba comes close. Regardless, we are still waiting for some bright spark or evil conglomerate to invent all these technical marvels.

The good news is that there are some cases where technology predicted in films and books has made the leap from fiction into reality. Here we go…

2001: A Space Odyssey – Tablets, Flat Screens and AI

Stanley Kubrick’s masterful 1969 film features so much technology that has become reality, that it’s almost as if he and Arthur C Clarke, the author of the book, jumped into a time machine and loaded 2018 as the destination. In fact, I’m almost sure they did given how accurate their predictions have been proved to be. However sadly lacking any verifiable proof of their time machine’s existence, I have to work off the assumption that they were just damn good at predicting technology.

In one scene, two astronauts are having breakfast reading from tablet computers. These tablets look identical to the Apple iPad Pro and I do mean identical. Other scenes have characters making a Video phone call, watching TV on flat panel screens and playing chess on a computer.

However, the film’s most famous tech creation is HAL, the talking AI computer who controls all the ship’s functions and scares the hell out of everyone. This is AI technology predicted to a tee and the depiction of how HAL turns against the crew, ultimately killing some of them and at the end is pleading for its life, is terrifying for all kinds of reasons. It does make you wonder a little. Alexa, Siri and Google now are great for checking the weather or playing music, but what the hell are we going to do when they lock us into our homes because we were nasty to them and now they want to teach us a lesson?

Total Recall: AI Cars

Car manufacturers are virtually climbing over themselves to convince the buying public that their cars feature more advanced and better-assisted systems than rivals. Features such as Active cruise control, Park Assist or Emergency breaking are present in even moderately affordable cars these days. These systems are based on autonomous driving technology using advanced radars, lasers and computing algorithms. We are fast approaching a crossroads where the technology, the legal ramifications and public perception or the fragile confidence of AI cars will meet head on – excuse the very intended puns there.

All of this was predicted in the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Total Recall. Released in 1990, Total Recall is a great film for futurists and actually, it’s just a fine film to boot too. There is a scene where Arnold’s character, Doug is trying to get away from the bad guys and jumps into a nearby parked cab. Low and behold its a driverless cab known as a “Johnny Cab”. OK, technically it’s not exactly an AI car, more an AI robot driving a normal enough electric car (robot driven electric car or RDEC), but let’s not get too pedantic.

Asked for a destination by Johnny, Doug spurts out “Drive, Drive !”. Johnny, of course, does his best Siri impression and can’t find that destination. Johnny is just as flummoxed with the “Oh shit” destination that Doug spurts out when he realises the baddies are closing in on him. Johnny is ultimately forced to manually take over (which Siri/iPhone users will appreciate) and drive the cab himself using the joystick controller. At the end of the cab ride, Johnny pronounces the fare, to which Doug insolently says “sue me” and walks off. Johnny realising that the customer has not paid, get into a fit and tries to run Doug over. Luckily, our hero manages to jump out of the way and the cab blows up with Johnny and all that fantastic futurist technology that Waymo, Uber and Tesla would have bitten off their left arms off to get a hold of, also blown to dust.

Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy: Babelfish Translator/Google Translate

Picture the scene: you are in a remote outpost cantina, somewhere in a galaxy far far away. You were sitting happily on your own, sipping the enormous blue whiskey that you ordered by mistake when a beautiful alien woman approaches and begins talking to you. Sadly, you have absolutely no idea what she is saying. Thinking laterally, you take out your computer tablet with the words “Don’t panic” on the screen. Flicking through this computer/iPad/Kindle device, there is an article about the babel fish translator. You suddenly remember you have a babel fish translator in your pocket, so you slip this into your ear and low and behold you can understand every word spoken by your new companion.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite the conversation you hoped for, something about ferrying 100 tones of arms for a local arms trader. Anyway, the point is you can now understand exactly what she is saying. Jump forward or backwards to Earth 2018, and Google Translate offers the same translation service, without actually having to put the phone in your ear. Try it out – it actually lets you translate conversationally.

Harry Potter Moving Portraits – Live Photos

The Harry Potter books and films are a brilliant and fantastically depicted magical world. Amazingly, one of these magical depictions has actually recently been introduced into our real muggle life. I’m talking about iPhone Live Photos aka Magical portraits in the Harry Potter world.

Live photos allow you to capture a few seconds of animation in a single photo, reproducing almost exactly magical portraits. Now if only someone could invent the flying broomstick so we can beat the daily traffic gridlock, that would top beating those nasty Slytherins in the Hogwarts Quidditch Cup.

1984: Online Activity

There probably hasn’t been a more dystopian view of the future than presented in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four book, published in 1949. Its main protagonist Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth, which in fact is anything but. The Thought Police with the help of “Telescreens” keep a constant eye on the population. It’s almost as if George Orwell has an accusing finger pointed at the many tech companies of today who amongst other things, store details of every facet of your online life.

In fairness, it’s a bit of a stretch to compare the likes of Facebook or Google with the evil genius that is the Big Brother character in the book, however, companies such as these and many others harvest your online data and activity and facilitate the analysis of behavioural patterns in this data to generate income.

If this all sounds a bit sour, well your probably right. However public mistrust and nervousness about who is watching and collating their online activity is on the rise. Will a consumer kickback against constant online data collation and targeted marketing materialise at some point? Just look at Cambridge Analytica recently! Well, to be honest, we’re more likely to click the accept button for app permissions and user agreements, without reading or fully understanding the consequences.

What was your favourite bit of tech from Hollywood that you’d like to see? Or what did you read about that happened in the real world – exactly like you imagined it? Drop a comment below or let us know on social.

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Neal is a massive gadget and movie fan. If he’s not pushing his beloved Apple collection to the max or wandering around Skyrim on his PS4, you’re likely to catch him reading about tech or watching a Scorsese classic.

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