2017 Update: Science Fiction is No Longer Fiction
It’s the year 2017. Rogue politics and tragic animal trivia have saturated your newsfeeds and watered down your awareness that we now walk half-asleep in the sci-fi dreams of Orwell, Verne, Bradbury, Wells, and other oracles of not-so-far-fetched dystopias. Welcome to the era of mass-customization, to the rise of the individual, and the death of individuality. Now coming to a Starbucks near you.
A few developments have been given more press than others. We eagerly follow the progress of the autonomous vehicle (Asimov’s Sally, Hasbro’s Transformers) and energetically opine on issues of road safety and culpability. Public surveillance (Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Sauron’s All-Seeing-Eye) is a real and present truth that is varying degrees of troublesome depending on how private (or guilty) you are. Our inner Captain Kirks delight at the general compliance of increasingly humanoid virtual PAs (Apple’s Siri, Theodore’s Samantha), and chuckle good naturedly at their quirks, as we would a precocious child.
Worth mentioning also, are the inventions so prevalent, established and taken for granted that we forget they once existed only in fantasy.
And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind.
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1963)
For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive - you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
Ah it’s the phone! I’ll get it! .. Honey, it’s your friend Gloria.
Gloria! Oh dear, I can’t let her see me looking like this. I gotta put on my morning mask. .. Hi Glor!
Jane darling, don’t you look lovely. How do you do it?
The Jetsons, Episode 104 (1962)
If the future is now, what comes next? What happens when our grasp unexpectedly matches our reach? Just because we can, does it mean we should?
It has now been almost 40 years since the first test tube baby and we are constantly inching closer and closer to being able to produce ‘designer babies’, à la Aldous Huxley. While we sit sipping coffee and debating the consequences of ‘playing god’, scientists in Oregon have been busy modifying the DNA of human embryos to repair a fatal gene mutation . Perhaps when those headlines hit in our own Brave New World, the outlook will be far less dystopian.
Of course, it doesn’t always have to be controversial. A number of formerly disabled people have had autonomy of movement returned to them, thanks to huge advances in biomedical engineering. The Bionic Woman circa 1976 now walks among us (albeit in parts) and while we may not have cyborg superheroes yet, we have made bionic eyes and super colour vision lenses a present reality. 3D organ printing organ printing has its own Wikipedia page now, and could be our ticket to solving the worldwide organ transplant shortage.
The same goes for self-healing tech, and we’re not talking Terminator 2 (just yet). We now have carbon fibre polymers that fix their own cracks, which means that very soon, a shattered phone screen will be more a novelty than a tragedy. Oh, and planes will be able to heal themselves mid-flight and save hundreds of lives. Dream big, baby.
There’s a thin line between science-fiction and fantasy. We now live in a time where they are starting to look similar. Remember Beauty and the Beast? Ever wish you had your own Cogsworth (most recently voiced by none other than Sir Ian McKellen), to make sure everything in your palace is running just right, and your supper is served just the way you like it?
According to Samsung Electronics CEO Boo-Keun Yoon, ‘it’s not science fiction. It’s science fact. Internet of Things will transform our economy, society, and how we live our lives.’
It’s a cold morning. You walk into your office. The lights wake up and tell the thermostat to warm the place up as quickly as possible. The coffee machine hears them and begins brewing a fresh pot. Your surround-sound speakers murmur Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles. It’s Tuesday so you are preparing for your 9am meeting with the Marketing department. Your desk gently reminds you that it is in fact, Wednesday, and you have an interview scheduled with an eager young software developer in about 20 minutes.
Welcome to 2017, where desks are smart and your workplace works for you. This is your new everyday.
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