Although fantastical gadgets are now ubiquitous in our lives, sometimes we can’t help thinking that we’ve been cheated when we look back on various films and books that once glanced into the future, predicting the kind of technology the average sci-fi fan can still only dream of. In the 21st century, personal technology has reached a point where everything is qualified by “smart” – a smart car, smart phone, smart watch and yes, even a smart microwave. Yet, some of the most exciting potential technological reforms that imaginative minds predicted for the millenium are still absent.
“Where’s my flying car” has become the catchphrase for technologies that we thought would shape our future, but for one reason or another have either failed to materialize or have proved impossible to create, at least with current technological knowledge.
It’s not all bad – anyone who has ever read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949) will be glad that his dystopian vision of the future didn’t come to pass, with Big Brother becoming a disturbingly voyeuristic but tedious reality show rather than a disturbingly sinister authoritarian power. Indeed, we often look to that same novel to remind ourselves of the potential dangers of allowing omniscience among organisations like the NSA. Sure, we’re grateful we’re not the subjects of an evil overlord curious about our bathroom habits really, but we’re less content about the absence of real X-Ray Specs, mass transit by pneumatic tube or clothes made from edible substances.
Of course, some futuristic-sounding inventions would be useless, with powdered water in a packet the jokey creation emblematic of pointless technology. But who cpuld say no to self-lacing shoes as worn by Marty McFly in the fictional 2015 of Back to the Future II? That film was released in 1989; however, it seems that by actual 2015, 26 years later, Nike may be tempted to feature power lacing with some of its shoes.
But power laces are just the tip of the iceberg. The technologies featured on this list have already appeared in films and television shows thanks to clever digital animation and the vivid imaginations of science-fiction writers, but none of them have become a reality – yet. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before these technologies become a part of our everyday lives?
10. Where’s my: raygun?
How many times have you watched any Star Wars film and thought how cool it would be to wield a raygun against your mortal enemies (legally, of course)? Rayguns are the stereotypical tech found in science fiction which shoot killer rays (usually some sort of deadly radiation) at enemies, and they immediately inform the reader/viewer that this is either the future, or some other part of the universe. Let’s not forget that Star Wars was “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” so Earth has some catching up to do. In the current era, we have directed-energy weapons development, but still not quite the same as Han Solo sprinting around a Death Star with a blaster hanging by his leg.
9. Where’s my: robot maid/robot butler?
Household chores never seem to end, and although boffins throughout the years have tried to improve the quality of our lives by creating gadgets to speed up the cleaning process, there are still many of us that find pushing around even the most advanced vacuum cleaner to be the height of tedium. What happened to the robot maids and butlers that would take over these chores, thus giving us more time to play Minecraft? Ever since 1985’s Rocky IV (Paulie’s Robot) or even further back with The Jetsons (Rosie the maid) we have dreamed of domesticated robots wielding the feather duster. Sadly, the current status is that you can find a robot to vacuum the carpet, mow the lawn or clean the pool, but not one that can multitask and mix a good Martini.
8. Where’s my: automated medical bed?
Automated medical beds or surgical tables feature frequently in science fiction, with integral parts in recent films such as 2012’s Prometheus and 2013’s Elysium. These almost magical beds can cure diseases and perform complex surgical procedures. In the case of 1997’s The Fifth Element they can even reconstruct perfect alien women from just a severed hand. But this type of technology is far out of science’s current means; for example, the beds in Elysium (based in 2154) can cure cancer, whereas in reality the search for this all-important umbrella cure is still an ongoing medical challenge. But robotic surgery is already here, assisting in a variety of procedures where a human surgeon’s fingers just cannot reach.
7. Where’s my: Smell-O-Vision?
As humans, we like to have our senses entertained in numerous ways. Television may have the power to entertain our eyes and our ears, but what about our noses? Further to that, why not go beyond Smell-O-Vision and incorporate something that we could taste…or even touch? In 1960, the film Scent of Mystery introduced the world to Smell-O-Vision. Odors were released into the audience to correspond with the film’s storyline, such as the smell of grapes (fortunately for patrons, the film was not set in a male locker room…). The fad did not catch on. There was a time when 3-D for films was considered to be a similar mere fad that would never take off, however, and now it’s ubiquitous. Can we imagine a day when an advert for Pizza Hut ends in a tiny slice being delivered by the television itself?
6. Where’s my: lightsaber?
Curse you George Lucas! For years kids were satisfied playing with plastic swords, pretending to be Zorro or Robin Hood. But then Lucas decided to add some fluorescent paint and cool sound effects to his fighting implement and the whole world suddenly wanted one. Unfortunately, the closest you can get to a real one is by downloading one of the numerous sound effect apps for your smartphone and then waving it wildly at a friend. Lightsabers are impossible (at least, for the moment) examples of technology; aside from the issues of a light that cuts things, there’s the scientific impossibility of limiting light to a finite, self-contained cylinder.
5. Where’s my: hoverboard?
And curse you, Marty McFly! Yet another example of an awesome piece of film technology that we still haven’t gotten our hands – or feet – on. The extent to which this gadget has captured the universal imagination is almost incredible, and is testament to how rich the inventor of a genuine working hoverboard would end up becoming. The problem to solve is: How did it actually levitate? The good news is, unlike lightsabers, hoverboards are not necessarily impossible tech. Inventors have used leaf blowers, hovercraft technology and magnets to make boards hover. However, Back to the Future II is set in 2015, so we might end up being a few decades behind.
4. Where’s my: teleportation machine?
Star Trek is full of interesting technology, with the transporter being one of the most important. Used frequently in moments of emergency, is it too hard to believe that Kirk used it now and again when late for a date? Millions of us face a soul-draining commute to work every day; a teleportation machine would eradicate that problem. So when can we expect to hop in one? Teleportation is still considered theoretical, but there have been comments made in the scientific community that this technology could start coming into practice in the next century or so.
3. Where’s my: hologram projector?
Science fiction loves holograms. Star Trek has a holodeck, Arnold Schwarzenegger pretended to be a hologram in Total Recall to fool his enemies, and holograms were used in Star Wars as a method of communication. Holograms have been around for a while, with early examples being created in the 1960s. Many passports contain holograms, as do banknotes and credit cards…but that’s not quite the same as having your mom call you and seeing a miniature version of your beloved parent pacing up and down your computer desk asking if you had been eating properly. This is another technology we can be a bit excited about, as holographic televisions could start appearing within a decade, thanks to MIT’s Media Lab.
2. Where’s my: meal in a pill?
It would be handy to be able to carry a full day’s meals around with us in a pocket-sized container. No more dishes to wash, no more pushing cold sprouts to the side. When TV dinners started appearing in the 1950s it seemed to be a giant step toward meals in pill form. However, the popularity of TV dinners has waned, with significant backlash focused on problems of flavor and nutrition. Whilst a meal in a pill could be useful for soldiers on operation, astronauts, or even with fighting famine, there is no way they can replace the necessary physiological and psychological satisfaction of dining, which demands each morsel to be properly chewed and tasted before swallowed.
1. Where’s my: flying car?
Flying cars are the epitome of futuristic technology that we thought we might have by now… but don’t. Futurists of the early 20th century were constantly wowing their readers by describing the next century with skies buzzing with soaring taxis and aerial traffic jams. But although efforts have been made to build roadable aircraft (the serious name for “flying car”) it seems the current best effort is the admittedly impressive-looking Terrafugia Transition, which can cruise in the air at 93 knots or zip around highways at 70 mph. At a cost of $279,000 it is accessible to the wealthy amongst us and a good step toward the cars that litter the airways of New York City in 2263 (The Fifth Element). But the Transition still has those pesky wings…