There are two types of people in this world; the type that thinks things basically stay the same and the type that thinks things are changing so fast that they can’t keep up. Whether or not they yearn for change or fear it further divides them. Let’s end the debate here and now – things change. Technology advances. In a very short span of time humanity has cultivated vegetables and fruits many times the size they were originally found in nature. The banana you’d find in the wild just a few generations ago, for example, was so small and seedy as to be virtually inedible. Only twenty years ago the idea that almost everyone would have little computers for phones would be laughable. But we do. And man, are bananas delicious!
From giant vegetables (as seen in Woody Allen’s The Sleeper) to iPads (which Star Trek The Next Generation called the PADD), science fiction has either inspired or predicted all of the cool technology we’ve got today and likely will have in the future. It only makes sense. Someone has to imagine a thing before it can be created. And not all of our imaginations are positive. In 1984 George Orwell imagined a world where all written words could be changed, effectively changing history. When digital media finally finishes off print, this bleak prediction will be within reach. If you’ve ever had a book remotely deleted from your ebook reader, you’ve already experienced a preview.
If there’s something you love from science fiction but don’t see on this list, don’t worry. There’s a solid chance that it will eventually become a reality, or that a team of engineers is at least working to try to make it real. If there is one power that nerds possess, it is the ability to get things done… with science!
While we don’t have transporter devices or time machines yet, we do have some pretty amazing gadgets that you can get your hand on if you happen to be a high ranking military officer or multimillionaire. So, even though you can’t yet jet off to Saturn on your own personal rocket you can – late next year – take off in your own flying car. Yup, that’s right. Here are a few fantastic devices straight out of sci-fi.
As Seen In: Star Trek
Taser, the closest thing we have to the effect of a phaser, is named after a Science Fiction story. It’s true: Taser stands for Thomas A. Swifts Electric Rifle. But a taser, as much as it mimics the effects of a phaser set to stun, isn’t a true ray gun. But dazzlers are.
A dazzler is an optical-beam weapon designed to temporarily blind an enemy. There are a ton of different models. Some fit on vehicles, some on assault rifle mounts just like a grenade launcher, and some are shotgun sized weapons in their own right. The most effective work at all ranges and not only blind anyone who refuses to look away, but cause disorientation and even nausea! Now that’s a less-than-lethal weapon you can really get behind. But there are even cooler real life ray guns, although they are decidedly less pleasant.
Real life ray guns are unimaginatively called directed energy weapons and they … are weapons. That direct energy. One example is the Active Denial System used in riot control. It’s a microwave weapon that heats up a human much like the microwave in your kitchen heats up a burrito. Only much more painfully. Supposedly it does no lasting damage, but no long term studies have been conducted. And, frankly, why would we want to know? It’s much nicer than gunning someone down.
What does the future hold? Well, a company known as Applied Energetics once showed the US Military a gun that sends electricity down a path through the air forged by a laser. Essentially, it’s a giant, long-range, wireless taser. How strong is it? Strong enough remotely detonate IEDs. The future version is alleged to be strong enough to kill or incapacitate humans.
4: Flying Cars
As Seen In: The Fifth Element
Ever since the first generation of science fiction novellas we’ve lusted after the flying car. It’s a sci-fi staple as basic and ubiquitous as tasty and satisfying health food. The difference is, though, the flying car actually exists! And not just one, but a couple of different models.
The earliest flying car was essentially a single-engine aircraft with fold-away wings that could drive on roads just like a regular car. It was kind of futuristic for its time, but nothing to write home about. Then came the Moller designs, prototypes all, and man are they sexy. They look like a flying car should: Like something you’d fly to your penthouse suite at the top of one of the world’s tallest buildings. Like they might dock with a space station. Sadly, none ever made it out of the prototype faze or achieved more than ground-effect flight. But wait, what’s this?
The Terrafugia TF-X is coming in 2015 to save the day! The TF-X, or Transition, has already completed test flights and is completely street legal. Legally it can only fly from airport to airport, but that’s just fine. Imagine all the money you can save on car rentals.
3: Droids (Drones, Emotional Robots, ROOMBA)
As Seen In: Star Wars
We don’t have actual smart robot droids with emotions and personalities just yet, but we have pretty much all the ingredients. And we have some close approximations. First, consider unmanned ground and air vehicles. They roam around on their own, either because they are cut off from remote control or because they are designed to.
Thanks to awesome-and-creepy Boston Dynamics, we have humanoid robots that can balance and navigate. From Vanderbilt University comes a robot that can detect emotions. From the University of Hertfordshire comes Nao, a robot that can sense, develop and express emotions. We’ve long had artificial intelligence that can solve complex riddles, like where a criminal keeps his lair, how to play Jeopardy most efficiently, or that can beat grandmasters at chess.
Put all that together and what do we have? A humanoid robot that can navigate automatically, communicate, understand and express emotion and think almost as well as a human. Basically, we’ve got C3PO. If we’re lucky. If not, we’ve got terminators. More than likely we’ll have both.
All of these technologies are still in development. Nao only mimics the emotional capacity of a 1 year old human and the best auto-navigating robots are still worse than rats in a maze. But have a look at your Roomba as it whirrs along, avoiding walls and sucking up lint – that’s the consumer product of iRobot, an advanced technology company that also makes military and police bots. The invasion has already begun!
2: Jet Packs
As Seen In: Thunderball
These aren’t the regular old jetpacks that astronauts use to navigate outside the space station; These are full-on, fly-me-around-on-earth, personal transportation devices. You may find this hard to believe, but as early 1958 people have been flying around on actual rocket and jet packs. You may call BS, but a quick Google will show the truth. Personal flight devices exist and you can even own one yourself. So why don’t we all have these? The sad truth is, they’re just not all that practical.
Despite a lot of military interest over the years, and the consistent appeal of the concept to anyone who regrets not being born with wings, there just isn’t a version of the Small Rocket Lift Device, as the US military calls it, that can provide enough flight time to make it anything more than an interesting side act or momentary adventure. Add the fact that it would be a regulatory nightmare for the FAA, a ridiculous hazard for people who have enough trouble controlling the automobiles, the ability it would give anyone to drop explosives – not to mention the high cost of rocket fuel – and, well, it’s unlikely we’ll be using these instead of the elevator in our high-rises anytime soon. But, man, the YouTube gold!
Don’t despair, by the way. You probably can’t get your hands on a real jet pack but you may be able to afford the water jet pack from X-JETPACKS. If you have a spare $10,ooo lying around you can use it to go flying for a few hours at a time, albeit tethered to a buoy.
1: Impossible Hybrid Animals
As Seen In: The Island of Dr Moreau
Long before Dr. Evil was plotting to arm sharks with fricken’ lasers, there was Dr. Moreau, who made it his mission to play god. How did he do it? He contrived horrific surgeries to make animals into humans, as best he could. Well, we’re not doing that. Hopefully. But what we are doing is making… glow in the dark cats. Goats that make spider silk instead of milk. Cockroaches implanted fricken’ microchips that turn them into remote control devices. Yes, humanity, things have gotten really, really weird around the lab. Science has just gone full voodoo.
Now, remote control bugs could be absolutely amazing for search and rescue operations or espionage. Being able to mass produce spider silk – one of the strongest and flexible materials available – could be useful to the textile and defense industries. But glow in the dark cats? I really don’t buy the South Korean scientists’ explanation about being able to do human viral testing on cats by virtue of their luminosity. More likely they just wanted to make the most adorable night lights ever. Joke’s on them, though – how are they expected to sleep when a glow in the dark cat gets hungry?
For better or worse, the ability to alter animals to suit our needs is a giant leap forward in our never-ending quest to conquer nature. The opportunities to change our world are nearly boundless. Did you know there is a laser sentry gun that automatically, and exclusively, targets and eliminates mosquitoes? It’s true. Bill Gates funded it. But who can afford to install and power the thing? Now imagine if we were able to encode the genetic predisposition to hunt and eat mosquitoes exclusively into a populous bird or fish – malarial insects wouldn’t stand a chance.
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