Our Sci-Fi Future, Silly or Terrifying?
The future is upon us and modern technological developments are now strikingly similar to the science fiction of the past. While we aren’t living in domed cities with flying cars, we’ve got buildings that reach for the heavens, drones delivering our packages, and self-driving cars are just over the horizon. The media often likes to compare new advancements in technology to the works of like The Jetsons, Star Trek, and some 1980’s and 1990’s Cyberpunk, because in many cases the new technology is a fairly easy comparison.
Flying cars, flat panel TVs, and video phones often are compared to The Jetsons, yet all of these innovations were envisioned decades before the TV show hit the airwaves.
In 1933, H.G. Wells speculated we might have small personal aircraft in his work “The Shape of Things to Come” – and we’re not much closer to having them now than we were then. Flat panel TVs were already in development in the early 1960s (around the same time the show was on the air) but were envisioned much earlier. The concept of video telephony initially became popular in the late 1870’s and Nazi Germany developed a working system in the 1930’s.
Star Trek is another show that’s dragged out for constant comparisons, this time whenever anything vaguely resembles its holographic or replicator technology.
Where a modern 3D printer is “replicating” the shape of an item, A Star Trek replicator was recreating an item on a molecular level. Try eating a 3D printed apple! While German scientists have created a system of scanning an object and recreating it elsewhere, they’re not really “beaming it” anywhere, but are basically combing a fax machine with a 3D printer.
Cyberpunk tales are typically set in worlds where corporations control innovation, launch satellites to connect the world to spread information, and maintain private armies. That vision is much closer to our reality. There are now giant corporations that literally control how we access the Internet. We already have private citizens like Elon Musk who is a billionaire with a private space program, who also is developing new ways to harness solar power.
The point is, that perhaps it is too easy to see today’s world as our old entertainment and ignore the fact that much of what The Jetsons “predicted” was completely wrong. We (sadly) don’t ever expect to see a flying car that can fold up into a briefcase. Likewise, teleportation and warp speed likely will remain just part of the Star Trek mythos.
Perhaps when it comes to the darker side of science fiction, we should be cautious and alert about where we may be headed, and should regard it as a portent of what to avoid – not a future we should embrace.