Every science invention was once a dream or an idea. Inventors that saw far ahead of their time were so-called ‘lunatics’ and their ideas were thought to be impossible. In science fiction (sci-fi) however, these ideas were generally welcomed. Perhaps, it was because there were many more years to accomplish them, or they represented a distant but alluring future. Whatever the reason, we love science fiction. For instance, in the list of highest-grossing films, sci-fi leads the list by having four movies in the top five.
The future technologies in sci-fi don’t only lure us in to watch, but inspire scientists as well. Many technologies we now have were once the idea of a writer of a book, a scriptwriter, or a cartoonist. Nowadays, we see the future technologies in sci-fi blooming and I believe one day, they will go out of scientists’ research laboratories and come into our homes. That day may come sooner than you expect for some of the technology. Here are some of my personal favourites of future technologies that were once the subject of sci-fi but now are research areas for scientists.
1-) Robotic Maids
As a kid, The Jetsons was one of my favourite cartoon shows to watch. Flying cars, pushing a button and getting the food you like, a robotic arm doing your makeup and hair… Now when I think about it, the thing I wanted most from the show was Rosey, the robotic maid. Rosey was the head of the household and she’d do most of the work.
With our time being so precious and our tasks getting bigger, as humans, we want to spend less time doing chores and more time doing other things. A company called Aeolus Robotics unveiled an unnamed robot earlier in 2018. The child-sized robot can do many tasks such as mopping, picking stuff up from the ground, or putting dishes away. It can even make your coffee if you command it to by text or voice command.
Likewise, computer scientists from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the University of Toronto demonstrated a system called “VirtualHome“, which can simulate detailed household tasks and then have artificial “agents” execute them. Different from humans, robots need detailed instructions to execute an action. If we want coffee, for example, grabbing the cup should be taught to a robot as well. Scientists translated the necessary verbal descriptions to simple codes and then created programs for our commands such as making coffee.
2-) Instantaneous Learning
The famous scene from The Matrix. Neo uploads a kung-fu program to his brain and masters the martial art in seconds. When I watched the movie, I never thought this would be a technology happening anytime soon. Nonetheless, Elon Musk’s recently launched company Neuralink promises that possibility. The company’s brain implants are designed firstly to treat patients with cervical fractures and neurological disorders.
The aim is that the implants will allow them to restore somewhat normal function. In the long term, they will be used to enhance the capability, or enable artificial intelligence to enhance our brain. Neuralink will be used to eradicate barriers of speed while providing instantaneous, seamless access to a vast amount of knowledge, processing power, and even sensory experience.
3-) Invisibility Cloak
Many of us watched Harry Potter and admired the invisibility cloak. Metamaterials (combination of the Greek word meta meaning “beyond” and the Latin word materia, meaning “matter” or “material”) can be described as “artificially structured materials, used for controlling and molding the flow of electromagnetic waves or any other type of physical waves”. By metamaterials, scientists can control mechanical and electromagnetic waves.
For instance, engineer José Azaña and his team developed a spectral cloaking device that can make objects invisible in daylight. The device, called an optical filter, manipulates the various frequencies of visible light. Simply put, the device shifts the frequency of light to another as the light passes through the subject. When it is passed, the frequency is turned back to its former state. By doing so, the light passes through the object, but does not engage with it at all, making the object invisible to the observer.
4-) 3D Holograms
Minority Report, Batman, Total Recall, Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars, and many other movies have used scenes including holograms. It is a fascinating technology and can change the way we see things. A hologram is a “real-world recording of an interference pattern which uses diffraction to reproduce a 3D light field, resulting in an image which still has the depth, parallax, and other properties of the original scene”.
Holography still has some ways to go, however, there is some promising news from scientists. For instance, at Brigham Young University, researchers have demonstrated technology involving clear, realistic 3D holograms being projected into thin air.
“Our technology uses a tractor beam to capture a tiny particle of paper,” Daniel Smalley, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, told Digital Trends. “That particle is then dragged around and illuminated by red, green, and blue lasers to make points. The primary difference is that when you look at an image point in our display you’re looking at a material object.”
Teleportation is one of the cornerstones of sci-fi. Who doesn’t want the ability to travel in seconds to meet their friends and loved ones without getting into traffic? Well, we still have a lot of time before that happens. The way we imagine teleportation of a person currently involves breaking down an object or a person into its atoms, transferring them to another location, and then rebuilding those atoms in the new location.
In quantum mechanics, teleportation has a very different meaning. Jerome Luine, principal scientist and quantum sensing and metrology research lead at Northrop Grumman Next Basic Research, explained, “Quantum teleportation is the transfer of the quantum state of some quantum object (photon, atom, molecule, etc.) to another without alteration.”
Still, there are remarkable advances being made from quantum physicists. Austrian and Chinese scientists have succeeded in teleporting three-dimensional quantum states for the first time. In their study, the researchers teleported the quantum state of one photon (light particle) to another distant one.
6-) Earbuds That Translate Language
One day learning new languages might be unnecessary. Times such as taking a Spanish exam and you had no idea what the paragraph meant or the time you forgot the conjugation of verbs in Italian may be obsolete in the future. Waverly Labs’s product, named Pilot, is a set of earbuds that can translate 15 languages (and 42 dialects). You can share one earbud to carry a conversation as well. Furthermore, Google Translate’s AI has taught itself a new ‘language’ that enables it to translate between language pairs it wasn’t taught to. For example, if it has been taught to translate from French and English and Italian and English, it can now translate between French and Italian directly.
Future technologies are as vast as our imagination. If we can imagine it, then one day we can do it.