Science fiction is a genre like no other. It takes our reality as it is and imagines what possibilities the future might hold — time travel, parallel universes, teleportation, ray guns — they’re all part science, part imagination, and all fiction. Or are they?
Could these imaginings of the future actually be driving science forward? Absolutely. Science fiction writers have long inspired “real” science to catch up and create functioning, real-world versions of the technology found in their books, TV shows, and movies. For some writers, their visions of the future have literally become the technologies we all know and love today .
Here’s part 1 in the top 10 list of technologies that have made the leap from science fiction to science fact :
1. Facial Recognition/Personalized Ad Delivery
The Fiction: Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report is on the run and trying to blend into the crowd at a local mall. As he approaches a store, he is scanned and identified. Suddenly, the holographic salesperson calls him by name and has an exclusive offer just for him based on his likes and dislikes from past shopping experiences.
The Fact: It’s here. New York’s immersive labs recently introduced CARA, a powerful computer platform that can read a person’s face, determine that customer’s gender, age, etc., and instantly analyze that information to deliver targeted offers–all in real-time.
2. Self-Driving Cars
The Fiction: In i-Robot, Will Smith is a cop in the not too distant future who longs for simpler times before everybody had their own robot–and when people actually still drove their own cars. While being pursued by some “evil” robots, Will, in his typical, heroic fashion, simply switches his self-driving vehicle from ‘auto’ to ‘manual’ and takes the wheel–just like old times.
The Fact: Earlier this year, Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles gave Google the country’s very first license to test drive driverless cars on public streets. With an impressive laser radar array mounted on the roof and in the grill, the Google car detects pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles, creating a virtual buffer zone around any obstacles. The DMV stated that the self-driving car is “as safe–or perhaps safer–than a human.”
3. Interactive “Big Screen” Television
The Fiction: In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury envisioned a floor-to-ceiling interactive TV screen with programming personalized to the viewer .
The Fact: Samsung and Yahoo just signed a deal to provide interactive TV that will deliver content during your favorite shows and commercials. Imagine being able to order a product, get more information, or play a game that’s a spin-off from a TV show. Combine that content with the new Sharp TV that is 4 feet tall by 6 feet, 8 inches wide, and what was once only science fiction is now science fact.
4. Iron Man Armor
The Fiction: When billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark isn’t hobnobbing with the rich and famous, he dons his high-tech, flying suit of armor and fights bad guys as the unstoppable Iron Man.
The Fact: A Japanese company, Cyberdyne, has developed, and will soon mass market, Robot Suit Hal® (Hybrid Assistive Limb®). Through a series of sensors, the suit is not only able to mimic the wearer’s movements, but it also enhances their strength by ten times. And the flying part can’t be too far behind. Evildoers beware!
5. Cloaking Device/Invisibility
The Fiction: Whether you want to hide a Klingon Bird of Prey from the prying eyes of the Federation, or maybe just disappear for a while, there is nothing better than good old invisibility .
The Fact: In photothermal deflection experiments done at the University of Texas at Dallas, scientists have created a material that turns invisible. Basically, by using some carbon nanotubes, and a little electricity, they were able to bend light around the material to make it invisible.
What do you think — what technology really amazes or inspires you with all that is possible? Leave us a comment below, and stay tuned for part 2 of our list of top 10 technologies from science-fiction to science-fact.