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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Science Non-Fiction: Today’s Technology From Yesterday’s Imagination

Written by Kyle Slagley

On the way to work yesterday I heard a news story about Lenovo’s IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC. If you just re-read that sentence while simultaneously thinking or saying “Huh?” trust me, you’re not alone. Though not much was heard about this gadget when it was being developed, it’s basically a tablet computer that can be laid down on a tabletop and used by up to five people at the same time.

At 27 inches and a larger version on the way, the tablet is about the same size as a small flatscreen television. Since it’s able to handle multiple users at once, some bloggers are speculating that it may bring back the golden days when a family actually gathers around a table to interact together like real people, instead of texting “Plz pass the potatoes kthx :)”

As I listened to this news story, I realized it was yet another classic example of fictional-futuristic technology made real. I was reminded of a scene in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, when M, James, and M’s assistant Tanner use a large touchscreen table to discuss… well, spy stuff. While Quantum of Solace isn’t an old movie, it got me thinking about all the technology introduced in “old” sci-fi that has since become real, normal, everyday technology. Let’s explore some of these no-longer-futurist technologies, shall we?

The Internet – Let’s face it, you are addicted to the Internet. I, too, am addicted to the Internet. I Internet when I wake up, at work, at home, and in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. You’re Internetting right now! Believe it or not, this simultaneously sinister yet magical connective web of computing devices was once an idea that originated in science fiction. The novel that really detailed the Internet the way we know it today was Neuromancer by William Gibson. Gibson’s novel put the ‘cyberpunk’ sci-fi subgenre on the map in 1984 and was the first book to win the sci-fi “Triple Crown”: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award. Remember what computers were like in 1984? The Internet was a freaky-futurist idea back then.

Android robots – “Droids” have been a staple in sci-fi since before sci-fi was even a genre. Lost in Space, Star Wars, Star Trek, Fahrenheit 451, The Jetsons – droids in every single one of them. The book commonly credited with coining the word ‘android’ was published in 1886! Fast-forward to today, and the Defense Department is creating robots that can catch their balance and decide on their own whether to step on or around something. First, the decision whether to step over or around Mr. Whiskers; tomorrow, the world…

Indestructable metal (aka Adamantium) – X-Men is futurist in a lot of ways - mainly that whole mutated-genes-that-equal-superpowers thing. If you thought Wolverine’s indestructible claws were impossible, though, better think again. Modumetal, made by a company of the same name, is lighter and stronger than steel and as close to indestructible as we’ve got. I’ve read the explanation on the company website. It’s got a lot of big science-y words that I don’t understand, but let’s just say these guys are closer to Adamantium than ever. The weird thing about Modumetal? Parts aren’t manufactured, they’re “grown.”

Auto-drive cars – We saw this back in 2002 with Minority Report, and we saw it again in I, Robot: cars that drive themselves at high speeds on the freeway and take you exactly where you want to go. While we’re not exactly there yet, we do have cars that can parallel park themselves, cars that beep at you when you’re about to back into something, and cars that yell at you to wake up if you’re falling asleep at the wheel. Cars that actually do drive themselves are currently in testing. Cars that develop road rage are presumably the next step.


  1. “Our job is not to predict the future.Rather,it’s to suggest all the possible futures—so that society can make informed decisions about where we want to go.”-Robert J. Sawyer.


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