Science fiction has long been a precursor to reality. Scientists by nature draw inspiration from the imagination of authors and other creative types. We set our goals to achieve flying cars and jetpacks or teleporters and tricorders. There are also instances of technology progressing beyond humanity’s control, and what better way to express these scenarios than through science fiction?
The brain is the most complex device in the Universe but many believe the day will come when a virtual copy of a brain will be able to be downloaded onto a computer and immortalized.
From ZDNET: Gartner Group’s newly released Hype Cycle for emerging technologies suggests it will take more than 10 years before brain-computer interfaces (BCI) go mainstream. As reported on sister site CNET, engineers at the University of Illinois demonstrated a tattoo-like “device platform” with electronic components for medical diagnostics. It’s essentially a patch so thin and durable that it can be mounted to skin much like a temporary tattoo.
A visionary in the world of science fiction, HG Wells, wrote one of his early novels (The World Set Free) about an invention that accelerated the process of radioactive decay, producing bombs which “exploded” for days on end. This novel later inspired Leo Szilard to theorize the nuclear chain reaction, leading to the atomic bomb. The featured article in a recent Wired magazine states, “Your Next Car Will Drive Itself”. No doubt Isaac Asimov would approve of our growing automaton culture, provided we instill a firm belief in the Three Laws of Robotics.
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Science fiction has the luxury of being able to extrapolate our current world into its most fantastical iterations.
Some of the best (and most scarf-based) science fiction stories and technological questions have been addressed in the BBC program Dr Who. The adventures of a time traveling alien in a blue phonebox, Dr Who channels a unique means of exploring many themes of technological misuse as he travels in both the past, and the future, in every episode.
One particular menace, the Cybermen–a sentient race of cyborgs that have replaced many of their organic parts with machinery, and are fond of using bluetooth headset style neural implants to “upgrade” organic lifeforms without emotions. I believe the Cybermen symbolize many people’s fears of technology spiraling out of our control, so much so that we confuse all our humanity in this mechanistic ideal.
Dr Who is listed in Guinness World Records as the longest-running science fiction television show in the world, and as the “most successful” science fiction series of all time, including iTunes traffic. It has been recognized for its imaginative stories, despite low-budget special effects, and pioneering use of electronic music (originally produced by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop). The show is a significant part of British popular culture and elsewhere it has become a cult television favorite. The show has influenced generations of British television professionals, many of whom grew up watching the series. It has received recognition from critics and the public as one of the finest British television programs, including the BAFTA Award for Best Drama Series in 2006, and five consecutive wins at the National Television Awards from 2005 to 2010, in the Drama category while under Russell T Davies’ reign as executive producer.
The first episode of Dr Who was overshadowed by the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, the previous day. The BBC re-aired it prior to the second episode the following Saturday.
With popularity came controversy over the show’s suitability for children. Morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse repeatedly complained to the BBC in the 1970’s over what she saw as the show’s frightening or gory content (images of murderous plastic dolls, daffodils killing unsuspecting victims, blank-featured policemen); however, the program became even more popular—especially with children.
A BBC audience research survey conducted in 1972 found that Doctor Who was the most violent of all the drama programs the corporation then produced. Responding to the findings of the survey in The Times newspaper, journalist Philip Howard maintained that: “to compare the violence of Dr Who, sired by a horse-laugh out of a nightmare, with the more realistic violence of other television series, where actors who look like human beings bleed paint that looks like blood, is like comparing Monopoly with the property market in London: both are fantasies, but one is meant to be taken seriously.”
The image of Dr Who’s time-travelling TARDIS (which has its own Wiki site) has become firmly linked to the show in the public’s consciousness. In 1996, the BBC applied for a trademark to use the TARDIS’ blue police box design in merchandising associated with Doctor Who. In 1998, the Metropolitan Police Authority filed an objection to the trademark claim; but in 2002, the Patent Office ruled in favor of the BBC.
Director Steven Spielberg has commented that, “the world would be a poorer place without Doctor Who.” Poorer yes, creatively and apparently commercially as well?
A company that is pushing humanity into the awaiting arms of our AI enhanced nanobot overlords is MakerBot Industries, creators of the Thing-o-Matic 3D printer and more recently unveiled at this years CES, the Replicator (named for the Star-Trek matter synthesizer). The Replicator is noteworthy because it is able to produce dual colors and has a larger printing bed than its plastic extruding predecessor the Thing-o-Matic.
Capable of creating nearly any imaginable shape in a build envelope that is 225 x145 x150 millimeters or 8.9 x 5.7 x 5.9 inches, these 3D printers can also reproduce a large number of its own parts, it’s easy to imagine an unending supply of MakerBot printers ceaselessly creating armies of Replicators. MakerBot’s machines are far from being able to fabricate complex self-assembling malevolent cyborgs, or print titanium dipped triple weave Kevlar, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not fantastical industrial or efficient producers.
The obvious advantage to this commercial future would be that no one would ever be without shower curtain rings or doorknobs or oddly formed geometric novelty gifts again. As we progress into a world where researchers can create artificial alveolus on microchips that mimic living tissue response, and we are able to control our televisions with gestures and (simplistically) our minds, we may be integrating with our machine brethren faster than we would like to think.
From The Huffington Post’s David Mielach: “While job opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions may be plentiful, many teenagers are unwilling to pursue a long-term career in these fields due to the challenges they present. According to a new study conducted by ASQ, students in sixth through twelfth grade felt that careers as doctors and engineers would offer the most job opportunities upon graduating from college, but 67 percent were unsure if they would pursue these careers, due to the numerous challenges they present.”
As for the Dr Who series, The word “TARDIS” is an entry in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And starting In 1983, coinciding with the series’ 20th anniversary, a charity special, The Five Doctors, was produced to aid Children in Need, a charitable program under the auspices of the BBC. The tradition continues regularly, during 2011 Children in Need, an exclusively-filmed segment showed the Doctor addressing the viewer, attempting to persuade them to purchase items of his clothing, which were going up for auction for Children in Need. This was followed by a trailer for the upcoming Christmas episode.