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But you promised! Tech from the world of sci-fi that we’re still waiting for

#2018 Year-End Special: Where’s my spacesuit? Are flying cars here yet? A look at innovations pop culture promised but science and tech have yet to deliver.

more lifestyle Updated: Dec 29, 2018 20:05 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
Pop-culture,Blade Runner,Metropolis
Machines in Passengers produced meals at the press of a button. She doesn’t look happy, but at least she doesn’t have to cook.

To see the future, just look at the past. Films and TV shows have been imagining mankind’s tomorrow since 1927, when Fritz Lang directed Metropolis, set 100 years ahead of his time. Along the way, the future has been rosy (Star Trek), shiny (Blade Runner), ridiculous (The Fifth Element), unrecognisable (Planet of the Apes) and unnecessarily blue (Avatar).

Some of those imaginings have come true. We have touchscreen tablets from the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The video phones and smart vacuums from The Jetsons are no longer the stuff of fantasy. We’re growing spare limbs, even meat in labs. We just heard the breeze on Mars! So what’s left? Plenty, it turns out.

Flying cars

As seen in: The Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, The Jetsons

We’ve been promised these air-road transport hybrids since Henry Ford predicted the future of automobile in the 1940s. The on-screen versions promised us helicopter-style take-off and landing. They showed people whizzing across the sky. They imagined a world without parking problems, or traffic jams. At present, Uber and Google are working out ways to create electric passenger drones (and of course working out whether it will need a pilot’s licence). So far, nothing’s taken off!

Food from thin air

As seen in: Star Trek, The Fifth Element, Passengers

Star Trek’s Replicator could produce anything. The Fifth Element’s microwave made a whole roast chicken from a little pellet. The Jetsons had that magic vending machine. And machines in Passengers produced meals at the press of a button. Meanwhile, we’ve had reports of very unappetizing lab-grown meat, 3-D printed food that’s seems even less so, and no idea what’s happened to our Swiggy order.

Will Smith could make your forget, in Men in Black. All these years later, and we can’t even delete Facebook properly.

Memory erasers and implanters

As seen in: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Total Recall, Inception, Men in Black, Maniac

Imagine being able to forget something, or being able to fix an idea in someone’s head. Memory research still overwhelmingly focuses on boosting our memory and increase the capacity of how much we can recall. In 2014 neuroscientists said they had managed to give a lab rat a false memory. This year, a study funded by the US military claimed to have successfully created a “prosthetic memory”, a chip-like expansion pack for what the short-term mind can hold. But what of the stuff we have in our heads but wish to be rid of? Forget mind-wiping and selective amnesia, we can’t even delete Facebook properly.

Self-lacing sneakers

As seen in: Back to the Future II

Sorry Nike, your prototypes, all of them, are neither efficient nor accessible.

Would a point-of-view gun finally bring about world peace, or just cause more chaos? It doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t exist.

Point-of-View Gun

As seen in: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Aim the gun at someone and they immediately see things from your point of view. It would put an end to actual gun use, perhaps. But then everyone would want these guns and chaos could ensue.

Medical pods and robot docs

As seen in: Prometheus, Elysium

No hospitals. No nurses. No ward boys and having someone clean your bedpan. The movies offer us hope with capsules that fix all ailments and injuries. And robotic arms that automatically know where to cut, sew, mend and repair. Modern medicine has saved lives in ways no one thought possible. Perhaps we’ll see these in our lifetimes yet.

First Published: Dec 29, 2018 20:05 IST