Science fiction writers of years past have predicted tech inventions long before they existed, from tablets and cellphones to space ships and 3D printers. What’s the next futuristic idea on the brink of becoming a reality?
High-IQ geniuses and science fiction writers at the recent Comic-Con International in San Diego threw out their best guess for future tech that will soon be widely adopted.
The panel discussion included San Diego State University’s history professor John Putman, who happens to be an expert in “Star Trek.” He was joined by intellectual society Mensa members and writers Doug Ecks, Nevin Millan, Jenny Rankin and Ian Randal Strock.
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These science-fiction-inspired technologies are either on the brink of creation or already in early development. Panelists said they expect all could be widely adopted in the near future.
CGI-powered immersive experiences
Rankin thinks “Ready Player One” called it with its futuristic world of immersive, ultra-refined CGI, or computer-generated imagery. In the book (and later, the movie), “Ready Player One” characters have access to an expansive virtual reality universe loaded with sophisticated CGI. Lines blur between fantasy and reality as characters dive deep into immersive experiences. Rankin referenced the recent emergence of “deepfakes,” or AI-manipulated videos, as proof that the CGI technology is advancing rapidly.
“We’re already seeing videos where you look at a video of someone doing something, and that didn’t happen,” Rankin said.
Virtual reality video games are popular today, but Putman sees refined holographic technology gaining more traction in the future.
“VR is so big, but you’re limited by the mask you have to put on,” Putman said. “I think, at some point in the next 20 to 30 years, we’ll be able to at least have a full experience of holographic technology. Maybe not the physical touching you might see in ‘Star Trek,’ but something akin to that.”
Bio-mimicry is an approach to design and innovation that looks to the natural world for guidance. For example, architects might study the domes and internal structures of seashells to design the curves of bridges. The idea here is that biology has already sorted out energy-efficient and resource-efficient designs, and humans should take note.
“Bio-mimicking technologies are on the forefront now,” Millan said. “We’re going to start, hopefully, to work with nature more. Incorporating technology with that would be pretty cool.”
Exoskeletons in warfare
Tech-infused exoskeletons are already in development in the U.S. and foreign nations, both for medical applications and for military use. In warfare, the hope is that exoskeletons can improve the physical capabilities of soldiers, allowing them to run faster, lift heavier objects and relieve strain on the body during physical operations.
“Exoskeletons in military applications are something that are really starting to become a reality,” Millan said. “As well as for people who are paralyzed.”
Genetic modification, refined
Genetic modification is already at work in a variety of the sciences, from pharmaceuticals to agriculture. Whether it’s designer babies or life-altering drugs, Strock sees biology at the forefront of innovation.
“The thing I see coming next is biological sciences,” Strock said. “Genetic modification, preconception testing of biological organisms, and changing them.”
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It’s not that these technologies could never exist, but rather that consumers and governments will probably not embrace them, panelists said. As Rankin put it, the technology that proliferates is usually free of complicated legal hassles or infrastructural nightmares.
Robots are definitely a thing, but Putman was skeptical about how “smart” they will become.
“Obviously, the issue is sentience,” Putman said. “Can it ever be overcome? It can get data, but can it be sentient? I can’t imagine we’ll ever get to it. We might get close, but I don’t see us getting there.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever have a society with flying cars through the skies,” Millan said. “I just think it’s ridiculous to think everyone’s going to be able to pilot a car in the sky without crashing into each other. Maybe if they’re self-driven, I suppose it would be possible, but the security risks are insane. I mean the technology will exist, but I just don’t think it will be an integral part of society the way ‘Back to the Future 2’ shows it.”
Despite its use in sci-fi plots, cloning likely won’t gain popularity, Millan said.
“The technology is there, but do I really want to clone my dog?” Millan said.
Faster-than-light travel and time travel
“Within the realm of hard science fiction, we’ve always grandfathered in faster-than-light travel and time travel,” Strock said. “But … there is no rational way we can get to those based on science as we know it today. It breaks too many of the laws of physics.”