When Fantasy Met Technology


Since Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World of 1931, audiences have been given glimpses of technologies that will facilitate/control the lives of humans at some unspecified point in the future. However, until 2020, apart from the arrival of the Internet of Things, not too much changed in terms of tech encroaching into our lives. Then suddenly, we were catapulted into the new normal, and now almost every aspect of our existence looks set to have some kind of AI incorporated into it.

Whether it’s a case of life copying art, or vice versa, it’s hard to say, but it’s surprising just how many of those odd, but undeniably useful, gadgets featured in books and films over the past decades are poised to move in with us. From healthcare to transport, AI is either now already in use, or will be in the near future.  

Smart Homes​​

Various films have featured the kind of homes where new world technological changes mean that housework takes care of itself, and even the onerous chore of turning on your air-conditioning is dealt with by willing and compliant tech. Luc Besson’s skip down future lane in 1997 in Fifth Element featured numerous ingenious home gadgets which almost stole the show. Among other things, Bruce Willis’s home had automated ventilation, air-conditioning, heating, security, and even pet control. 

Some of these automated features have started to appear in our homes over the last five years, others are still on the way. One of the main competitors in the home automation market is, predictably, Google. The company now has a Smart Home Platform into which Smart Home Devices, such as security cameras, air-conditioning, heating, lighting and kitchen appliances can be connected into a fully automated system and controlled via your Google account.

Biometric id scan

The sci-fi industry’s obsession with opening doors with some kind of body part recognition system started with the Star Trek TV series, way back in 1966.  Fingerprinting gradually lost out to biometric scanning, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) is one of several films that focuses on iris recognition as the way to go for ID.  

Now, most airports, and some high security buildings, routinely use iris scanners as an additional security measure. The next phase of biometric ID is tabled for later this year when several countries aim to implement electronic health passports which, we are told, will eventually incorporate all our health and personal data onto one app. It will also play a part in shaping future retail technologies, as the app will double-up as our digital wallet for making cashless in-store purchases.

Driverless Cars

Once upon a time in the 20th century, when it was normal for cars to have manual transmission, one of the main motives for owning a car was to drive it. Now, however, the concept of driverless cars is becoming increasingly popular. Since the 1960s, various films have featured driverless cars, but possibly the most practical in design are the fully automated cars in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002).   

Several countries have been operating unmanned tram or metro services for some years. As a further step down the automated road, driverless cars are forecast to be in widespread use by 2025. Driverless taxis are already touting for business in China, and also in Arizona, USA, where they are provided by Waymo One, owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Dubai is one of the first countries to wholeheartedly embrace driverless and has stated its aim of shifting to 25% automated vehicle use by 2030, this is to include cars, taxis and mass transit public transport vehicles.  

Artificial Intelligence Assistants

Cheerful, ever-ready and willing helpers are soon to be part of our homes and work lives. Back to Besson’s Fifth Element (1997) where in addition to all his smart home gadgets, the hero had yet more help from his voice controlled AI personal assistant.  

AI assistants for the home, known as social robots, are already available on the market. These cute looking robots are able to get to know their family, so that they can perform tasks specific to each family member. This might be helping the kids with homework, assisting the mother with aspects of home management or providing personal assistant type support. Robots are also currently in use as an invaluable support tool in several sectors, including retail and banking, and they have been in use in the healthcare industry for some time to assist doctors during surgical procedures. Forecast to be released on to the market soon are AI nurses, which will be able to perform some of the tasks that are currently done manually, most notably basic vital signs checks.

Brain Implants

Following on from demonic possession, various films have been released over the years that feature some aspect of AI brain control. In Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade (2018), in a slightly more believable storyline, a brain implant helps the main character to overcome paralysis. This coincidentally is the stated aim of Elon Musk’s controversial Neuralink technology.   

Musk believes that the implant will be able to cure sensory disabilities, such as blindness and deafness, as well as paralysis and other physical impairments. He considers that these are among the first applications for which the implant could be used, and is intending to develop it further for future use in human enhancement, also known as transhumanism.

Living with Technology

It’s clear that we have entered a new normal and a period where we will see significant technological development in many sectors. Future technologies will quite possibly change our world in ways that it’s hard to even begin to imagine. What was considered pure fantasy just a few years ago, is now part of our lives, or will be very soon. Some of the ideas being put forward are no longer as shocking as they would have seemed even two years ago. Green initiatives, 5G, transhumanism and digital currencies all seem likely to play a part in shaping our world in the future, and it is being indicated that areas such as healthcare, transport, finance and retail will see some of the biggest developments.

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