Saturday 9 August 2014

When did Sci-fi become Sci-Fact?

With the British Government announcing there are going to be trials of driverless cars on UK roads, gasps of horror were heard from various quarters and hands were raised in despair.  But what is so unusual about the idea of driverless cars? We have seen them in futuristic films.
    This made me think about all the things, or at least some of the things, that have turned from fiction to reality over the years.
    H G Wells and Jules Verne are surely the first writers of science fiction, certainly the first I know about. We now know more about science and the universe than they did. Men have actually walked on the moon and did not find anyone or anything living there. We now have deep sea vessels that can explore beneath the waves although much of the ocean remains a mystery. But what about other predictions, not only in science but in the human condition.
    1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 495 –  These books looked into a future to consider the politics and social change. All of which are important and worthy of comment – but not here.
Let’s look at the gadgets. 
  • Communicators in Star Trek; we now call them mobile phones, or cell phones. 
  • Tapping a badge on your chest to talk to someone; Bluetooth devices. 
  • Scanners; your mobile phone now has picture quality that could easily transmit a scan of the area you are in back to base. 
  • Replicators; 3D printers are now being developed to such an extent they may soon replace many manufacturing processes. 
  • We haven’t quite got stun guns yet, at least not that we know to, but we do have Tasers. Work out how to shoot a charge without the wires and I’m sure stun guns will soon be available.
  • Babylon 5 had little crystal devices that were plugged into computers and monitors and stored or retrieved data. Never, I thought when I first saw this. Anyone NOT got at least one USB memory stick in their office? 
  • Flatscreen TVs, once an idea of fiction, now is most homes in the UK I should think.
  • Cameras that can spy on what you are doing in your own home; CCTV, interactive television and computers. Who do you think is monitoring you when you use these devices?
  • Touchscreen devices, from mobile phones to computers. I won’t even look at a gadget I can’t poke and swipe.

    I doubt if there is one household in the western world that does not have at least one gadget that seemed like science fiction fifty years ago. The very first computer I operated had a massive 32 megabyte memory, took up a whole air-conditioned room and had to be fed with punched paper tape. Now I’m sitting with a machine on my lap which is phenomenally more powerful. If I could use the TARDIS to take it back to my old computer room the people there would not believe what I have is possible.
    The days of I, Robot are getting much closer than they used to be. Someone needs to come up with something for us humans to do before we are made totally redundant. 
    Bearing in mind most inventions are designed for the military before they reach the public, it might not come as a surprise that driverless cars, or at least jeeps, have already been used quite successfully. We already have cars that can park themselves; cars that will stop you getting too close to the one in front. So why not driverless cars on the roads. It will be interesting to see the test results and compare the safety record of those against cars driven by people. Lots of drivers won’t like having control taken away from them but they need not worry. By the time driverless cars are universal, those people will probably be long gone.
    What do you think?
    What will be the thing of the future?
    Is there anything left for sci-fi writers to come up with?
    Is it just technology that is changing, or is society changing too?
    And what will people do when machines do everything for us?

Please leave your thoughts below.

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