Yesterday's Science Fiction...
Updated: May 8
When I was young, my dream sci-fi gadget was a video phone.
Think Mel Brooks in "Spaceballs." (If you’re old enough.)
Now, there’s one on every second person’s wrist.
We even have a space industry now, not to mention artificial intelligence, so I do not see the trend slowing down any time soon.
If we do a quick survey of three classic science fiction story staples, it is intriguing to notice that these concepts, in the fiction column yesterday, are today, quite firmly, in the fact.
1. The ideas of exploring and colonizing space have been recurring themes in 20th century science fiction — names like H.G. Wells and Robert A. Heinlein. That legacy is today carried forward in the form of, for example:
Elon Musk's reusable rocket technology and ambitious plans for establishing a human colony on Mars,
asteroid-mining start-ups like AstroForge, who have two missions planned for 2023,
NASA's Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon by 2024 and lay the groundwork for sustainable lunar exploration
The 'Lunar Base,' once far-fetched, is now becoming a reality.
2. Iconic examples of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics in science fiction include everything from Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot" and Arthur C. Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey” to Alex Garland's more recent and compelling film "Ex Machina." While this technological emergence has been brewing for some time, on both the AI and robotics fronts, it has recently experienced a quantum leap forward. Machine learning algorithms have enabled breakthroughs in natural language processing, image recognition, and decision-making, with systems like OpenAI's ChatGPT being able to understand and generate human-like language. In addition, advances in robotics have led to the development of sophisticated machines, such as Boston Dynamics' Spot and Atlas robots, which are capable of performing various tasks while navigating complex environments.
We are now, quite literally, capable of building artificially intelligent robots. (In fact, if you own a self-driving car, you are already being driven around by one.)
3. Science fiction has also long explored the potential of biotechnology and genetic engineering, with works like Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" raising ethical and moral questions about the manipulation of life. These stories have fueled our curiosity about the potential to modify living organisms and even create new forms of life. Today, with Nobel Prize-winning techniques like CRISPR-Cas9 enabling precise gene-editing, genetic engineering has become a reality. In theory, we can now literally select our child’s eye color, or — far more importantly — cure many genetic diseases or deficiencies in ways that were not possible a few short years ago. And, as depicted in the remarkable documentary series "Unnatural Selection,” in ways that do not require us to be re-cloned from scratch.
We truly live in remarkable times.
It is fun to contemplate which science-fictional technology will next become a part of our every day lives, because one will. Or perhaps most will.
This also serves to underscore how important it is that we address and even change our approach to education where necessary, ensuring that it can meet this new paradigm and prepare our children to engage with it. (For more on that, see earlier posts: Education In An Age Of A.I., and its follow-up, An A.I.-Created Video Course For Educators.)
And if Elon does the brain implant thing, fuhgeddaboudit!