Science fiction, as a genre of entertainment, has been around for centuries, with one of the hallmarks of a sci-fi product being that it features far-out technologies. Often very useful or society-shattering, they may just go unexplained, but in each instance, they capture the imagination.
It’s theorized by The Guardian that sci-fi traces back to the anonymous 1616 publication of The Chymical Wedding as opposed to 1634’s Somnium by Johannes Kepler. If these are to be taken as having even the lightest of earliest inklings of what we’d call science fiction, it’s clear that creatives have been toying with future tech for centuries. Of course, this article by History notes that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is accredited by many as the world’s first sci-fi novel.
From novelizations soon came movies, and while most Reviews we produce here on UrbanAsian aren’t for science fiction movies, we must acknowledge that the genre is very popular around the world. The big screen has been able to capture what we’ve read about and given us a much more realistic visualization of what these incredible inventions can do. Now that we’re in 2022, closing in on the year that the Terminator traveled back in time, we can see some of these fictional inventions become a reality.
Way before Apple revealed its bit of wearable tech, comic strip writer Chester Gould had given his classic Dick Tracy police detective a wrist-worn, two-way radio. Put to paper in January 1946, it’s considered a precursor of wires, mobile phones, and, of course, the smartwatch. Launched in 2015 and now in Series 7, the Apple Watch answers phone calls just as the detective’s watch did. It does go a bit further, though, as it also measures blood oxygen and heart rate, and it can call emergency services. Eventually, Tracy’s watch developed a video call feature, much like in The Jetsons of the 1960s, so maybe Apple will officially integrate this feature in the next decade.
As sci-fi left this planet, the need for more technologically-advanced solutions became paramount to overcome the trials of humans. Few sci-fi products did this quite as much as Star Trek. In The Original Series, there were aliens aplenty, with the crew of the USS Enterprise needing to communicate with them. For this, they had the real-time Universal Translator communicator. It would scan brainwave frequencies to create the basis for translation. While modern technology doesn’t go so far as to scan brains, many companies are exploring translation tech. There are browser-integrated solutions like Google Translate, it’s the creation of Pocketalk’s compliant solutions that are getting us the closest to the Universal Translator. Their two-way translators offer 82-language translation, and Pocketalk Pair can do near real-time translation when video conferencing.
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In May 1918, Hugo Gernsback’s sci-fi magazine put forth an invention that would connect to the telephone and, to paraphrase greatly, perform video calls. The “Telephot” described here is now very much a reality, but without the need to plug into the phone line and only needing receive an internet signal. The Zoom call platform is probably the most popularized example of video calling now, although FaceTime is a bit more akin to the Telephot aesthetically. However, we’ve already outdone this sci-fi tech.
Using live streaming, not only can people see others around the world, but they can also play their games interactively from the comfort of their own homes, without having to frequent brick-and-mortar establishments. For example, players can opt to play the classic casino tables such as poker, baccarat, and roulette courtesy of established brands such as the Betway online casino. Even better, with the live casino gaming option, players get to play at tables like roulette and blackjack in real-time with professional croupiers to win real money, making it an interactive, two-way video call, rather than just being for conversations.
As we’ve often covered in our Urban Asian technology section, there are often revelations of great leaps in advancements that can or will make our lives easier, which is the aim of many sci-fi creations. Some of the more technically difficult devices, however, don’t serve much of a purpose, such as 3D holograms. Famously seen in Star Wars: A New Hope from 1977, creating moving 3D images out of light alone – let alone ones that are depictions of someone on the other side – are very out there for our modern capabilities. This hasn’t stopped inventors from coming close, though.
As CNET recently reported, Light Field Lab has developed SolidLight, which essentially aims to re-create things with light in the real world. They require some 2.5 billion pixels (4K TVs have 8.2 million) to achieve this on a 28-inch panel, with the pixels manipulating phases of light waves to create what looks like a hologram.
So many of the smaller devices created over the decades in science fiction have become a reality, so perhaps we’re not too far from some of the larger advances. The progress made with AI certainly hints at this.