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Things We Invented that Science Fiction Failed to Predict
Introduction: It's awesome living in the future
You may not think you are, but you most certainly are. Much of the science fiction world has already come and gone in the actual timeframe of those stories. We have to consider the scant amount of time that written language has even been around, let alone used to write spiffy stories about robots and spaceships and stuff. For that matter, much of human history for many 1000's of years never looked forward any further than the next invention of better metals, or portable fire, or more usually, how not to be eaten by larger animals.
So our science fiction writers usually figured that a few decades to a few hundred years or so into the future would be sufficient. And here we are living at a time that has well surpassed much beloved science fiction.
We were supposed to have biplanes flying through the city. But we don't have that. The idea of the future from the standpoint of the late 40's seemed sensible and fantastic when George Orwell wrote 1984. But it was laughably absurd when the year 1984 actually came around. We all had a hearty chuckle at how things did not, in fact, go all dystopian. Although, we DO have a bit of a "Big Brother" situation thanks to video cameras everywhere.
The same thing happened when Back to the Future 2 went to the year 2015. When 2015 actually arrived, more than few internet articles showed side by side comparison of things they actually predicted correctly. They predicted things like flat screen TV's and advertisements everywhere. But no, you cannot have a hoverboard. Not gonna happen. You may get some self-tying Nike's if you feel like paying for them.
2001 a Space Odyssey... Oh man, we really, REALLY missed out on that one! We were supposed to have space ships that could explore Jupiter routinely.
We don't even have simpler stuff like computers with voice interface?
Yes. We have them. And people do use them. The interfaces aren't exactly like Star Trek, but they work well enough. It is still not the primary mode of input.
Of course, there is also Siri and Cortana. They seem like things that get made fun of more than they are used. But at least we're working on it.
I'd like to point out that I am only speaking from my own experience. I have read a lot of stuff. But no one could read everything. So I could easily make a reference here that makes you say, "Hey! Asimov did that, you hack!" The point is, I can't have read everything,
Get to the point...
There are some things we were promised, that we don't have! Fine... We don't have flying cars, teleportation, or interstellar travel. We don't have artificial intelligence, cures for all diseases, or laser guns.
So where are things going now? We were expecting some things that didn't happen. But do you know what no one talks about? The stuff we have that no one accurately predicted.
Cell phones are the first thing that come to mind.
In all of Science Fiction - and I've seen and read a LOT - I cannot think of a single reference to every single person in society walking around with a device connected to global networking systems, with top quality cameras, huge amounts of storage capacity, the ability to watch TV and play games, and if it's still clean enough, make a phone call with it.
And when I say every single person, I mean everyone. Well, everyone except those 0.01% that still like their flip phones. But still - they have a personal phone, so it still counts... The rich have them. The middle class have them. The poor have them. It's so ubiquitous now that the only question you ever ask a person, when you ask about their phone is, "Do you have an iPhone or an Android?"
Well, I do that... From time to time. Remember, I promote apps that I write. So I have a reason.
One of the things that is most amazing about this is that people have enthusiastically given up their privacy. And not just a little bit. The device you are carrying around uses GPS to track your location, tracks and logs all your activity in your apps, sends information to people that serve you ads, and eavesdrops on your conversations (so they can serve you better ads). No matter how hard you try, it is quite impossible to turn off all of these services. The only way to not be tracked in this manner is to not bring your phone with you.
That is a downside, that's for sure. But everyone is willing to put up with it because, pffft... It's either that or you don't get to use the single most spiffy device the human mind has blessed us with. In fact, people are so attached to their phones that the mere thought of being separated from it, for even a few minutes, is enough to induce panic!
What's really shocking about this is how quickly it happened. 30 years ago, we didn't have cell phones like we have today. 20 years ago, we had them, but they were expensive silly things with black and white LCD screens, and a retractable antenna, that cost $2 a minute to use. 15 years ago, we didn't have smart phones. And now, that's pretty much ALL we have.
Another upshot to how awesome these tiny personal computers are, you can use them to interface with and control a slew of other devices. You can track your health and fitness, car diagnostics, the weather, news, sports, social media, external speakers, you can unlock your car, find your wallet, share pictures of your cat, and fly tiny little quad copters. Speaking of which...
Drones are friggin everywhere!
Back to the Future II touched on this when they showed a drone walking a dog. But that's about as close as the prediction came. When I think of drones nowadays, I think of little quad copters.
These things come in various sizes and are made to be flown by people of all skill levels. They are as cheap as $19, and as expensive as $5000. The later are used for really high end commercial purposes like they used to use news or police helicopters. Yes, we still have those. But most of the time, the drones arrive on the scene first. They are faster, cheaper, and pose no danger to the pilot.
It should also be noted that consumers with enough money can get their hands on these too. These are the ones that make the news for peeping on naked celebrities or flying in front of commercial airlines.
Once of the more amusing ways these drones are used nowadays is for racing. No, seriously... Take a really high quality, fast drone, put a camera on it, and race it around a track/obstacle course.
I really don't know how on one saw this coming.
But that isn't the only kind of drone being used. Modern warfare is fought with drones. But they are not the little quads. They are enormous flying machines capable of carrying serious weaponry.
We still use fighters that are flown by humans. But a large number of missions are flown by some guy in a bunker in Ohio, watching the whole thing from a computer screen. These things are capable of surveillance as well as surgical, definite kill strikes. And, much like I said about the other kinds of drones, the pilot is never in any danger.
I'm sure that this is just a coincidence... But many excellent pilots are flying machines remotely, which is about the same thing as playing a video game, it's no wonder that...
Video games have become an actual respected sport
There was an old cartoon from the 80's that depicted a kid bragging to a prospective employer about how impressive his scores on Donkey Kong and Pac-Man are! Oh, we all laughed at that. Because the joke was that an entire generation of kids spent more time getting good at video games than learning actual, useful skills.
Yeah, well, the showed us! Competitive video game tournaments are an actual real thing. There is big money, big prizes, big sponsorships! And it's all televised!
No one saw this coming. Even the people who were spending literally days on end playing their favorite games, never expected that it would actually become a real, professional career. These people are no longer hiding in their parent's basements. They are no longer just foul mouthed trolls yelling at you for how bad you suck. Well, they still do that. But now it's acceptable and normal, and you can get a career in it!
Which brings me to the last thing on this list - one new career that no one expected.
The importance of social media
Everything in society as we know it today, revolves around social media. Most people wake up in the morning and do 2 things:
- Open their eyes
- Check their phone
Sometimes not even in that order. What are they checking for? Text messages, missed phone calls, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc...
The news uses social media to report to us things that you may have missed from your favorite entertainers, and reality TV stars, like The President. All famous people, businesses, and entities have Twitter accounts. So as soon as they have something to say, it's there that they say it.
Since everyone knows this is true, and an entire new industry has cropped up specifically concerning social media presence. There is an actual rule and etiquette to how a company presents themselves in social media, so there are professionals out there that charge (too much money) to help get your presence in order. If you are a business owner, you get calls from these companies all the time. I'm not mocking this. I'm just pointing out that this industry did not exist before just a few years ago. It's also the reason that you see things like this on every web page:
Don't be afraid to click those icons and share this wonderful think piece. Did you see what I just did there? I engaged you in social media without you asking for it. This happens to you roughly 70,000 times a day and you probably don't even care anymore.
That is not exactly the reason for this section. The point I'm making is that every person in this society is tied to social media in 100 different ways. And most of us are actively participating in it. You can thank those little personal computers for that. Even people that don't know a computer from a sack of dingo's kidneys are using social media, even if it's only at the consumption level.
The thing that cracks me up nowadays is how often some tragedy is caught on video, and it's clearly obvious that the person filming it was more concerned about getting a good shot for Facebook than their own safety - or the safety of the person they are filming!
The unfortunate thing about social media is that it is use for good information just about as often as it is used for pure messed up evil. But I'm going to talk about that. Because screw those people. What I would like to point out is probably the single most awesome upside to everything with the cell phones and the social media. When disaster strikes, those are precisely the systems used by victims and first responders alike to alert the public, enlist help, spread information, etc...
And that, in itself, justifies the existence of these things.
And what I just abruptly decided is...
This is a good place to end this article. Everything else I could possibly say about social media has already been said. You don't need to hear it in my words. So, I'll just halt that... Why bother?
The point of this article was to illustrate my fascination with some things that are actually awesome in this world. We are all very fortunate to be alive in this exciting time of innovation and invention. Consider how much has changed, and how quickly. And consider how much more there is coming! So I end the article on an optimistic note that we continue to invent new fun and impressive stuff that well surpass the thoughts of our favorite science fiction. Because if there is one thing I was really trying to say here it's that sometimes, the real stuff we have is better than the imagined stuff of yesteryear.