The year is 2023, and the human race has spread across the globe. Nuclear powered flying cars are everywhere, and the first colonies have landed on Mars! [Radio crackles.]
Okay, so that isn’t exactly how it’s gone down, but in honor of Halloween, the day celebrates the whimsy of all things being possible, let’s talk about things that used to be science fiction and aren’t anymore.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Have we gotten reader fatigue from this topic yet? (As technology people by nature, we’re deep in it.) The rise of generative AI over the past year or so has certainly brought this subject into the spotlight, so in some ways it seems “early” to judge all the ways that AI will change things. On the other hand, there are lots of tools and functions we’ve been using for a while that have been powered by AI algorithms, including AI assistants.
At the risk of not doing this topic justice in this list, I’ll say that there’s plenty of reporting on—and plenty of potential for—AI now and in the future.
This year, the U.S. House Oversight Committee was conducting an investigation on unidentified flying objects (UFOs). While many UFOs turn out to be things like weather balloons and drones designed for home use, well, some apparently aren’t. Three military veterans, including a former intelligence officer, went on record saying that the government has a secret facility where it’s been reverse engineering highly advanced vehicles, and that the U.S. has recovered “non-human biologics” from these crash sites. (Whatever that means—but we all know what that means, right…)
Here’s the video, if you want to see for yourself.
Weirdly, the public response was… not much of one. (The last couple of years have been “a year”.) But, chalk this one up as confirmed.
The list of sci-fi shows and books set on space stations is definitely too long to list item by item. Depending on your age (and we won’t ask you to tell us), you may think of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (the books), Star Wars, Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century (or maybe the Zequel?), Babylon 5, or the Expanse.
Back in the real world, the International Space Station (ISS) has been in orbit since 1998 and runs all manner of scientific experiments. Notably, these experiments include the Alpha Meter Spectrometer (AMS-02) which is designed to detect things like dark matter and antimatter and solve the fundamental mysteries of the universe. (No big deal.)
For those of us stuck on Earth (for now), you can keep up with the ISS in lots of ways. Check out this map that lets you track whether you can see it from your current location. (Wave the next time it floats over!) And, of course, there are some fun YouTube channels streaming the ISS. Here’s just one:
Okay, universal translators is the cool sci-fi name, but if you want the actual, machine learning (ML) name, folks call that interlingual machine translation. Translation may seem straightforward at first glance, but, as this legendary Star Trek episode demonstrates, things are not always so simple.
And sure, it’s easy to say that this is an unreasonable standard given that most human languages are known—but are they? Native language reclamation projects like those from the Cherokee and Oneida tribes demonstrate how easy it is to lose the nuance of a language without those who natively speak it. Advanced degrees in poetry translation, like this Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa (go Hawks!), help specialists grapple with and capture the nuance between smell, scent, odor, and stench across different languages. And, add to those challenges that translators also have to contend with the wide array of accents in each language.
With that in mind, it’s pretty amazing that we now have translation devices that can be as small as earbuds. Most still require an internet connection, and some are more effective than others, but it’s safe to say we live in the future, folks. Case in point: I had a wine tasting in Tuscany a few months ago where we used Google Translate exclusively to speak with the winemaker and proprietor.
“What?” you say. “iPads are so normal!” Sure, now you’re used to touch screens. But, let me present you with this image from a show that is definitely considered science fiction:
Yes, folks, that’s Captain Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. And here’s a later one, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Star Trek wikis describe the details of a Personal Access Display Device, or PADD, including a breakdown of how they changed over time in the series. Uhura even had a “digital clipboard” in the original Star Trek series:
And, just for the record, we’ll always have a soft spot in our heart for Chief O’Brien’s love of backups.
Robot Domestic Laborer
If you were ever a fan of this lovely lady—
—then you’ll be happy to know that your robot caretaker(s) have arrived. Just as Rosie was often seen using a separate vacuum cleaner, they’re not all integrated into one charming package—yet. If you’re looking for the full suite of domestic help, you’ll have to get a few different products.
First up, the increasingly popular (and, as time goes on, increasingly affordable) robot vacuum. There are tons of models, from the simple vacuum to the vacuum/mop. While they’re reportedly prone to some pretty hilarious (horrific?) accidents, having one or several of these disk-shaped appliances saves lots of folks lots of time. Bonus: just add cat, and you have adorable internet content in the comfort of your own home.
Next up, the Snoo, marketed as a smart bassinet, will track everything baby, then use that data to help said baby sleep. Parents who can afford to buy or rent this item sing its praises, noting that you can swaddle the baby for safety and review the data collected to better care for your child.
And, don’t forget to round out your household with this charming toilet cleaning robot.
In this iconic scene from The Fifth Element, Luc Besson’s 1997 masterpiece, a drunken priest waxes poetic about a perfect being (spoiler: she’s a woman) to a robot bartender. “Do you know what I mean?” the priest asks. The robot shakes its head. “Do you want some more?”
These days, you can actually visit robot bartenders in Las Vegas or on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Or, if you’re looking for a robot bartender that does more than serve up a great Sazerac, you can turn to Brillo, a robot bartender powered by AI who can also engage in complex dialogue.
And, if leaving your house sounds terrible, don’t worry: you can also get a specialized appliance for your home.
It’s a Good Time to Be Cloud Storage
One thing that all these current (and future) tech developments have in common: you never see them carting something trailing wires. That means (you guessed it!) that they’re definitely using a central data source delivered via wireless network, a.k.a the cloud.
After you’ve done all the work to, say, study an alien life form or design and program the perfect cocktail, you definitely don’t want to do that work twice. And, do you see folks slowing down to schedule a backup? Definitely not. Easy, online, always updating backups are the way to go.
So, we’re not going to say Backblaze Computer Backup makes the list as a sci-fi idea that we’ve made real; we’re just saying that it’s probably one of those things that people leave off-stage, like characters brushing their teeth on a regular basis. And, past or future, we’re here to remind you that you should always back up your data.
Things We Still Want (Get On It, Scientists!)
Everything we just listed is really cool and all, but let’s not forget that we are still waiting for some very important things. Help us out scientists; we really need these:
- Flying cars
- Faster than light space travel
- Matter replicators (3D printing isn’t quite there)
We feel compelled to add that, despite our jocular tone, the line between science and science fiction has always been something of a thin one. Studies have shown and inventors like Motorola’s Martin Cooper have gone on record pointing to their inspiration in the imaginative works of science fiction.
So, that leaves us standing by for new developments! Let’s see what 2024 brings. Let us know in the comments section what cool tech in your life fits this brief.