Science Fiction as a Future Modeller

I’ve always been a big fan of Sci-fi films. Like many a geek, I grew up with the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek. These worlds fascinated me from a young age, creating an expectation and excitement about what I could expect from the future.  As I got older, science fiction of the more philosophical kind – The Matrix, Minority Report, Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner – started becoming more interesting to me. The politics, socioeconomics and ethics of these fantastical worlds enthralled me, many a university evening was spent debating the pros and cons of each.

It wasn’t until recently though that I realised that the genre not only entertained and intrigued, but also built models –  theories about what the future might look like, what technological advancements we’ll make and how we might live. What Sci-Fi films do is take these ideas and models them into a “working” demo. We can almost use Sci-Fi films to test how technology would work in practice before investing time and resources in creating it. For example, the user interface in Minority report, while beautiful and reminiscent of a conductor leading an orchestra, clearly wouldn’t really work in reality from a practical point of view. Waving your arms around is going to get tiring very quickly. The Gap scene, however, where John Anderson walks into the department stores and is offered discounts based on past purchasing history by a holographic sales attendant, is another story altogether. This is a “real world” demonstration of how a future store could look and function.. and I like it.

We’ve already developed many forms of technology based on what we’ve seen in Sci-Fi film and brought them to life. The iPad, the Mobile Phone, Google Glasses.. all of these were envisioned and demonstrated in film long before the technology caught up. And we’re still doing it.. the famous Star Trek medical device – the Tricorder – is currently in development. Flying cars, personal robots, video calls.. all envisioned in Sci-Fi.  Hell, we’re even making mistakes based on things we’ve seen in movies. The idea of a transparent monitors comes straight out of Sci-Fi. It’s a cinematography tool designed to show both actor and screen at the same time, yet there are multiple companies dedicated to bringing these to life, despite its obvious impracticalities.