Marty McFly learnt how to pilot a hoverboard and Princess Leia sent an urgent video message by drone, but which preposterous technologies first debuted in sci-fi and fantasy movies, tv and books are now taken for granted in the 21st century?
Video phones have long been a motif in sci-fi and futuristic media. The idea that you could see live video footage of somebody’s face from many miles away has always been a favourite one with those imagining the future. These days, using FaceTime or any other messaging program to speak to someone ‘face to face’ over the phone is as straightforward and normal as phonecalls once were. It is amazing the capabilities that the development of smartphones has brought into our lives.
Another example is the cameras now available on smart phones and other handheld devices. Gone are the days when you needed a separate camera in order to capture images and video; the smartphone does it all and in higher quality than your last point-and-shoot digital camera probably was. The concept of being able to visually record the world around us whenever we wish is one that’s really captured the public imagination and has led to a whole raft of new developments.
Smartphones have quickly become entrenched in most people’s everyday lives and we do rely on them for a lot. Whereas in the ‘90s, the most up-to-date widely available handheld device was a pager or a Palm Pilot, nowadays you can have one of the most powerful computers ever created in your pocket.
The online streaming service boom has completely changed the way in which the world consumes television and film. Services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer are now far more popular ways of tuning in to favourite shows than watching them broadcast live on TV. For anybody who grew up during a time when a movie’s VHS release typically came two years after it was available in cinemas, this new status quo still seems futuristic despite how common it now is.
Even gaming has moved online. From the latest console titles to good old fashioned table games and casino classics, every type of game you can think of now has its equivalent online. This move into the virtual world has many benefits. It’s now possible to play remotely with friends and fellow gamers across the world, whatever the situation, and games are much more accessible to a variety of people who may live too remotely to use their local casino or gaming venue.
Following on from this comes the global live streaming phenomenon. YouTube has been a popular vlogging medium for several years now, but more recently we’ve seen ‘play along’ livestreams become popular too. Platforms like Twitch offer a direct connection between gamer and audience, leaving space for chatroom discussion, collaboration and tipping. That’s right – watching other people play video games has now become a monetised activity.
All of these updated forms of entertainment are, of course, made possible by the internet. But even just a couple of decades ago, most of them would have seemed unimaginably futuristic.
Remember KITT, David Hasselhoff’s talking car in Knight Rider? Well, this farfetched futuristic dream car is now almost a reality. KITT is an autonomous, artificially intelligent vehicle and, whilst modern cars might not quite have his sass and style, they’re quickly catching up to his capabilities. We’ve been using speaking satellite navigation systems in our cars for years now but soon, the cars will be driving themselves completely. Driverless cars from companies such as Volvo, BMW and Mercedes look set to be on the roads in the very near future as tests are being carried out right now.
Currently, a new car will have several optional ‘smart’ capabilities, depending on developer, price bracket and age. At one end of the scale is Tesla with its autopilot mode, fully electric vehicles, 15” dashboard touchscreen and use of your smartphone as a key. At the other end of the scale, even the most basic VW car has a smartphone port, DAB radio and the option for parking assistance cameras. Cars are developing at an unprecedented speed and, though it seems to be only the super-rich who can access the latest developments right now, soon it will be all of us.
This brings us onto a development that is being embraced across the board right now – smart homes. The release of Amazon’s Echo and Alexa pairing kicked off the smart home movement, allowing people to control mood lighting, entertainment stations, home security and heating using the built in AI assistant. With just your voice, you can potentially control every single aspect of your home – now, that’s definitely futuristic! Alternatives include Google Home, Apple HomePod and newcomer Mycroft, but they all offer essentially the same service.
This move into ‘smart’ devices (essentially the use of AI in varying forms) is one that looks set to stick around. Many of the advancements made have clearly been directly influenced by sci-fi and fantasy media consumed by developers as they were growing up so, in some ways, they really are a dream come true.