Friday, September 18, 2009

The Future's So Bright, I've Gotta Wear LED-Augmented Contacts

Has Sci-Fi gone far enough in predicting how crazy the future might be?

Every once in a while, I stumble across something so amazing that it takes me completely by surprise. It becomes a, “Wow, I didn’t even realize such a thing was hypothetically possible” moment. I had one of those moments yesterday while reading the American Movie Classics Sci-Fi blog. The topic this week is titled “Enhanced Contact Lenses Will Grant You Terminator Vision.” The idea is that a contact lens would be enhanced with a CPU, circuitry, and LEDs in order to create an overlay of data about whatever you happen to be looking at. And it’s not a set of goggles – it’s right ON the eye. Somebody who wasn’t looking really, really closely might not even be able to tell.

And that got me thinking – to what extent does mainstream sci-fi fail to fully grasp the likely extent of technological change in the next several decades? It seems like there tend to be extremes – either mankind is whipping through the stars at better-than-lightspeed or else they’re not much different from today except the microwaves work even better.

Part of the problem, of course, is how much time can you really spend explaining how the fancy new technology works if you only have a 2-hour movie. In I, Robot, they had fancy self-driving cars, because those are pretty self-explanatory, and robots. That was pretty much it. In Minority Report, they had a big computer with a really fancy (albeit room-sized) keyboard, they had advertising that loudly targeted each individual walking by, and they had fancy self-driving cars. In Blade Runner, they had replicants, of course, and flying cars (that would presumably drive themselves). Throw in a few fancy guns, and you’ve got your mainstream sci-fi movie.

I suspect the future’s going to look much different. Cell-phones and PDAs are going to continue to grow in power while shrinking in size. I suspect that the 10th-generation iPhone is going to go someplace more convenient than a holster. It’s going to plug into a personal network where auditory and visual information and data are streamed right to the user’s eyes and ears while simultaneously connecting him or her to an extensive system of communications, entertainment, news and information. Much like today, but more immediate and direct. But explaining that a person has instant access to a next-generation internet with little or no visible hardware takes time. If it’s not relevant to the plot or establishing the setting, it’s not going to be in the movie.

It’s hard to predict totally new and non-derivative technologies, but it’s a sure bet that the future will include variants of existing technologies that have been miniaturized, made more powerful, or both. The only question is how clever will people be about finding new uses for that small, potent technology. Apparently we already have a start on merging the heads-up-display with the user’s actual head. Why not mix it with your personal sound system? There’s already an app for smartphones that will identify any song you play into their microphone. If you’ve got LED displays on your eyeballs and speakers in your ears, you might as well have them set to project the name and artist of whatever song you might hear right onto your optic nerve.

But how’s this for useful – I have a terrible memory for names and faces. No, that’s not the useful part. Quite the opposite, in fact, it’s a pain in the neck. So if I’ve got CPU-enhanced peepers and a crappy memory, it might behoove me to have software the combines facial-recognition and voice-recognition with a contact database. Suddenly I not only know who I’m looking at or speaking with, but where they work, where I know them from, any notes I might have wanted to add about them (Likes to yell at subordinates. Gets drunk a lot. Owes me 5 bucks.), and even the names of their spouse, kids, boss, whatever.

Given what I learned today about the current state of the art in wearable technology, I consider the above to be highly realistic and, in fact, inevitable. It’s just a question of when. Meanwhile, let’s hope mainstream sci-fi steps up its game a bit, shall we? The future’s not just sitting there waiting, after all. It’s getting closer every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment