Extant: Sci-Fi Hits and Misses
Given our recent focus on the nexus of science and sci-fi, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at science fiction show, Extant (starring Halle Berry), to see how well Extant’s predictions for 2030-2040 line up with real world emerging technologies, and our futurist views.
Hits (technologies likely to be available in the 2030-2040 timeframe, and in some cases much earlier):
- Voice activated computer / tablet interface responding to natural language questions, searching the internet and databases — already available, although not as sophisticated as depicted in Extant
- Audio interface for the home area network, as well as the house alerting Extant characters of events, such as someone at the door — home automation is already underway, albeit in early stages
- Bathroom mirror that displays an augmented reality type picture-in-picture TV show (news), weather, personal calendar and other key information — technically, could be done now
- 3D holographic computer displays that work with gesture control (aka Minority Report) — advances such as Intel’s RealSense 3D camera are already slated for mass market production.
- Cars with a combination of autopilot (driverless cars) or manual control — likely to be the way that driverless cars are introduced, with options for increasingly automated features, especially in top end models. By 2040, most new cars will have autopilot features.
- Translucent tablets — It’s debatable as to whether we’ll still be using tablets in 2030-2040. However, if we do, it’s likely to be in a work environment. Extant characters have very thin translucent tablets. Technically, this is already possible, and graphene is a likely material that would be used in tablet construction.
- Museum bots (robots) and holographic museum displays — Robots are already being used in museums. For example, the Australian Museum uses robots to give virtual tours of the museum, and 3D holograms are already in use.
- Robotic prosthetics that look real — already there are tremendous advances in robotic prosthetics, as well as in prosthetics that respond to thought control. In Extant, the prosthetics are highly advanced, so much so that they’re undetectable until the show’s character removes the limb. A lot of work is currently underway in 3D bio-printing (bio-fabrication) of skin (tissue engineering), with promising results. As such, its quite likely that a human-like prosthetic will be available in the 2030-2040 timeframe. However, costs may limit availability.
- Translucent smartphones — Why not wearables, smart clothing or smart contacts? Will we still be carrying phones in 2040? We don’t think so. Advances in augmented reality, gesture recognition, natural language interfaces, and ubiquitous connectivity will mean that our computers will come with us wherever we go. Our interfaces will likely be with something we wear, rather than a phone we have to remember to take with us.
- Anti-gravity pod. One of the Extant characters uses life-like robotic leg prosthetics. To take a shower, she removes her prosthetic legs and inserts her torso into an anti-gravity pod — allowing her to float around. Whilst there is research work being done in anti-gravity (and probably lots more in defence research labs), current techniques that mimic anti-gravity effects such as magnetic levitation, acoustic levitation and ionic air propulsion, aren’t likely to be used in a bathroom setting anytime soon.
- Medical Tether — a 2 cm round device with electronics, kept on the roof of astronaut’s mouths linking them back to the International Space Exploration Agency (ISEA). We can’t imagine that medical sensors in 2030 will be that large. Even now, a chip in the Proteus Pill is the size of a grain of sand, and these chips will get smaller still. A small sensor could invisibly embedded in an astronaut’s teeth, gums or other area.
- Clothes — the styling on the show is non-existent. The clothes look the same as one can buy in a mediocre shop today! They’ve completely missed the boat with mass customisation and smart clothing.
- Humanics (humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence), capable of learning, having dreams, developing emotions — whilst this is within the realm of possibility, my expectation is that this type of advance is beyond the 30-year timeframe. Advances in the field of robotics are happening rapidly, thanks in part to the huge investments being made by a plethora of corporates and research organisations, and the many industries that stand to benefit from automation. Advances in 3D bio-printing also mean that it’s possible that a humanoid looking robot (android) could be a reality in the 2030-2040 timeframe. However, a robot that acts like a human, is capable of cognitive reasoning, rudimentary emotions, and even dreams would take significant advances in artificial intelligence.
Whilst Extant has numerous plot themes, a key question it tries to address has to do with nature vs. nurture, and what it is to be human — can we teach a machine to have human qualities and to love?
About the author: Shara Evans is internationally acknowledged as a cutting edge technology futurist, commentator, strategy advisor, keynote speaker and thought leader, as well as the Founder and CEO of Market Clarity.