Given that a large proportion of Silicon Valley is made up of sci-fi geeks, it’s no surprise that over the years tech has focused on bringing to life many of the once outlandish concepts seen in movies, TV series and comic books.
With the Apple Watch bringing several more of these to life -- Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio among them -- we thought the time was right to run down our 8 favorite sci-fi gadgets we’d love to see turn into actual products, as outlandish as some of them might be.
After all, you never know when Bill Gates is going to be scanning a blog, looking for ways to unload his fortune.
From Star Wars's Millennium Falcon to The Dark Knight’s Tumbler, sci-fi and fantasy movies have given us plenty of iconic vehicles over the years. Perhaps none have inspired more viewer envy, however, than the hoverboard first used by Marty McFly in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II.
Enabling young Marty to zip, skateboard-like, through busy streets (but don’t think about riding it over water) owning a genuine hoverboard has been the stuff dreams are made of ever since. There have been a few attempts to bring the technology into the real world, but most of these have turned out to be either crushingly disappointing hoaxes or, frankly, a bit rubbish.
Scratch what we just said-- The Iron Man armor may be even better than Marty McFly’s hoverboard. An armor-plated exoskeleton powered by a miniaturized Arc Reactor, Iron Man’s red-and-yellow suit provides a normal (well, relatively normal) civilian with the ability to fly, sustain huge amounts of damage, and fire repulser blasts from its hands.
The notion of time travel has fascinated sci-fi fans since H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine. In movies, we’ve seen various memorable takes on the concept — from the DeLorean in Back to the Future to Dr. Who’s TARDIS. As much as we’d welcome the possibility of a real, working time machine however, it seems close to a certainty that we won’t be getting one, well, ever. Why? Because as per the Fermi paradox, if time travel was going to be possible at some point in the future, wouldn’t we have seen a few travelers by now?
We’d happily forgive that logical oversight, however, if someone would just hurry up and build one. Our first order of business if they did? Travel back to December 12, 1980, of course, and buy all the Apple stock we could lay our grubby little hands on. Without someone unravelling our own future lives with some kind of Butterfly Effect-related mishap, naturally.
Okay, if we can’t have a time machine at least give us a Star Trek-style Transporter to get from one location to another. The meta-story behind the Transporter is adoringly low rent. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's original plan was to have the Enterprise land every episode, which was quickly ruled out due to the costs of carrying out the necessary model work. Next he switched to picturing a shuttlecraft, although the full-sized shooting model was not ready when filming began. Teleportation — which required just a simple fade-in/fade-out special effect — was the fallback option.
In the real world, of course, it’s turned out not be such an easy answer after all. Teleportation has occurred, but only on a quantum level. Earlier this year, scientists announced a reliable way of transferring data by quantum teleportation, but that’s still a long way from “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Hopefully they’ll test the human-sized technology on a redshirt first.
The iPad has a touchscreen, you say? Not like the one in Minority Report, it doesn’t. The 2002 Tom Cruise movie features Cruise’s police chief character whipping through screens of information and manipulating video playback simply by waving his hands in front of an ephemeral digital screen. In fact, despite its futuristic setting Minority Report is one of the most grounded sci-fi films out there in terms of its attention to detail. Director Steven Spielberg consulted Silicon Valley’s top experts on how they saw technology taking shape over the coming decades, and put their conclusions into the movie.
This is why it’s hardly surprising that 12 years after Minority Report landed in movie theaters, researchers at Bristol University in the UK have developed similar technology in the form of a haptic screen manipulated via soundwave vibrations. Provided the interface turns out to be user-friendly there’s no reason we won’t see this particular technology become a reality.
This is a common trope of science fiction, and is getting a whole lot closer thanks to the impressive artificial intelligence systems being honed by the likes of Google. But a real-time version of the Babel Fish from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (which instantly understands and translates spoken words in foreign languages) would be one of the most useful tools ever. It would be kind of like hearing Phil Schiller dubbed into Mandarin at the glitchy start of Tuesday’s keynote, only without the hair-tearing frustration.
Remember that nifty pen-sized gadget from Men in Black that let agents wipe the mind of anyone they wanted to, simply by flashing a bright light in their eyes? Depending on the chosen setting, the Neuralizer can erase memories going back hours, weeks, months, or even years — with the recipient then susceptible to suggestions about what happened during those blank patches. (A deneuralyzer, by comparison, is a special chamber that can be used to reverse the effects of the neuralyzer.)
Sadly, it doesn’t seem like any such device is likely to make it to market (or into reality) any time soon. Think of the possibilities if it did, though, particularly if you’re a person prone to making mistakes.
Star Trek: The Next Generation’s simulated reality experience is kind of like the Oculus Rift turned up to eleven. Featuring total immersive virtual reality that looks and feels like the real world, it could be used for training personnel or, more entertainingly, for staging all manner of wacky fantasies.
My personal favorite use of the Holodeck came in the Star Trek: TNG episode entitled “A Fistful of Datas,” in which various members of the Enterprise crew become trapped in a 19th-century Wild West adventure with the safety protocols accidentally disabled.
Granted, that one may not be quite so much fun were this to become a reality.
From flying cars to brain-sucking city simulations, sci-fi movies have given us a ton of possible futures over the years -- some good, others less so. We waded through our collective possible future times to bring you a selection of the best and worst sci-fi has in store for humanity.
Click the gallery above to see where we might wind up.
Pick any version of the show (except possibly Star Trek: Voyager) and you’ve got a sci-fi future we’d love to live in. Unlike a lot of sci-fi, Star Trek has always tended toward a utopian vision of our future selves in which racism, sexism, ageism and, in Captain’s Picard’s case, jokes against male-pattern baldness are all relics of the distant past. There’s also intergalactic travel, a ton of colorful aliens in existence, and the holodeck to unwind on after a hard day’s work. Oh yes, and we get to wear spandex jumpsuits to our heart’s content.
Granted, the future portrayed in Back to the Future Part II is only Oct. 21, 2015, meaning that a whole lot needs to happen in a very short space of time if we’re going to have a hope of catching up. To be honest, we’d skip most of it, so long as someone would hurry up and invent a hoverboard. Hey, at least Nike is planning to release self-tying Power Laces next year to commemorate the movie.
For a movie full of giant robots, Pacific Rim sure does offer an optimistic vision of the future. I’d happily be a part of it: Humanity responds to (and defeats) a massive external threat by way of international cooperation and technological development. And did I mention this is a future filled with giant robots?
With baddies controlling the oxygen, there’s plenty to dislike about the future presented by Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 Total Recall (aka the only Total Recall movie that matters). On the plus side, if future wives are all as hot as Sharon Stone, we’d happily take our oxygen when and where we could get it.
The real reason Total Recall is a movie future we’d love, though, is because of Rekall, the (sort of) titular company that can provide memory implants of vacations you never had. The fake memories let you spend a week as a secret agent or super-lover, rather than just getting sunburned by the pool. That’s a future we can get on board with. Provided nothing goes wrong, that is.
It’s the only future on this list that’s TV rather than film, but The Jetsons delivers, hands down, the most utopian sci-fi future of them all. Set in the year 2062, The Jetsons depicts a world in which households are aided by elaborate robotic contraptions, holograms and all manner of geeky gadgets and inventions. Oh yes, and flying cars. Lots of flying cars. Perhaps the most alluring part of life in Orbit City is the work week, though: just an hour a day, two days a week. Plus holidays.
Soylent Green takes place in a futuristic world in which overpopulation and the depletion of resources has resulted in a massive global crisis. People live a luxury-free existence, subsisting on processed food rations called Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow. That’s until a new, more-nutritious variant comes along. It’s supposedly made of high-energy plankton, but ... well, you get the message. When state-assisted suicide and the occasional pot of strawberry jelly are all you can look forward to, you know things aren’t good.
Before he made the excellent Silicon Valley, Mike Judge made Idiocracy, in which Luke Wilson’s Corporal Joe Bauers and a prostitute named Rita get frozen in a suspended-animation experiment supposed to last just a year. Instead, they awake 500 years later to find a world in which the average IQ has dropped dramatically. Politics has turned into a WWE-style charade, the most popular show on TV is called Ow! My Balls and the news is delivered by “Hot Naked Chicks.”
Like many movie dystopias, the 23-century world depicted by Logan’s Run starts off looking pretty great. Everyone’s young and attractive, and everything is geared around hedonism and wish fulfillment — all in a futuristic wonderland full of hovercrafts and robot manservants.
When the other shoe drops it’s one of cinema's’ great gut-punches: Everyone in this world dies at 30. At that age, the tiny crystal everyone carries with them at all times turns black, and you’re tracked down to be either reborn or horribly murdered. This is where the movie’s title comes from, since running is the only way to possibly escape. It's one of those scenarios that sounds fine and dandy when you’re a teenager, years away from turning 30. For the rest of us it’s a pretty horrific proposition.
The Matrix is another dystopia that doesn’t appear all that bad in the beginning. As the film reveals, machines got smart enough during the 21st century to take on mankind. When humans stopped the machines from having access to solar energy, the machines turned instead to harvesting humans' bioelectricity as a substitute power source. To do this, and to keep people placid, the machines trapped them in "the Matrix," a mass simulation of the world as it was in the year 1999.
While this means that the majority of people live perfectly acceptable lives, unaware that any of this is going on, two things strike me as terrible about the universe depicted in The Matrix. One: Presumably, a world perpetually stuck in 1999 never gets the iPhone or iPad. Two: Keanu Reeves is the savior of this universe? Chalk up another one for the dystopian pile.
The concept of a world in which people are forced to kill each other as part of some mass-entertainment game pops up in sci-fi movies ranging from swinging '60s Italian thriller The 10th Victim (seriously, check it out!) to The Running Man to the Hunger Games series. While I was massively tempted to include The Hunger Games as my pick here, I’m instead opting for Battle Royale, the ultra-brutal 2000 Japanese action-thriller directed by Kinji Fukasaku.
In Battle Royale, one school class is chosen each year to participate in a massive island-based “game” during which students must kill each other until only one remains. This is done with the aid of weapons (one per student) that can range from a gun or crossbow down to a paper fan. Students must also travel from area to area to avoid "danger zones” (which result in immediate death). And if they refuse to cooperate? They get killed by way of an explosive collar,
As dystopian futures go, one in which adults kill children (or force them to kill each other) in order to maintain control ranks pretty high on the “places we wouldn’t want to live” scale.
TV isn't always a meritocracy. With that in mind, here are our picks of five shows that were canceled way before their time, and five more we wish would vanish into a black hole, never to be seen again.
Which ones made the list? Check out the gallery above to find out.
When it comes to shows taken from us too soon, there’s nothing that compares to Firefly. The brainchild of Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator and Avengers director Joss Whedon, this superb sci-fi/Western series only crawled to 14 episodes before Fox pulled the plug due to subpar ratings.
The show's cult fan base sounded off so loudly that the series was sequelized a few years later in 2005 movie Serenity, which picked up with the same cast after the events of Firefly's final episode. The movie was critically acclaimed, but flopped at the box office. This is why we can’t have nice things.
It sounds crazy to suggest that a franchise which is coming up to 50 years of age was canceled too soon, but the original Star Trek television show was kicked off the air after just three seasons!
Revived after posting strong syndication numbers, the sci-fi franchise spawned more than a dozen films and four spinoff TV series, but there was definitely a time when James Tiberius Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise genuinely seemed to have reached the final frontier. “You Star Trek fans have fought the good fight, but the show has been canceled and there’s nothing to be done now,” wrote a TV critic in 1969. Truly illogical, captain!
I narrowly avoided including Buffy spinoff Angel on this list for fear of including yet another Joss Whedon project. Then I remembered Dollhouse, his short-lived sci-fi show about a mysterious organization that implants false memories and skills in mind-wiped humans known as Dolls so they can take on various missions.
The premise sounded like it could simply be a show in which its star, Eliza Dushku, got dressed up in various outfits (that alone should have guaranteed a minimum of three seasons). But Dollhouse was packed full of Whedon-y goodness and grew to become one of the most intriguing sci-fi shows in recent history, even though it only lasted two seasons.
Set in the late 1800s and revolving around the residents of Deadwood, South Dakota, this foul-mouthed HBO Western was beloved by virtually everyone that saw it. Everyone, that is, except for HBO executives, who canceled it after Season 3.
While there were initial plans to give Deadwood a proper sendoff with two TV movies, those plans now seem to have fallen by the wayside. We hold out hope that someone comes to their senses.
A pie-maker imbued with the power to bring the dead back to life solves murders with his resurrected childhood sweetheart, a private investigator, and a love-struck waitress. What’s not to love? Seemingly nothing, which is why Pushing Daisies received 17 Emmy Award nominations, with seven wins. Then it was canceled, presumably by someone who won’t be brought back from the afterlife anytime soon.
There are some events so shameful that you have to wonder if there’s something deeply wrong with the human psyche -- the kind of thing Arthur C. Clarke was alluding to in 2001: A Space Odyssey when he suggested that civilization was inextricably tied to murder and bloodshed.
The inexplicable popularity of Two and a Half Men is one such example. I've never actually met a fan of this show, but they must exist unless 4.8 million people leave their TV sets on every week as some kind of situationist meta-prank.
Here’s how awful the show is: CBC recently announced the series will end after its next season, and I’m still including it here. Why? Because they shouldn't even let it finish out with a flourish of human decency. Just cut to black in the middle of an episode and never mention it again.
I should love The Big Bang Theory. As a nerd who loves tech, comics and pretty much anything else that used to mark you as a potential lunch-money theft target in high school, a show that features geeks (as opposed to, say, five unfeasibly attractive friends living in apartments they could never possibly afford) should be right up my alley.
So why should The Big Bang Theory be canceled immediately? There are a bunch of small reasons: The jokes aren’t funny, the characters are unlikeable, and a laugh track in 2014 is all kinds of lame. The real reason, though, is that it’s in no way an accurate portrayal of geek culture, but rather the same kind of dumb pocket-protector brainiac jokes we’ve been suffering through since the 1950s. HBO's Silicon Valley is roughly a billion times better.
The Simpsons is, at this stage, essentially a zombie. It looks a little bit like the entity you once knew, but the spirit is gone, and now it just lurches around the wilderness looking for brains to feast upon. Even the most ardent Simpsons fan will readily admit that things haven’t been the same since the late '90s, when the show lost its zing and began its steep decline.
It’s not even like you can just blame the show’s age, though: While 25 seasons is a long time by anyone’s reckoning, South Park has been on the air for 17 years and can still raise a good laugh every episode. It’s sad to say, since I once loved The Simpsons, but creator Matt Groening has basically undone all his good work at this stage. Boo-urns!
“What, that great 1991 Academy Award-nominated Disney movie?” If that’s genuinely what you thought when you read this, then skip to the next slide and don’t sully your mind with knowledge about this abomination of a show, which has been soiling the airwaves since 2012. A loose remake of the 1987 CBS series of the same name, this sci-fi police procedural is woeful on just about every level. Oh, and the “Beast” character is basically an underwear model with a blemish on his cheek. The horror, the horror!
It would have been very easy to pick, pretty much at random, a reality show from E and hold it up as the final example of a show that we’d like to have scrubbed from our brains using neuroscience’s answer to bleach. That would have been too easy, though. Instead, how about the crushing disappointment of a show that is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
They've done so much right with the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it seemed they should certainly be able to transfer some of the magic of Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie to the small screen. Sadly, they haven’t.
What we’re left with is a show straight out of the formulaic '90s that lacks any of the recognizable characters or compelling plotlines of big-screen Marvel tales. With Marvel already running the risk of burnout with the number of flicks it’s pumping out, it should forget about this misstep and focus on completing its Hollywood takeover.
Did we miss out your favorite hidden TV gem, that was taken from us before it had the chance to find its audience? Or did we want to send a show you love off to the Sarlacc pit that is TV hell? If you have strong thoughts on this topic let us know what they are in the comments below.
If I was trying to sell you this backup battery, I probably wouldn’t need to do much more than tell your its name: The Darth Vader Lightsaber Portable Battery Charger. Because really, who wouldn’t want to juice their iPhone with Vader’s laser sword?
This great new Audi commercial featuring two generations of Spocks — Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto — smack talking, swearing, racing and singing “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” is awesome for a lot of ways, but for iPad enthusiasts, the cream on top is at the very beginning, when Old Spock and New Spock play 3D Chess against each other on their iPads.
Sadly, the app itself doesn’t actually seem to exist. How have you overlooked doing a proper 3D Chess app, devs?
Apple has introduced new short URLs for the App Store, making links to iOS apps and games much simpler to remember, and easier to read. Like its short URLs for the iTunes Store, you can now tell which app you have been linked to before you’ve even clicked on it. The new system has already been put to good use, making its debut during a Super Bowl commercial for the Star Trek app.
One of the better Yuletide traditions is the venerable holiday Advent Calendar, in which each day of December leading up to Christmas is marked off on a special calendar by opening its corresponding door to find a small gift, toy or chocolate squirreled away inside.
This year, we here at Cult of Mac decided we wanted to give our readers their very own Apple-themed advent calendar, filled with the year’s best apps, gadgets, stories and other curios. So each day in December, we’re going to lovingly peel back the door on the Cult of Mac 2012 Advent Calendar to reveal another delicious morsel, something really special that came out this year that we think every one of you should enjoy.
What do we have in store for you for Day 9 (admittedly, going up a day late)? FTL for Mac, about the closest experience to sitting down in the Captain’s Chair on the U.S.S. Enterprise you’re likely to find on any platform for less than $10.
Thankfully for tech bloggers the Anglo Saxon world over, this year April Fools Day aka All Fools Day fell on a Sunday. That didn’t stop PR folk waking from a fitful, hungover sleep, dragging their laptops into bed and sending out a “funny” press release, which is why you should probably still watch out today.
But above the dross stands — as it does every year — ThinkGeek. In the past, we have seen such April Fool wonders as the Taun Taun sleeping bag for kids, the iCade iPad arcade cabinet and the 8-bit tie. This year, ThinkGeek went to town with a whole range of fake gear. Here we take a look at the best.
In their rush to announce the new iPad on Wednesday, Apple hurried through the details of their new Apple TV and didn’t talk much about the new ability to stream your movies straight from iCloud to your Apple TV or iOS device. What’s awesome about the new feature is that it works for movies that you didn’t even buy from iTunes: iTunes Digital Copies.
Apple’s new Siri assistant has really revolutionized the way in which we interact with mobile devices using our voice. It’s no wonder, then, that rivals are scrambling to introduce their own alternatives. Google already has one for Android, according to some reports, called Majel, and it’ll debut during the first quarter of 2012.