Using Fiction to Predict the Future of Technology
My last post covered an array of technological predictions from decades gone by that did, in fact, come to fruition. So I got to thinking: if the stories, magazines and minds of the past were predicting organ transplantation, smartphones, and tablets in present day – what are we predicting now, through cinema and storytelling – that could very well be a part of our future? I looked into a favourite TV show, book and movie to see if any of their spooky, futuristic, don’t-worry-it’s-only-science-fiction technology shows any signs of coming true.
As depicted in TV series, Dark Angel (2000)
At the turn of the century, the great James Cameron was working with Jessica Alba (Fantastic Four), Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) and Michael Weatherly (NCIS) to portray a 2019 future where genetic engineering is covertly used to breed a species of super-soldiers designed to replace human armies in combat. “Instead of sending a thousand soldiers into battle and losing a hundred, I could send ten perfect soldiers and lose none”.
The TV Series Dark Angel explored the use of mixed DNA strands (or DNA ‘cocktails’) to create multiple ‘versions’ of a person (soldier), engineered using animal traits to be “stronger, faster and designed with high of mind”. The show was set in 2019, but the main characters were born in 2000, suggesting genetic engineering was well underway at the time of airing.
The series depicted humans with enhanced, animal-like traits to varying degrees, humans with physical or mental abilities such as telecoersion, even humans taking cues from mythology, such as mermaids. All were designed to be useful in warfare. Early prototypes showed failure of the technology, described as ‘anomalies’, kept by the facility for ongoing studies.
The moral dilemmas are copious, with the genetically modified children taken at birth and raised in a prison-like training facility known as Manticore until sufficiently brainwashed and skilled to be deployed on missions outside the facility.
Any signs of this happening now?
Heaps. Genetic engineering is already well underway, with mixed animal meddling resulting in a variety of animals that glow like jellyfish. Sheep have been cloned, human body parts have been 3D printed, and with the recent ‘cure’ of paralysis using olfactory ensheathing cells, I am starting to genuinely believe anything is possible. The series makes a point of the biotech/military facility was kept incredibly secret by the US government, so who knows – this could already be in existence.
As depicted in the movie, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire (2009) explored the concept of electromagnetic force fields that contain Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) inside the Hunger Games arena. The 2013 movie adaptation showed the force field as a visible manipulation of light, protecting the game makers from the tributes whilst assessing their skill level. When Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) touches another force field on the outskirts of the game arena, the force throws him back and stops his heart. The characters eventually break through the force field using the energy of a harnessed lightning strike.
Under the Dome, a Steven King novel and an American sci-fi drama series premiered in 2013 also depicts a force field of sorts, but this one can be touched, not unlike glass. The force field cuts off internet and mobile signals.
Any signs of this happening now?
Indeed there are. The US military has developed a force field effective as a deterrent to humans but not objects, called the Active Denial System or ‘pain ray’ (click to watch reporter get repelled). The system delivers a millimetre-wide, non-lethal dose of radiation that penetrates into the skin only 1/64 of an inch but causes an extreme burning sensation on the skin. The system is not yet ready for widespread use due to questions about lasting health effects and also lack of efficacy in snowy, rainy or dusty conditions where air is obstructed.
Purpose-Bread Organ Donors
As depicted in the novel, Never Let Me Go (2005)
In his 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go, author Kazuo Ishiguro writes of Hailsham, an English boarding school where students are purpose-bred and raised as organ donors for ‘normals’. It is speculated that these children are clones of ‘human trash’. The children are encouraged to keep themselves healthy above all else, and are taught art instead of practical life skills.
In adulthood, the donors give a series of organ donations until such time that they die, or have ‘completed’. This terminology indicates their sole purpose in life is to grow and donate organs to ‘normals’ may go on living. The students of Hailsham are fully aware of the purpose in life, but being raised knowing this means they accept it without much question.
The novel has been described as coming of age, sci-fi, thriller, and even “one of the best horror novels since 2000” by horror author, Ramsey Campbell, reasoning the tale is “horrifying, precisely because the narrator doesn’t think it is”.
The book was made into a movie in 2010 starring Keira Knightly, Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan. Similarly, the 2005 movie, The Island, starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson also discusses ‘harvestable beings’ kept for ‘replacement parts’.
Any signs of this happening now?
Not really. Yet. Humans donate blood, platelets and plasma, but this does not harm the donor. Human stem cells are also widely researched, with the morals of this practice being discussed in the media in recent years. Humans currently accept organs and valves from animals such as sheep and cows, known as xenotransplantation, so it is feasible that purpose-bred organ donors could exist one day, probably as xenotransplantation and cloning becomes more normalised. Small developments and small ‘moral compromises’ could very well lead to this kind of practice in the future.
I’m sure that the crazy concepts inside the covers of popular sci-fi magazines and described by fiction authors weren’t taken as serious predictions of the future, but that’s exactly what they turned out to be. So I’d put money on the fact that these abovementioned technological concepts will be commonplace in decades to come. Whilst I’m not particularly keen on these specific applications ever seeing the light of day, technology evolves in mysterious ways so we may see more practical (and morally upstanding) versions yet. I’m sure I’m not alone in holding high hopes for a Back to the Future-style hover board, too.