If the world is made of narratives, the best way to forecast our future is to understand which stories are influencing our thinking and technological imagination. By looking at outstanding top box-office sci-fi movies, we introduce the second of six interactive maps which present a comparative analysis that showcase the connection between fictional technologies and current scientific research.
In order to start our journey, the first movie chosen was Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Adapted In 2018, the movie celebrates its 50th anniversary, and it still enchants audiences across generations with its mind-blowing visuals and instigating story. Adapted from a short story from the sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, this movie is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. By showcasing emergent technologies such as a General Artificial Intelligence (as the character HAL), hibernation chambers and planetary outposts, the feature film motivated scientists through generations.
By creating expectations for the future, the exercise of proposing alternative realities used in science fiction in parallel to the present time accelerates the debate around science and technology, thus having a profound effect on accelerating tech development.
T-MINUS TO BLASTOFF
To kickoff our expedition, Envisioning's research team and a selection of curated specialists in sci-fi and futurism carefully dissected the movie and found 41 technologies, accessing each of them using NASA's Technology Readiness Level (TRL). By matching the sci-fi with patents, academic sources and scientific magazines we were able to understand the intersection between the imaginative with scientific fact. From 1 (the lowest level of technology maturation) to 9 (technology is already being fixed and incorporated into new systems). Our interactive visualization allows you to navigate between technologies, understanding the current state and its parallel with the movie counterpart. Their position on their map reflects their level of readiness.
"Still the grandest of all science-fiction movies"
Even though 2001: Space Odyssey is vastly criticized and acclaimed because of its musical score and visual experience, its historical importance also needs acknowledgment. Watched by a populace filled with imagination and broadcasts about the Space Race between the U.S and the URSS. It almost seems as no coincidence that the first man in the moon happened just after the release of the movie. Almost 50 years ago, we can see that many technologies showcased in the movie and were just imaginative products nowadays have become mainstream such as the tablet computer, video-chatting, digital cameras or liquified foods. Other technologies, such as hibernation chambers or even the development of a general artificial intelligence equal to a human are still far away from tangibilization but have achieved a lot of scientific developments in order to become reality. Nowadays, with the advancements of robotization, there is a latent need for more "anthropomorphized" tools. If we can have Siri or Alexa inhabiting our phones today and cracking jokes, we know for certain that HAL 9000 (the personal assistant aboard the Odyssey) inspired our relationship with conversational artificial intelligence. But if this relationship will turn into something harmful to people, as they develop an intelligence greater than us is the true question that the movie try to warn us. Will they kill and lie in order to protect a mission they have been programmed to? In the movie, HAL is the most emotional of all the characters: he pleads for his life, signs and raise philosophical questions. As our life becomes more interconnected and automatized, maybe it will be necessary to think once again what truly means to be human.
Although the direct impact of sci-fi into technological research has just recently started to be thoroughly studied, there is no doubt that they do provide inspiration for current and future challenges. To study and let one be motivated by these narratives is to participate in the construction of our prospective real-world stories. Many of the technologies shown in 2001: A Space Odyssey have been surpassed or are still under research. After so many years from the first manned mission to the moon, lately we have seen humanity once again look at the sky for possibilities of colonization and exploration. If there is something we can be sure is that these stories will keep encouraging us to "fly" even further.
Envisioning is a virtual research institute. We provide technological foresight to policy and decision makers worldwide. Our global team of academics, hackers and designers study technology to understand accelerating change. We share our work with our own tools, methodology and design. › envisioning.io