From Reel to Real

Words by Lara Shearer
Art by Jessie Liu

Here we are: the future. An era where our houses tell us the weather and turn our lights off, cash seems like an antique and we know what our favourite celebrity had for breakfast. At this rate, the world will be ruled by robots and Mark Zuckerberg by 2030. 

From the internet, to robots, to watching TV on mobile phones, there’s some things that exist today which we could not have anticipated. 

One specific trend in sci-fi film that has always fascinated me is the interactive transparent technology shown in films like Minority Report and Avatar. This type of technology seems ahead of its time, but considering technologies like virtual reality, it may not be as far off as it seems. Slide on some VR goggles and you have a completely immersive 3D interaction, just in another reality. VR is yet to branch away from the entertainment realm, so for the moment, it’s more killing zombies than conducting investigations.

Looking at the cult classic trilogy Back to the Future, their version of 2015 was almost spot on, flat-screen TVs, wearable technology, 3D movies, tablet computers, video calls and fingerprint scanners all exist—how did they manage that? Freaky really. But… they also expected us to be gliding around on hoverboards wearing our automatic lace-up shoes and turning miniature pizzas to life-size via a ‘hydrating’ machine. On the shoe front, I don’t doubt Kanye West has tech-infused Yeezys in the works. Speaking of time travel, Timecop (1994) implied travelling between decades would be the norm by 2004. I’m sure it is being trialled and failed by sci-fi fanatics in basements, but for now, that’s as close as it gets.

Total Recall’s (1990) self-driving taxis can be likened to the automated trains in London, Singapore and Vancouver today, but Blade Runner (1982) was particularly ambitious, predicting the likes of flying cars, life on other planets and human-like robots everywhere. Flying cars haven’t quite made their debut, but as we adopt more earth-friendly approaches to getting from A to B, more electric cars are on the road. We now have driverless cars and Uber helicopters in the works. And in terms of space travel, if anyone is getting us to Mars, it’s Elon Musk. In addition to his other multibillion dollar successes, he hopes to send people *literally* rocketing into space, through SpaceX.

Doing everything as fast and easy as possible is the ultimate desire of modern life, so much so that you don’t even need to leave the house. Anything you want can be left right on your doorstep. An entire roast chicken? Sure. Microwaveable slippers? You’ve got it. We are also obsessed with things. Take the fidget spinner or the Fitbit, a gadget with which you can convince yourself you’re doomed if you haven’t reached your daily 10,000 steps. 

Robots is a broad term in 2019 as they appear to come in a variety of forms, from voices in our home, to something jarringly human-like. ‘HAL’ the AI computer voice in 2001: Space Odyssey, which ends up turning against its human counterparts, seems eerily similar to our artificially intelligent friends like Alexa, Siri and Google Home. Industry-wise, social humanoid robot ‘Sophia’ is giving interviews. You can get on the waitlist for the ‘FoldiMate’, the laundry-folding robot who will fold a full load of laundry for you in less than five minutes. It’s a weird time.

Robots are in fact assisting with life-saving surgeries. Here in Melbourne, robotic prostatectomies for prostate cancer and robotic partial nephrectomies for kidney cancer are happening. These surgeries mean that patients spend less time in hospital and fewer blood transfusions are required. Don’t be alarmed, the robot is still controlled by a surgeon, unlike Promethus (2012) where a robot independently performs brain surgery. Nuh-uh. As for other modern medical insights, prosthetics are being 3D printed, augmented reality is assisting in medical education and drones are being used as mechanisms for drug delivery.

Is Big Brother lurking in the iCloud? What is iCloud anyway? Why is there a drone hovering over my backyard? Do we still have privacy? Enemy of the State (1998) predicted the rise of the “surveillance state”, which seems right on the mark (I’m looking at you Zuckerberg). Let us just hope that we don’t enter Black Mirror territory any time soon and instead learn some valuable sci-fi lesson. 

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