Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ten Things I Wish Were Invented Already

To start this off (because the Welcome doesn't really count as a proper post) I'm going to write - in no particular order - a list of 10 pieces of technology that I wish were already here in real life, real and imagined.  It's something I think about quite a lot.  Really cool stuff seems to be like the end of a rainbow, even as years and decades pass, the really cool stuff seems to be just as far as ever... even though, looking back, you know things have changed since you were a little kid waiting for the bright and shiny future.

1. Glasses that take photos, moving footage and sound of what you're seeing/hearing on demand (à la Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan)

It may just be me, but I think it would be amazing to be able to capture candid images without anyone even being able to suspect that you're doing it.  Walking through cities, or markets, or anywhere there are people doing anything interesting, there are so many moments I wish I could capture on film, but would feel too intrusive taking a photo of - and in any case, by the time I got the camera out assuming I even remembered to bring it, the moment would be over.  Not with these babies - click, a moment in time frozen, captured and stored away!

2. Hovercars/bikes

Yes, this is clichéd, I know, I know... but for some reason, hovercars have managed to keep my imagination captured even past childhood.  I'm not talking about those big, clumsy hovercraft things - I mean like the things on the old Playstation game Wipeout and sequels (if anyone other than me played that...).  I just love the thought of driving along the road, coming up to a slow driver in busy traffic, and just going straight over the top.  I didn't get my driver's licence until this year... up till that point, I was secretly hoping they'd somehow develop some kind of awesome electric-powered hovercraft, making getting a car licence pointless.

3. Mounted missile launchers on cars

On the topic of vehicles, since getting my driver's licence I have become painfully aware of the sheer number of bad drivers there are on the roads.  Of course, I'm probably not the most fantastic driver in the world myself from lack of experience, but there are some people out there who should really know better!  More than once I've wished for a very specific kind of device: a missile launcher mounted on top of my car, firing a missile on the press of a button on my steering wheel, aimed directly at the car in front of me.  I'm sure the technology exists for something like this, but for the sake of practicality, I have very specific requirements which may not be possible, and if they are possible, I'm very sure they wouldn't be cheap.  It needs to reduce the car in front of me to ashes, yet somehow avoid affecting my car and the cars around me, or the road itself, and it needs to do this within a fraction of a second so I can safely just drive through the smouldering remains of the last car to defy my rule the road rules.

Yes, I understand there may be some legal issues involved in this.

4. The technological singularity

The technological singularity is often described as the point at which humanity creates a machine more intelligent than any human could be - the implication is that the machine can then design and create a machine even more intelligent than itself, and so on, meaning that humanity basically becomes obsolete, and technology  will develop faster, and in different ways, than any of us could imagine.

Realistically I don't see this happening in my lifetime, if at all - it does seem like one of those things that sounds good on paper but will never actually happen.  But the implications would be incredible, as well as what it would mean for humanity...

5. Mind uploading

One of the more far-fetched technological advances, but great for the purposes of thought experiments, is the simulation of an entire mind (yes, I love linking Wikipedia).  If in the future, your entire brain could be simulated perfectly accurately by a hypothetical extremely powerful computer, then that simulation could think, and in fact would be a copy of your mind, with all your memories and experiences.  Then, assuming that it were possible to manipulate that simulation by stimulating the virtual brain's visual cortex and other sensory inputs, you could create an entirely realistic virtual world (and by extension, virtual body) for that brain to interact with.

The implications of this are even more staggering.  You could upload a copy of yourself, and that copy would last as long as the computer hardware and software needed to run it - effective immortality assuming there is always be a computer to run the simulation.  The philosophical implications are even scarier - that copy of you is not actually you, and you become different people the moment either of you has any experiences whatsoever after the "uploading".  And is running such a simulation even possible? (it's already assumed that it would already be incredibly difficult!)

6. Invisibility Suits

I probably wouldn't be as interested about this, except researchers are actually doing interesting things with metamaterials in more recent times... which means that one day these may actually be possible!  But of course, "soon" probably means "in 50 years" and won't be anything like as cool as you'd imagine from the description, and even if it was, there's no way anyone with less than a few million spare would be able to afford one.  Sigh.  I almost wish they'd stop teasing me with the possibility that it might happen...

7. Holograms

I remember as a kid going to Questacon in Canberra and seeing an entire room as a hologram, in great detail. It's an image that's always stayed with me, even though sadly the exhibit's long gone.  And it's another of those things that you occasionally hear about them making some progress with, and unlike most of the things in this list, that I've actually seen and been impressed by.  You wouldn't think it'd be too hard to have an interactive hologram in the middle of every room that you could use to have 3D images of stuff?  Imagine 3D television, or computer games, or, well anything really.  And you wouldn't have to put on some daggy glasses and look at your TV, it'd just be right there.  I'm not really talking like a scientist now - but dammit, sci-fi has spoiled me!

What I'm trying to say is holograms can make just about anything awesome.  I'd watch Question Time  if it was in hologram form.  We need to have it.

8. Virtual Reality

This one actually surprises me a bit, and maybe I've just not been paying attention.  I did play with a VR headset once - again, only as a kid - and remember thinking that it wasn't actually very good.  Why don't we have decent versions of these now?  I'm not even talking the sci-fi full-immersion stuff like in Star Trek, though of course that would be awesome... I don't even hear about people using just a VR headset to play computer games.  And you'd think that'd be very possible, and maybe even cheap, by now!  Maybe it just wasn't as cool as people thought it was going to be?  Maybe we're just happy with stuff like Wii and Kinect...?

9. HUDs

This is something I think of randomly when I'm doing things where I have to look around at different things a lot.  Like driving a car (again).  It'd be nice to have a HUD (heads-up display) built into my glasses or something so I could see everything at once instead of having to go through the incredibly draining process of actually moving my eyes between objects.  Or on contact lenses I could wear.

Oh and that's right, there's another term for this stuff, called "Augmented Reality".  But for those of us who play computer games, the thought of wandering around in a Half-Life HEV suit with all your vital statistics there and visible in your field of vision is a tempting one...

... or is that just me?

10. Time Travel

Sure, it's probably not even physically possible, and even if a loophole in the laws of physics does exist, probably not for anything bigger than a millionth of a gram for a few seconds backwards or forwards in time.  But countless sci-fi shows have demonstrated just how cool the damn concept is.

What I find coolest about time travel is the possibility for really complicated and sometimes paradoxical situations that are somehow logically self-consistent (again, sci-fi).  One implication of time travel which I've debated endlessly with a friend about is the predestination paradox.  The way I like to think of it is imagining a robot (let's call it Alice) building another identical robot (called Bob), then Bob going back in time, changing his name to Alice, then creating Bob.  So there's really only one robot that's somehow created itself, but for a length of time, there are two robots.  It doesn't feel like it should make sense, but somehow it does!

Damn, I thought it was going to be difficult to write 10, but now I've written a wall of text... and I haven't even gotten onto things like teleportation and rayguns and stuff...


  1. If my memory serves me correctly...
    There are people who use VR and GPSes to run round playing Halo (I think). The GPS tells them where they are and the headset gives them the view of the game. Then they run round basketball courts looking silly 'shooting' at stuff no-one else can see.

  2. ... I approve of this! :D

    I guess I just don't hear much about it. And it's probably still expensive. Maybe something to invest in when I'm a squillionaire...

  3. 1. Cool! But unfortunately would be abused something chronic. Damn pedos and paparatzi
    2. Sif the oil companies will let it happen!
    3. No probs at all
    4. CYLONS!
    5. Welcome to the Dollhouse...
    6. A Deathy Hallow? Are you VOLDEMORT?!
    7. Holograms are the grail :) Really love to see that
    8. Reality is too unreal for my liking already
    9. Yes, its mostly just you :)
    10. Time travel would work if you couldn't interact with the past IMO

  4. I want a TARDIS.

    (This is Sez BTW. Don't have a blogger account)