Season two of HBO’s Westworld premieres tonight. The series takes place in a wild west-themed amusement park, which features human-like android hosts that cater to wealthy customers’ every whim. Will such a theme park ever come to fruition? How long before androids take over for human beings?
Sci-fi films and TV shows have long featured technology that has yet to be invented. But over the years, several of the products predicted on the big and small screen have become reality.
Skype, FaceTime & Video Conferencing
Films such as 1986’s Aliens and 1982’s Blade Runner featured video calls—a technology that seemed quite advanced at the time. Wealthy people were starting to use “brick” mobile phones, which were huge and costly, but video conferencing was not yet possible. Today, people commonly use Skype or FaceTime to communicate with friends and loved ones.
The 1968 Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey featured a tablet computer. In one scene, the astronauts watch and read from flat-screen tablets. Alan Kay, a Ph.D. candidate, envisioned a personal computer for children, known as a Dynabook, in 1968. Fast forward a few decades and most homes have at least one tablet computer.
Amazon Echo and Google Home
Disney’s 1999 film Smart House centred on a computerized house named PAT (Personal Applied Technology), which responded to voice commands and had the ability to do things such as lock and unlock doors. Eventually, PAT became overbearing and controlling. Smart devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are intelligent personal assistants that can do all sorts of things, such as control smart home appliances. The Amazon Key allows couriers to leave packages inside a person’s home.
2001: a Space Odyssey featured space tourism, which is nearly a reality. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and Russian firm KosmoKurs are all offering unique space travel experiences for the uber-wealthy who want to travel to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere in the next couple of years. Russia’s space agency, the Roscosmos State Corporation, is also investing in a new luxury hotel on the International Space Station.
The 1990 film Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, featured the Johnny Cab, which were taxis driven by automated cab drivers. Companies such as Tesla, Uber, and others are currently working on driverless cars, although the technology is still being perfected. In March 2018, a pedestrian was killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle in Arizona. Once manufacturers work out the problems, it won’t be long before driverless cars become a common sight on the road.
Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Series debuted in 1966. The crew used handheld communicators, which in later films were replaced by communicators on the wrist. Today, many people own smartwatches, which enable users to access the internet, play music and are as functional as smartphones.
Touchscreens & Touchless Interfaces
The 2002 film Minority Report featured Tom Cruise swiping the air to do some computing. Today, touchscreens are commonplace, but it won’t be long before people can control things in mid-air without actually touching the objects. The British company Ultrahaptics has raised around $40 million for its invisible touchless interfaces that don’t require gloves or wearables.
Several films have depicted flying cars, including the aforementioned Blade Runner. The Dutch firm PAL-V recently showed off its flying car, the Liberty, at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland. The dual-engine vehicle enables it to drive on the road and fly through the air. Consumers need a pilot’s license to fly it and at least $479,000 CAD to purchase one.
The 2005 film Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and TV series Doctor Who are just some of the sci-fi projects that have featured universal translators. Google Pixel Buds, Samsung’s Bixby assistant, and other services offer this type of service in limited capacities, and Amazon is also exploring the technology, which will translate foreign languages. Alexa currently translates basic words and short phrases in languages such as Spanish, French, Italian and German.