Well, 2000 came and went, and while European communism is dead and gone, my car still has tires, and unless I have $500,000 and a pilot's license, I'll never know what it's like to drive along the Z-axis. Why? Why? Why?
- Joe Blancato, far-seer
I quote myself for two reasons: 1) Introductions are hard, and 2) It's fun to look back on what we said before and compare it to where we are now. Here we are in 2008, and I still don't know the joy of a force vector takeoff, but I'm resolved to that fate. I'll never have a light saber or working hoverboard, either. Yesterday's dreams of tomorrow don't always come true.
However, when those dreams do become reality, the excitement we feel is palpable. We live in an age of discovery, where science is moving as fast as science fiction. And even in a world without light sabers, the stuff authors wrote about as little as a decade ago is showing up in laboratories, on military bases and in our living rooms right now. What follows are just a few advancements in science that were mainstays in our fiction until very recently.
Universal Vacuum Cleaners in the Comfort of Your Own Planet
Boy meets particle accelerator. Boy accelerates particles. Boy creates black hole with a slight chance of destroying the world. In a classic case of throwing caution to the wind, scientists at CERN put the finishing touches on the Large Hadron Collider in November of last year and plan on accelerating protons to speeds where they'll build up enough mass to create tiny black holes. Tiny black holes in Switzerland.
Now, according to Greg Landsberg when he spoke to Fox News, the chance of one of these black holes consuming the planet in the blink of an eye is "totally miniscule," and that's technically correct. But even if the chances of something are infinitesimal-to-1, there's always a chance. Luckily, since we don't know what's on the other side of a black hole, even if the good people at CERN do screw up, there's another infintesimal-to-1 chance we'll phase into a universe where you can catch Carmen Sandiego, the 2004 Red Sox never happened and I actually beat World 4-4 in Super Mario Bros. when I was 5.
The world-ending black hole isn't unknown to sci-fi, and Dan Simmons' Hyperion series featured one prominently, in a situation much like the one in CERN. In his story, man clearly shouldn't have interfered with the cosmos so close to home, but in the real world, things will likely play out how they usually do in theoretical science: They'll find a new dimension or two, and I'll fail university-level Physics.
Is That a Pneumatically Driven Haptic Interface in Your Pocket, Or are You Just Happy to See Me?
Science fiction has a robot fetish: robots that make your breakfast, robots that make war and yes, robots that make love. But while ASIMO may be able to do your taxes and pour a mean Tom Collins, it has the romantic appeal of a vending machine. And not those sexy vending machines in airports that sell overpriced iPods.