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April 17, 2018

We’re waiting! 7 technologies that sci-fi films promised us, but aren’t here yet

by John_A

In a previous list, we discussed the technologies that were once science fiction, now turned science fact. But there are still plenty of other sci-fi dreams that have yet to land in the real world. Here are the seven pieces of future tech that would change life as we know it.

Laser guns

Come on science, where are all the laser guns? You can’t throw a DVD in a video store (or whatever the 2018 version of that sentence would be) without hitting a sci-fi flick in which lasers being used as offensive weapons. Unfortunately, despite some pretty cool laser-related technologies we’ve covered here at Digital Trends, we’re still not living in a world in which laser guns are a mainstream technology. Star Trek-style phasers, a.k.a concentrated pulse of high frequency sound waves, are disappointingly M.I.A., too.

Will it happen? It’s already happening — kind of. Lockheed Martin has developed a giant laser blaster designed to blow autonomous drones out of the sky. The U.S. Air Force is also convinced about the possibility of future aerial laser battles involving fighter jets.

While there have been DIY handheld laser guns, so far none of them quite resemble the ones in the movies. Maybe it’s the lack of “pew-pew” sounds!

Artificial general intelligence

YakobchukOlena/Getty Images

If you’ve been keeping your eyes and ears open over the past several years, you can’t help but have heard about the amazing advances in artificial intelligence. As astonishing as those advances have been, however, we’re still not at the point of artificial general intelligence, or AGI.

AGI, also known as strong AI, refers to a more generalized intelligence that isn’t limited to one single domain. One definition of AGI refers to the coffee test, in which a robot should be able to go into the average American home and work out how to make a coffee. That means navigating to the kitchen, identifying the coffee machine, figuring out how it works, finding a cup, and then making a hot cup of joe without problem.

According to researchers like Nick Bostrom, AGI could be the start of an exponential intelligence boom that will result in superintelligence. After that? For better or worse, life as we know it will never be the same.

Will it happen? Today’s A.I. is made up of single purpose systems that can do one thing really well. There’s a massive gulf between that and true intelligence, a concept that neuroscientists still don’t fully understand. Simply making neural networks bigger and smarter won’t necessarily result in a true thinking machine.

Nonetheless, the exponential increase in computing ability, and advances in fields like goal-forming reinforcement learning, suggests a breakthrough could be imminent.

Quantum computers


Quantum computers were first proposed in 1982 by the American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. Quantum computers represent the next evolution of computing from the binary digital electronic computers we use today. Instead of encoding data into bits which are either 0 or 1, quantum computing deals with quantum bits, which can be 0, 1 and both 0 and 1 at the same time. The results promise to be exponentially faster and more efficient computers than we can possibly imagine today.

Already there have been some advances in making early quantum computers — so it’s not wholly accurate to say they don’t exist yet. Nonetheless, true quantum computing is not here. When it does arrive, everything from modern cryptography to our ability to model amazing complexly problems, such as the behavior of atomic particles, will shift overnight.

Will it happen? Almost certainly. With fears about the end of Moore’s Law, plenty of funding from giants like Google and Microsoft, and lots of interest in the field, quantum computing seems assured. The bigger question is how many of the other items on this list it could open up.


Star Trek

The Star Trek dream of “Beam me up, Scotty!” is the ultimate form of transportation: long-distance travel minus the travel. There have been numerous scientific advances in real life teleportation since a 1993 paper titled, “Teleporting an Unknown Quantum State Via Dual Classical and Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Channels.”

Despite that, teleporting humans — or even everyday objects — has yet to become a reality. We’d totally chip in for a crowdfunding campaign that would guarantee we’d never again be stuck in the middle seat on a long-haul flight to get where we’re going!

Will it happen? When it comes to speeding up transportation over long distances, there will almost certainly be far better short term options than waiting on teleportation. In theory it’s possible, but you shouldn’t expect to be transporting to work in this manner in your lifetime.

Then there’s always that David Cronenberg fear of what happens if a fly happens to buzz into the teleportation system at the same time you do!

Invisibility cloaks

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Whether it’s H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man or Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility, people have long been dreaming of technology that will allow us — and certain selected objects — to disappear from sight. In recent years, Digital Trends has covered some intriguing projects related to real life invisibility capes.

Sadly, as of this writing we’re still waiting for the metamaterial that will make honest-to-goodness invisibility a reality. Maybe we’re being punished for all those mean comments about James Bond’s invisible car in the awful Die Another Day.

Will it happen? We’re not banking on a Harry Potter-style invisibility poncho popping up next year’s catwalks, but there will certainly be more and more invisibility projects by the military. As new ways to sense individuals, equipment and vehicles are invented, so too will the number of technologies designed to render them useless.

3D printed organs

Singapore Economic Development Board

Imagine if medical science had the ability to replace a worn out or diseased organ with a brand new one, with no risk of your body rejecting it. That’s the long term dream of 3D bioprinting, which aims to one day give regenerative medical experts the ability to 3D print fully functioning organs like the kidney, liver or even heart using a patient’s own cells.

Such a feat will end transplant organ shortages, alongside related issues like the black market for organ. Right now, bioprinting is still at the level of printing basic tissues, with complete vascular organs still a couple decades away.

Will it happen? Fully 3D bioprinted organs are still a way off. But organoids for personalized drug testing or implantable tissues for repairs are coming in the next decade.

Colonizing Mars

Nisian Hughes/Getty Images

Colonizing Mars has been a science-fiction dream for years. With a growing Earthbound population and the technology to reach Mars now a reality, it’s only going to be so long before the likes of SpaceX’s Elon Musk fulfill their goal of colonizing the Red Planet.

Will it happen? We sure think it will. And we’d love to be among the intrepid first generation of inhabitants, too. So long as it doesn’t all go a bit Total Recall-style dystopia, that is.

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