5 Sci Fi Predictions That Will Become A Reality In The Next Decade

It’s easy to forget how many technologies we take for granted today that were predicted by science fiction books and movies.

We may not have commercial shuttles to the Moon, but remember the tablet computers used by the scientists in 1969’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? 

We may not have hoverboards, but we definitely have the video calls and wearable tech, in the form of FaceTime and Zoom conferences, FitBits and Smart Watches, that distinguished the 2015 of Back To The Future II, released in 1989. 

And could there be a more clear precursor to Alexa and Siri than the voice-activated computer in Star Trek: The Next Generation and countless books that portended machine AI? A forerunner for the cellular telephone than the original Star Trek communicator? Early phones even flipped open; designers openly admitted they used the handheld communicators from the 1967 TV series as inspiration!

The lesson—don’t count out the imaginations of sci fi writers or the great sci fi books to drive invention. Here are five sci fi predictions that will become a reality in the next decade.

1. Driverless Cars

The 1990 Schwarzenegger vehicle Total Recall, directed by Paul Verhoeven from an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, had plenty of cheeky comedy, but perhaps none more funny than “Johnny Cab,” the self-driving cab with the friendly animatronic dummy in a chauffeur cap who made inane smalltalk and whistled off-key, just like a real cab driver. 

Of course, Johnny Cab was ill-equipped to handle the classic action movie trope where the escaping hero, baddies in hot pursuit, jumps into a cab and orders the cab driver “Drive!” “I’m sorry, could you repeat the destination?”

It’s no secret, however, that autonomous cars are well on their way. Tesla leads the market in autonomous vehicle capability. Self-driving cars technically work, with models having been tested by Uber (supervised by human operators in the front seat, of course). 

What’s keeping them from the market? Nagging safety questions. There have been fatal accidents, and ethical questions worthy of a Dick novel remain about whether a self-driving car would make an ethical decision when faced with the choice of colliding with a pedestrian or another vehicle.

For the time being, however, the technology tantalizes us with the prospect of a completely reimagined transportation paradigm—cars that park themselves in massive suburban parking lots, summoned for pickup with the tap of a smartphone; long road trips where you can settle into a good book, watch a movie, or take a nap while the car does the hard work. 

2. Immersive VR

Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, adapted for the screen by Steven Spielberg in 2018, centers on a society that escapes a post-apocalyptic wasteland and into a virtual-reality dreamland. In 2020, it’s hard to imagine our society devolving into an unbearable post-apocalyptic wasteland--kind of, not really.

Of course, VR headsets by companies like Oculus have been on the market for years, with over a dozen games and “experiences” already available. Basically, we’re in the VR equivalent of the era of Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros for Nintendo. 

The marriage of VR immersion, mixed with tech like the virtuoso feats of computer-generated imagery (CGI) seen in films by companies like Disney-Pixar, portends a future where we really might prefer the game life to real life, like in Ready Player One.

3. Human Exoskeletons

What tech-toy lover (and Second Amendment enthusiast) wouldn’t want the military exoskeleton that Tom Cruise straps into in the 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live Die Repeat)? As Cruise masters the clunky suit under the tutelage of Emily Blunt (and between repeated brutal deaths), he becomes a mechanized alien-killing machine.

Do mechanized super-soldiers sound like a scary but unlikely prospect? Don’t count it out. Top defense contractors are working on it. Lockheed Martin won a 2018 technology award for the Onyx, a lower-body exoskeleton with AI tech to intelligently add mechanical assistance and increase soldier endurance. The XOS2 powered armor suit, by Raytheon/Sarcos, looks even more like something out of Edge of Tomorrow and debuted in 2010.

4. Gesture-Based Holographic Interface

Come to think of it, Tom Cruise gets a lot of the good toys. In the opening sequence of Spielberg’s film Minority Report (2002), Cruise memorably raced the clock to stop a predicted murder by remotely surveying the potential crime scene using a super-cool holographic interface, which responded to his intuitive gestures across multiple screens. 

Some of these gestures, like pinch-to-zoom, presage Apple’s game-changing trackpad gestures or the touchscreen interface of smartphones and tablets that would come years later. 

Microsoft took a crack at this kind of interface in 2009 with the gesture-based Kinect gaming platform. It flopped in 2015 due to technology that wasn’t ready for primetime. But the idea is ripe for another try. 

5. Genetic Engineering

In the 1997 film Gattaca, Ethan Hawke struggled to fulfill his dreams as an imperfect human in a world of genetically-engineered designer babies, curated in test tubes to have no defects. With a life trajectory customized from fertilization, the resulting eugenic society believed it could predict a baby’s entire life trajectory, resulting in a caste system that made ancient India look like an upwardly-mobile society.

Well, we can almost do it. That doesn’t mean we will do it, but medical ethicists are deep into heated arguments about the implications of a technology called CRISPR, a revolutionary technology that allows scientists to edit genes at the DNA level.

Maybe we could use CRISPR to edit out genetic predisposition to diseases like cancer or muscular dystrophy. That would be a blessing, right? But what if parents decide they want a boy instead of a girl? Or to edit out the chance of nearsightedness? Maybe change the baby’s eye color or skin color? Where will it end? Gattaca never felt so close.

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The barrier between science fiction and science fact has been porous for generations—ever since Jules Verne predicted humans would travel to the moon. We may be a long ways off from Martian colonies, but enough sci fi predictions have come true that we should definitely look at the space operas today to try and predict the tech advances of tomorrow.

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