5 Sci-fi Technologies That Would Change The World
Any one of these would make my century
Sure, we may not have flying cars and personal robot butlers (or maids, if you’re a Jetsons fan) right now, but much of what we do have today could hardly have been dreamed of by the sci-fi writers of yesteryear. Right now, the majority of us have in our pocket a device capable of connecting to the totality of human knowledge. A century ago, the fastest way to get in touch with someone across the country was by telegraph, and if that person lived far enough overseas…whew boy. Good luck with that.
But now we have Skype and nuclear submarines and space stations. And that’s awesome. But I feel like things could be made quite a bit more awesome, and could be done using one of the five following technologies you can only find in science fiction. (At the moment, anyway.)
1) Omnipresent Nanotechnology (Matter Compilers)
By nanotechnology I don’t mean nanobots, teeny tiny robots composed of a few atoms that build things on a molecular level. I am interested in the “building things on a molecular level” aspect, but I’m picturing something more like a box. Maybe a Star Trek replicator? You punch in what you want, and as long as it’s on file, the machine spits it out.
What we can do: I’d say the closest thing we have currently to something as amazing as the “build anything you want” machine is the 3D printer. This video from National Geographic even opens with a guy referencing the replicator from Star Trek, so you know it’s cool. The video gives us an inside look at the Z Corporation (so named because they print on the z-axis, giving their creations depth). Essentially, the printer works using “paper” that’s a special powder composite material. The “ink jet” sprays a binding liquid onto the powder that solidifies the powder particles together. Do this over and over, and you can create things of surprisingly complexity.
Unfortunately, you can’t eat this stuff, and that’s what I’m looking for in my replicator: a device that could print me a metal crescent wrench if I needed to do a little light plumbing; a new plastic valve for when I accidentally break it with said crescent wrench; and then a sandwich I can eat while I sit and wait for the professionals to fix the disaster area that is my faucet.
What we could do: ”The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson is all about the stuff you can build with nanotechnology (as well as neo-Victorianism and how society changes once you can’t tell where money comes from, but that’s not the point). It’s called the Diamond Age as diamonds are simple lattice structures of carbon atoms. It’s easy as spit for something that can manipulate matter to make sheets of diamond as big as you like. So diamonds aren’t valuable any more.
Actually, that would be an issue we’d need to consider if everybody and their grandmother had free access to matter compilers. We’d want to make sure that people couldn’t just go around building uranium or other inherently dangerous materials. Plus, we’d need to consider how society would change moving from our current way of life to (essentially) a post-scarcity economy. Many things are valuable because their rare. Take away their rarity, and what do you have left?
Regardless, matter compilers would be pretty awesome. World hunger? Not an issue. Food’s made up of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen, and those are almost everywhere. Dump whatever crap you can find in the matter compiler, press a few buttons, and boom! Steak dinner with horseradish sauce (or whatever else tickles your fancy). With matter compilers we could build longer strands of carbon fiber, and then who knows? Space elevators, maybe?
2) Immortality Serum
Long sought by every mad alchemist (and some not-so-mad ones) under the sun, something that would allow a human being to live forever. Those fans of Greek mythology will be quick to point out that said immortality-elixir had better include everlasting-youth, also. Otherwise we’ll end up in a Tithonus situation.
Death has been the opponent of many the scientist over the years, and conquering mortality would be a pretty big feather in the cap of whichever scientist pulls it off. (I’m pretty sure you’d win all the Nobel Prizes. Just…all of ‘em.)
What we can do: The key question here is: Why do we age? The easy answer (that’s how Time works, dummy) misses the point. Sure, everything has to age, has to get older, but why does that go hand in hand with fragility? Why does the average five year-old bounce around like its bodyis full of helium and sugar, while your average ninety year-old is lucky not to fall and shatter into a million pieces? Telomeres are the issue. Telomeres are essentially the plastic eyelet on the end of the shoelace that is your DNA. As we grow older and our cells divide, the DNA gets copied, over and over and over. As a result, the telomeres get shorter and shorter, until our DNA goes all wonky (which is a very technical term any geneticist will be familiar with).
Of course, telomeres aren’t the only factor involved in aging. There’s oxidative stress, glycation and a host of other issues, but scientists are working right now to figure out how to alter the aging process so that we live much longer, if not stop us aging altogether.
What we could do: To answer this question I look to Drew Magary’s “The Postmortal“. Set in a world where science has figured out a way to stop aging in a single series of injections, Magary’s novel brings up all sorts of fun issues humanity would have to figure out if we ever found de Leon’s mythical fountain. Over-crowding, population control, limited resources, all of these would loom over the world like a towering colossus, while Malthus waves his corpse-finger at all of us and says, “I told you so!”
But everything need not be terrible. Ever-lasting life brings with it a host of issues, but so does any other major technological discovery. Immortality could also do a lot of good. Think of all the brilliant scientists to have ever lived, and imagine if they were still discovering things today. Or space travel. Unless we figure out a way to circumvent Einstein (or create teleporation, an issue I’ll bring up in a bit), it’s going to take us a while to go anywhere worth going in the universe. But if people live forever, then it’d be just a really long trip.
I’m not saying there wouldn’t be issues, but I feel like the collective intelligence of humanity could figure them out. Plus, I really want to hang out over by Alpha Centauri. I hear they’ve got a neat planet over there.