Science fiction has a long history of predicting and inspiring real-life tech, from the Seashell listening devices in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (a prescient depiction of modern headphones), to the flip phone-like communicators in Star Trek.
However, there are many technologies in which we’ve yet to reach the potential depicted by science fiction. The list below is a compilation of all the science fiction tech we hope will be explored further in real life, from the gadgets we just think it would be awesome to see manifested, to the technology we hope could lead to vital changes for our species.
1. Teleportation Device
Teleportation has been a staple of science fiction worlds since as early as the late 19th century. Sci-fi and fantasy narratives often have some incredible form of teleportation.
One notable example of this is from Isaac Asimov’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day, an interesting short story about a San Francisco colony in the year 2117—where the only mode of transportation used are Doors, which can send you anywhere. As a result, the people never walk outside because they see it as dangerous and taboo. When the Doors fail to get Richard Hanshaw from home to school, he loses faith in the system and begins exploring the outside world. Richard realizes soon after that the outdoors isn’t as dangerous as people say it is. When he gets a cold, his mother sends him to a psychiatrist. However, after meeting with Richard, the doctor’s mindset is changed and he begins to understand the boy’s perspective.
Although the Doors of It’s Such a Beautiful Day might distract from the outside world, there are also positive depictions of teleportation in sci-fi. Where would the crew of the Star Trek Enterprise have been without their trusty transporter?
Although real-life teleportation would probably come with some considerable risks, it would certainly have less of a carbon footprint than more conventional forms of transportation. Given the grind and price of modern commuting, we think we’ll take our chances.
2. Faster-Than-Light Drives
Although a ship that is faster than the speed of light is a physical impossibility, nothing can prevent us from wanting access to intergalactic space travel. The use of faster-than-light drives in sci-fi is often vital to depicting a universe-wide narrative within the lifetime of a human being. FTL drives have been used countless times in science fiction, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the famous warp drive of the Star Trek Enterprise, to hyperdrive in Star Wars. Typically, FTL drives allow characters to explore and research the universe all around them. There has been much debate over whether or not space travel of this magnitude is at all possible, let alone safe. Given humanity’s hunger for exploration, I expect this is a debate that will continue for some time.
The earliest representation of a “mechanical man” in popular culture is the robot Tik-Tok from L. Frank Baum’s 1907 book Ozma of Oz, and genre writers have been fascinated with robots ever since. This fascination sometimes takes the form of cautionary tales against developing artificial intelligence, although not always—1999’s The Iron Giant (based on the book The Iron Man by Ted Hughes) had a very positive depiction of intelligent AI.
Edmond Hamilton explored this technology in his book The Metal Giants (1926), in which the robots designed to help society begin cloning themselves into dangerous giants. In reality, advanced robot technology isn’t a far off possibility. Serious efforts have been taken by companies like Google to develop reliable, self-driving cars, while commercial and industrial robots have seen widespread employment. Robotics is a science that is growing so fast that before we know it robots could become a staple of everyday life, and we might be dealing with all the awesome and terrifying developments that implies.
4. Force Fields
If we’re ever able to master the kind of force field tech frequently seen in fiction, it could lead to a lot of good. The applications range from providing a safe way to put out fires via starving the controlled environment of oxygen, to defense against radiation and weapons such as missiles. Isaac Asimov introduced personal force fields into his Foundation Series that act as shields for the user, as well as a giant force field that was used to protect a city from a nuclear strike.
Force fields are also a common super power in comics—superheroes from the Green Lantern to Jean Grey have enjoyed their protection.
Another technology that is moving closer to science than fiction is exoskeletons. A powered exoskeleton is a wearable and mobile suit that allows the users more strength and endurance. This tech was largely made famous by Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers, as the society outfitted its soldiers in industrially made exosuits to fight an enemy alien race. Other famous fictional uses of exoskeletons include Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, and Ripley’s caterpillar power loader in Aliens.
Exoskeletons are gradually becoming more of a reality. In the civilian sector, designers are developing exosuits that could help firefighters to easily carry fire victims or heavy equipment. Robotic exoskeleton tech has also been used to help people with paralysis walk and even play soccer. We hope that one day everyone will commute to work by bounding thousands of feet with a single step in their very own exoskeleton, but for now we’re happy to settle for leaps in safety and healthcare.