Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Six Sci-Fi Inventions with Major Issues

Sci-fi films promise a wonderful world of fantastic inventions. So what is the problem? Well, there may be troubling issues beyond the obvious that explain, for example, why humans may never queue up to be disassembled in a transporter buffer. A closer look at the issues with some of science fiction's favorite inventions might prove enlightening.

1. Magnetic Boots

"What is my motivation?" Youtube

Magnetic boots are extremely useful if you want to move painfully slowly on board a spacecraft that has lost its artificial gravity. Usually, though, you might use them anchor yourself to the exterior of a ship in order to destroy Borgs or other alien party crashers.


The Issues


When Warf said, rather excitedly (for him), "Assimilate this," he must have been thankful that he was wearing his Himalayan Magnetic Walking Boots. The problem is that he could only have been saved by his belief that they were keeping him stuck to the hull of the Enterprise. Unless the hull were made of iron or steel, and not titanium, aluminum, or other space-worthy material, he would probably end his days as space junk.

It is possible that, in the future, some now-unknown magnetic material will be found that is also compatible with spacecraft construction. The more important point is: is there even a need for magnetic boots?

Seasoned astronauts, those tough people that are born for space, are never happier than when they are scooting along a corridor in zero g. Surely everyone has seen them performing somersaults and throwing each other like midgets. When they need to stand "upright," they can slip their feet into little straps on the floor.

As for any extra-vehicular activity, NASA has had the manned maneuvering unit (MMU) for some 30 years. George Clooney was quite adept at using it in Gravity. Those Borgs wouldn't stand a chance.

Why not use Velcro floors and hulls if you just want to walk?

2. Internally Illuminated Space Helmet

The internally illuminated space helmet has been especially popular in the Star Trek franchise. A device that illuminates the wearer's face has been invented because, presumably, in space it is important that everyone can see you scream even if they can't hear you.

 "I can't see a flipping thing." Youtube

The Issues

Try this: go out into the dark, to an unfamiliar place in the woods or on a rocky trail near the edge of a mountain. You know, just the sort of unfamiliar surroundings space explorers in films go to all the time. And then shine a torch into your own face. See how long it takes before you find yourself face down in the dirt.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for this invention. Not only is it virtually impossible to see outside the helmet, but the wearer also has to contend with reflections of the lights that are already blinding him.

The only reason these are in the movies is so that everyone can see the Oscar-winning facial expressions of the actors. Now, someone could object that astronauts need to be identified in the darkness of space for purposes of communication and direction. So how difficult is it to build a light on top of the helmet with a different color for each astronaut? There could even be a variety of illuminated emoticons on the exterior of the helmets to communicate emotions more accurately than the actors themselves.

Many real space helmets already come with lights on the outside. Get it? The outside.

3. Teleporter

Star Trek - Enterprise D Transporter

The new scientific discovery of Quantum Entanglement makes teleportation of objects and humans a distinct possibility. However, it is slightly different to the method used in Star Trek.

The Issues

If this device becomes a reality, it will require the mass slaughter of humans to work. This invention would not "beam" any bodies, just their information. It would disassemble you while collecting the information to reassemble you somewhere else. Then, presumably, a technician would hose out the goop left at the bottom of the teleportation cubicle after you were "teleported." No cheerful Scottish engineer should be enticing people into one of these things -- even if he offers them a free red uniform.

Although messy, what if this procedure were to work? Would it be you that is teleported? It might have your personality, your body, and your memories, including the moment you got into the teleporter. However, there would be no way of telling whether you, and not an exact copy of you, appeared at the other end. You may have died while turning to goo, and the person presumed to be you is living your life, with your wife or husband, believing itself to be you. By the way, it would tell everyone about this fantastic invention, encouraging them to use it.

4. Android (Robot with Human Appearance)

Many humans have long cherished the dream of creating someone in their image. Usually, reproduction fulfills this desire. However, some robotics scientists want to do this with a box of spare parts.

The Issues

 If an android robot malfunctioned like an android phone, that in itself may be good reason to keep this idea on the drawing board.When Isaac Asimov created the three laws of robotics, he assumed that robots would be perfect. They would perfectly follow his laws and be so safe that they would even sacrifice themselves for their human masters. Welcome to reality: it would be a shame if your android decided to stuff you down the garbage disposal while you were waiting for a Microsoft update. Besides, if Andy the Android becomes a
reality, other social issues would come to light.
"Do you like my beard?" Youtube
Robots that look like humans can be creepy. Researchers have found that when robots look more human-like, any subtle imperfection in appearance or motion becomes repulsive. Therefore, they would need to be almost perfect. But what would that perfect replication say about mankind? Why is it important for robots to look human? Why can't they just look like robots? Eventually, it is likely that companies would produce mostly beautiful female androids and their handsome male counterparts.What impact would that have on human self-image? Is it good that spotty or chubby teenagers should feel even worse about themselves?

5. Warp Drive

Faster-than-light (FTL) warp drive is feasible. It has been a long-held assumption that you can only move through space; however, space itself can move. The universe has been doing this naturally for billions of years, which is why it has been estimated to be 93 billion light years across and only 13 billion years old. Apparently, at its extremities, space-time has been expanding six times faster than the speed of light on average.

The Issues

"Make it so."

For warp drive to work on a starship, an unknown material called "exotic matter" is needed to safely surround the spacecraft with a region of normal space ("flat space") while simultaneously expanding the space behind and destroying the space in front. Picture yourself standing on a moving walkway at an airport, the piece of conveyer belt behind you expanding while the piece in front is contracting. You just stand still until you arrive at the end. The trouble is that nobody knows what this exotic matter looks like.

That enveloping warp bubble would present other problems. Contracting the space in front  would mean squeezing that space and everything in it out of existence. In other words, it would produce a constant "naked singularity" as all the material (dust, atoms) in that space is converted to highly powerful and deadly radiation.

Mankind might explore strange, new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, even go boldly where no one has gone before, but it will fry all these aliens to a crisp before it meets them.

6. The Replicator

"Same again, please." 


The replicator is sci-fi's answer to that guy who pops out of a lamp and grants you three wishes, but with no strings attached and an infinite number of wishes. This piece of hardware can copy or reproduce any item you require, that is, up to certain limits. The Star Trek people realized that this thing could destroy some of their story lines, so they made it impossible to replicate antimatter, dilithium, latinum, or any sort of living organism. Apparently, the replicator's resolution was too low to make that stuff.

The replicator idea has existed for a long time prior to Star Trek. It also appears in Lost in Space (TV) and Forbidden Planet. Writers of these and other stories did not always set limits for their replicators.

 The Issues

There are mind-blowing issues here for Star Trek and for society.

Everyone's favorite money-grabbing Ferengi, Quark, loved latinum because of its rarity. But as latinum is one of those elements that are impossible to replicate, how could he purchase any of it? Presumably, he would use money or gold or anything else that, interestingly, could be replicated. As the Mafia adage says, "Everyone and every rare element has a price."

All bets are off anyway when you don't need the green stuff to get what you want. All economic models crash like an Air-fix airplane thrown out of a bedroom window. What could that mean for any future society?

No one would need to work. Hopefully, people would spend more time reading, writing, and creating works of art. However, many might lead an aimless and greedy life, happy to just replicate whatever they desire. Whatever happens, the shock to organized society would be tremendous.

Some sci-fi inventions, like the internally illuminated space helmet, should never be seen in reality. Others may be impossible to remove from society if they do become real. If you ever find yourself using a teleporter for the first time, it will probably be OK. Manufacturers wouldn't make anything that is unsafe, would they?

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