Fiction of Today is the Fact of Tomorrow | Winner Article NAYS Science Essay Competition 2011

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 A human 1,2000 feet in the sky, social networking on a mini notebook, a robotic arm attached to the flesh holding up a perfectly designed face created by plastic surgery, artificial yet seemingly real long nails executing tasks tapping on an iPad. This might be something portrayed in black and white movies in the old days, but today it is an underlying fact of reality.

Science fiction has long enamored the imagination of world inhabitants. This has become more evident with the rise in production of movies, video games, and books, which carry fictional elements in them borne out of the bubble of imagination. Countless science fiction writers have put forth ideas and/or technologies that have readily come to be validated. On the other hand, an even longer list of authors and their envisioned inventions have been demonstrated impossible, unpractical, too expensive, or simply have not been workable quite yet.

An idea elaborated in science fiction books can become a reality if given careful thought and dedication. “Farewell to The Master”, a science fiction novel written by Harry Bates in 1940 included the first phrase, which made a reference to a flying taxicab. In 1965, a scientist started working in his garage on the XM-2 Skycar. In the following years, numerous attempts were made to build personal airborne transport. As of today, the M400 Skycar can travel 10 feet above the ground.

A more recent example is the dream-to-reality scenario of man’s flight to the moon. For centuries, if not millennia, man has dreamt of setting foot on this pearl orbiting the planet. Yet, by sheer persistence and ingenuity, man succeeded.

The past is an integral proof of facts resulting out of fiction. The book Frankenstein by Mark Shelly in 1817 proposed the idea of a man being able to create a human. Today, we are living in an era where test tube babies are formed, and stem cell research is being studied at a serious level. As we know from psychology about the famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human desire to be the most of what he/she can be is always present within him/her. Similarly, the desire to see his/her child be a better person than him/her is always hidden inside everyone’s head. As of now, DNA can be altered to fit the characteristics that parents want their babies to have such as desired eye and hair color, removal of certain hereditary diseases and skin tone etc.

Hugo Gernsback is known as the founder of science fiction; he is the man who foresaw probably most of what future science fiction writers drew upon. He wrote the first novel because of which the Hugo Awards – given to writers to this day – were named after him. Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660 is a novel of a gradually exhausting cavalcade of canny technological predictions—among them video conferencing, social networking, electrical cars, radar, solar power, movies with sound, synthetic milk and foods, artificial cloth, voice printing, tape recorders, spaceflight and microfilm. Added to that list are some that thankfully haven’t been attempted yet, including the “sub-Atlantic tube”.

Among them: a 3,470-mile underground train system that connects New York and Brest, France in a direct line through the earth’s crust. The Chunnel between Britain and France, a 31-mile tunnel, is probably the closest thing to what Gernsbeck described. It was completed in 1994. He understood the importance of producing ideas and imagining machines and devices that do not exist to initiate interest in them and zeal to figure out their technical facts.

There’s an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that you’ve been oblivious to before. Suppress it if you can because an idea is something that demands sober, careful evaluation. The engineers and scientists willing to work on the fictional devices are the ones who produce something extraordinary and carry the world into an advance future. Examples are many:

1) The ViconRevue device is essentially a camera worn around your neck that records every minute of your life. The life recorder from Roger Zelazny’s 1966 novel The Dream Master is an earlier reference to this idea. In the Harry Potter series, a Pensieve is a magical stone that allows people to store and replay memories.

2) The novel, ‘The Next Continent’ by Issui Ogawa predicted the moon having water. Soon after, scientists discovered evidence of water on the moon. The book elaborated on the different facilities future inhabitants of the moon would have, with hundreds – if not thousands – of people already imagining themselves owning a house there.

3) Various cartoons on television serve one main purpose: bring children to imagine more. Jimmy Neutron, for example, is a popular cartoon about an advanced robot that recognizes voices and performs requested functions. Such a robot seemed fictional to many of us, but then Asimo – a humanoid robot with similar characteristics – came to exist recently.

Ideas give scientists a direction to work on as well as a goal to achieve. In the year 1953, Virtuoso by Herbert Goldstone was a science fiction book portraying a robot playing a piano. At the time, the term artificial intelligence had not yet been coined. Years later, a 17-year old appeared on a game show revealing a computer that played the piano. 35 years later, scientists began predicting robots will one day take over the human race due to their efficiency in performing tasks better than humans.

Science fiction is a utopian existence, very imaginary, but it can emerge in reality through science when inventors have access to useful devices and technology in the future. Science fiction writers are often accused of clouding a person’s view of the logical perception and explanation of reality. However, the “imaginary cloud” that science fiction authors are frequently accused of creating quite regularly becomes astute vision and a clear picture of what the future holds for man kind.

In today’s world, we are racing ahead in the field of artificial intelligence. Movies such as Transformers and cartoons with robots in them were always considered fiction. Today, however, we have humanoid robots that can talk, understand languages, perform certain tasks and walk like humans. And it isn’t only scientists but many others who hold a belief that robots will exist like humans among us one day. What is fiction of today will most likely turn into a fact tomorrow.

 

-By Nadia Naseer, School of Chemical and Materials Engineering.

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