Science Falls Short Of Science Fiction, Or: Still A Long Way To Go Before ‘Total Recall’

 @rpalmerscience
on July 27 2013 8:14 PM

One of the tropes that a deadline-sweating science reporter often falls back upon goes something like this: “It might sound like science fiction, but it’s really happening!” Sadly, while there are neat things afoot in the world of science, science fiction has the advantage of being limited only by imagination. Here’s some examples of how reality falls short:

‘Total Recall’ (1990)

Movie technology: Beckoned by recurring dreams of Mars, Douglas Quaid heads to Rekall, a company that specializes in selling fantastical vacations delivered to customers through memory implantations. But before his new memories can be implanted, Quaid has a violent reaction, sending him on a wild ride that he can never be totally sure is real or imagined.

Modern-day technology: This week, British scientists announced that they had successfully implanted false memories in mice by manipulating individual neurons in the rodents’ brains, BBC News reported. Essentially, the scientists altered their subjects’ memories of receiving electric shocks into one particular chamber in a way that generated a fear response in a different chamber -- suggesting that the mice had become convinced they were electrically shocked.

It’s a far cry from the cinematic mental vacations in “Total Recall,” though. Plus, we haven’t even sent a person to Mars yet, let alone started a colony there. Nor have we developed a reactor that could generate an oxygen atmosphere for an entire planet:

‘Pacific Rim’ (2013)

Movie tech: What to do when giant monsters attack? Build giant robots to punch them in the face, of course.

Modern-day tech: The “jaegers” piloted by humans are leaps and bounds (literally) ahead of robotics today, when we still struggle with making a bipedal robot that isn’t flustered by a set of stairs. We’re having better luck with four-legged robots, though:

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968)

Movie tech: There’s a colony on the moon, orbiting space stations serviced by Pan Am spacecraft, and a series of alien monoliths secretly guiding the course of human evolution. Artificial intelligence proves risky:

Modern-day tech: Although there’s no moon colony, we might turn the Apollo landing site into a national park. We’ve got a space station orbiting around the Earth, but no artificial gravity. Pan Am is out of business. No evidence yet of secret alien monoliths. Artificial intelligence is developing apace, but has not yet antagonized humanity beyond beating us at chess and “Jeopardy.”

The Culture Fiction Of Iain M. Banks (1987-2012)

Novel-and-story tech summary: Incredibly advanced pangalactic post-scarcity civilization is guided by astronomically smart machines. Humans can control their bodies to an incredible degree, growing natural drug and endorphin glands, adding limbs for the heck of it, or changing their shape or sex however they choose.

Modern-day tech summary: Where to even start?

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