How is science fiction becoming reality this week? (8/18/17)
Reality, having no originality of its own, must imitate art at every turn. The Agony Booth brings you the latest real-world science news that may seem more than a little familiar to science fiction fans…
In the News: Multi-directional Elevators
Ever gotten off the elevator at a hotel and realized your hotel room was, like, a million miles down the hall? Doesn’t that suck? If only the elevator could slide your lazy ass sideways to your door. Sadly, elevator cables only go up and down, because they’re primitive and stupid, essentially unchanged since Mr. Otis’s day about 150 years ago. Also, cables have a maximum length of about a third of a mile, barely more than 100 floors, before all sorts of physics problems show up. And they only allow one elevator car per shaft, again because of that whole no-horizontal-movement thing. Damn, I never realized just how much elevators suck until now.
Fortunately, the R&D team at ThyssenKrupp are fed up with that 19th Century bullshit and areready to indulge your laziest fantasies with the invention of maglev elevators that glide around with no wires. These elevator cars move up, down, right, and left—making turns and switching shafts to get around other cars, so you can get as close to your destination as fast as possible.
Bringing an end to the tyranny of hallway-walking is just the beginning. In bustling downtown areas, there’s no reason a horizontal elevator car needs to constrain itself to one building. With a little bit of standardization and a whole lot of horizontal shafts placed 10, 20, or 50 stories above the ground, you could step into an elevator car on the 12th floor of an office building in Harlem and step out on the 61st floor of a skyscraper in lower Manhattan. Imagine if Uber/Lyft had self-driving cars that could take you to the right spot within a building rather than depositing you on the curb out front, and you’ve pretty much got the idea.
Where You’ve Seen It Before: Minority Report
Within a single building, the obvious comparison is the turbolift of Star Trek fame. But Minority Report is the real winner here. It featured automated cars running up and down the sides of buildings and zipping across sky bridges between buildings to get you exactly where you wanted to go. And not just that: The cars are specifically stated to use maglev technology and be “public transportation”, meaning you just push the button and get into whichever car shows up first.
In the News: In Vitro Human Genetic Editing
Look, I’m sure you’re a pretty cool person and everything, and there’s no doubt you and that sex worker you’re banging with a $0.49 off-brand condom your loving spouse would produce completely perfect babies. But if and when you become a parent, wouldn’t you want to genetically edit out the potential for your offspring to develop Parkinson’s Disease or cystic fibrosis or left-handedness if you could? Of course, everyone would!
It’s happening as we speak in U.S. laboratories. Thanks to CRISPR technology (which, to my surprise, has nothing to do with lettuce), scientists can cosplay God for the afternoon—snipping out undesirable strands of DNA in fertilized human eggs and replacing them with something even better than nature intended. Naturally, these altered zygotes are tossed in the trash can after a few days rather than becoming adorable little human babies, just as a double “fuck you” to far-right Christian evangelicals.
To date, only genes related to a specific heart defect have been altered by U.S. scientists, but who knows what those wacky Belgians are up to.
Where You’ve Seen It Before: Orphan Black
Yeah, yeah, Gattaca. But Orphan Black depicts a much more fun and reckless version of in-vitro genetic manipulation where one zygote is cloned a bazillion times, each one getting willy-nilly genetic changes just to see how they end up developing. That’s similar to what happens in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, except the Fett clones all get the same genetic modification (except for Boba). There’s also Star Trek’s Khan, whom I’ve always assumed was genetically altered before birth, but Dr. Julian Bashir’s genetic upgrade happened to him as a child, so maybe not. Then again, the Enterprise episode “The Augments” deals with frozen Khan-era embryos, so presumably Khan qualifies. Honorable mention: Hanna and Dark Angel. Dishonorable mention: these guys…
In the News: Harvesting Electricity from Humans
Wear this goofy bracelet and you’ll have power beyond your wildest dreams! Well, you’ll have enough power to charge your phone, maybe. That’s almost as good, right? While it sounds like the origin story of a DC superhero who gets magic jewelry from a dying alien, it’s happening right here in our very own universe. More specifically, at the China Academy of Engineering Physics in Sichuan.
Inside this bracelet is a copper coil wrapped around a hollow tube. As you go about your day, two tiny magnets inside the tube get slung around in circles around your wrist, like that noisy little ball inside a hula hoop. Say, do you know what happens when magnets move through a copper coil? Yep, it generates an electric current.
The magnets spin around the hollow bracelet more than 100 a times a minute just from your natural wrist movements. You get about a volt per jolt of your wrist, which, depending on how much of a workout your wrist gets—you know what I mean, fellas… can really add up.
Where You’ve Seen It Before: The Matrix
I really, really wanted to find a sci-fi movie where the masturbatory energy of the world’s 14-year-old boys saves the world from looming disaster, but alas, Google let me down. If you know of one, please comment. (Or, if you’re a big-time movie producer, ask me about the new screenplay I just started working on.) Instead, I’ll stick with the obvious The Matrix, where evil computers think that comatose human bodies can generate more electricity than, say, the wind. Or nuclear power plants. Or any damn thing you don’t need to keep alive in a box for decades on end.