How is science fiction becoming reality this week? (9/1/17)
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: Clothing with Robotic Muscles
Stroke victims often lose the ability to push off the ground with one of their feet, requiring them to compensate with awkward, exaggerated hip movements to get that foot moving forward. It’s a pain in the ass to walk around that way, and also dangerous, because they’re more likely to fall. Now, thanks to engineers at Harvard and Boston University, there’s a soft, lightweight, robotic leg muscle that can be integrated right into Granddad’s plaid wool trousers and white loafers (hey, even stroke victims aren’t immune to cheap old people fashion jokes).
To date, these robo-gams are only strong enough to mimic a normal ankle function and not drop kick those damn kids from your yard, but a geezer can dream.
Where You’ve Seen It Before: The Tuxedo
Okay, technically you didn’t see The Tuxedo, and neither did I or anyone else, but here we are.
Jackie Chan accidentally tries on a tuxedo designed for a James Bond-esque super spy that boosts all of his body movements. Hilarity and martial arts ensue. And now, reality has given us a pair of pants and shoes that enhance leg strength and fluidity of movement. We’re not talking about a bulky, sluggish exo-skeleton, so it can’t be like Aliens or Matrix Revolutions, and it’s not a sleek, impenetrable, body-encasing shell like Iron Man or (sigh) G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Sorry, it’s gotta be The Tuxedo. Or maybe Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers.
In the News: Memory Recovery via Lasers
Pew! Pew! Zapping mice in the brain with lasers isn’t just for fun anymore. Not if they’ve got the mouse version of Alzheimer’s anyway. Of course, first things first, you’ve gotta teach them to fear the smell of lemons by frying them with electricity any time someone uses Citrus Fresh Pledge around the lab. Then, if and when any of your lemon-fearing mice develop Alzheimer’s and mercifully forget the cruelty you’ve inflicted on them, you can restore those memories by getting your G.I. Joe on and blasting them in the head with lasers. Sure enough, if you activate the right neurons, they’ll start shitting themselves over a single whiff of Aunt Bettie’s lemon squares all over again.
Aside from thrilling fans of mouse torture porn, this research proves that Alzheimer’s doesn’t actually destroy memories as originally thought; it only keeps the neurons that hold the memories from firing properly. This means there’s hope that humans can recover memories stolen by the disease, too.
Where You’ve Seen It Before: Total Recall
Sure, there’s been lots of sci-fi where our heroes deliberately blank out their memories, like Alias and Blindspot and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the reverse is much harder to find. Ahnold to the rescue! When a bored nobody tries to get memories of a dream vacation artificially inserted into his brain, he accidentally reawakens the neurons holding the memory of his true life as an interplanetary man of mystery!
…or does he?? Okay, yeah, there’s lots of evidence that Arnold wakes up to his old, boring life seconds after the credits roll (or permanent brain damage has left him lost in a pure fantasy world forever), but whatever; for the sake of this article, it’s recovered memories, dammit.
In the News: Robot Monks
In a hurry to bury your Buddhist friend and the local bhikkhu is all tied up ‘til Monday? Get a robot to do it! Yes, the latest job being stolen by our inevitable mechanical overlords is Buddhist monk. The Nissei Eco Company of Japan has programmed a robot named Pepper to conduct funerary rites, including Buddhist chants, drum beating, and live streaming. You can rent him out for as little as $450 per dead Buddhist friend. No word on volume discounts.
The robot debuted at the annual Life Ending Industry Expo, which is a thing.
Where You’ve Seen It Before: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Douglas Adams imagined a world too busy to bother believing in religion anymore, so they invented a robotic monk to be reverent while they all did other things. That world was not Earth, but it seems we’re catching up—and we didn’t even need the help of a time-traveling, space-faring, five billion-year-old ghost to do it, thank you very much.
Enjoy science news? Check out last week’s edition of How is science fiction becoming reality this week?