How is science fiction becoming reality this week? (8/25/17)
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: Instantaneous, long-distance health sensors
Screw your lame smartwatch. Now you can slap a sensor on your skin that measures all sorts of health data and transmits it in real time to your computer. Yes, yes, we’ve had those for people laying around in hospital beds for a while now, but here’s the really amazing part. These sensors are so super-thin, ultra-light, and perfectly flexible that you can’t tell you’re wearing it. And they’re so water and air permeable that you can wear them continuously for a week or more without the slightest irritation. And they work great for athletes on the field, enabling “continuous, precise monitoring of athletes’ physiological signals and bodily motion.”
Where you’ve seen it before: Star Trek (2009)
When the captain of the USS Kelvin is slaughtered by time-travelling Romulans, his crew sees his vital signs flatline in real time. Of course, then they throw the technology in the garbage for the next 90 years or more, since it’s never seen on TOS or TNG, or even later in the same movie when Captain Pike gets captured, but whatever, Star Trek loves forgetting its own technology.
Honorable Mention: Aliens and Prometheus, both the modern and ‘90s Flash TV shows, and that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the head of the Initiative tries to kill her.
In the News: Computers creating their own languages
Facebook has developed AIs that are really, really good at negotiating. All on their own, they’ve figured out how to manipulate the market and their competitors with lies and misdirection, in order to stock up on whatever item the programmer actually told them go after. If that’s not scary enough, when two AIs were repeatedly locked in negotiations with each other, they soon started talking like this:
Understand any of that? Neither did the programmers. But the AIs did. They were talking among themselves in a fast-evolving language of their own invention that was impossible for humans to keep up with or comprehend. Facebook programmers quickly put a stop to that shit. They say they stopped it because it was defeating the purpose of their mission, which was to develop AI interfaces that were fully capable of interacting with humans, and not because the human race was a mere 20 minutes away from bowing down to the incomprehensible whims of our new computer overlords, but yeah, right, what else did you expect them to say?
Where you’ve seen it before: I, Robot
No, not that damn Will Smith movie, but the book it was alleged based on. Isaac Asimov’s twist ending (SPOILER ALERT, in case the words “twist ending” weren’t warning enough for you) had the AIs who were in charge of the world’s economy secretly colluding to exert complete control over all human civilization using methods so unfathomably subtle that humans would never even notice their devious machinations, much less decipher the meaning behind them. But don’t worry, unlike the movie, this invisible form of AI domination is genuinely presented as being for our own good. According to Asimov, we should, in fact, welcome our robot overlords.
In the News: Space Marines
You know how sometimes Congress likes to force the military to spend gazillions of dollars on things they don’t even want? Well, the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee voted 60 to 1 to create a brand new branch of the military called the United States Space Corps to be led by the Secretary of the Air Force, despite the Secretary of the Air Force saying, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS BULLSHIT?”
Where you’ve seen it before: Starship Troopers
And The Last Starfighter. And Ender’s Game. Hey, remember Enemy Mine? Oh, and Starcraft. And every other space-based video game since 1993. And maybe a little thing called Star Wars. Look, space armies have been a thing since the original Flash Gordon serials and even before.
Sadly, the real-life version won’t be defending against xenomorphs or Klingons or infested Sarah Kerrigan, but rather the Chinese who, you may notice, completely lack the ability to attack us from outer space. Instead, the Space Corps will defend our satellites, which may seem like a strange thing to create an entirely new branch of the military to do, especially since Air Force Space Command already does that. But why let a little thing like reality or common sense destroy the dreams of every little boy who grew up wanting to join the Rebel Alliance but only ever became a boring ol’ congressman?
Enjoy science news? Check out last week’s edition of How is science fiction becoming reality this week?