Emerging technology could turn these 9 sci-fi movie plots into reality within a decade
Few cinematic genres capture the imagination like science fiction. But plots that center around traveling to the stars, back in time or even to a terrifying dystopian future here on Earth are just the stuff of make believe. Right?
The world has seen profound technological advancement in the last few decades, including the internet, the advent of powerful laptops and smartphones and the manipulation of the human genome — all of which would have seemed like an impossibility a hundred years ago. And since the pace of technological advancement is increasing exponentially, the innovations of the next decade will be even more vast than the one before it.
As humanity forges its way into the next technological epoch, the world will almost certainly see new, unimaginable wonders. Science reality often takes a page from science fiction — just look at some of the modern gadgets that so closely mirror those from Star Trek — so it's not unreasonable to think at least some science-fiction plots could soon play out in real life.
Here are nine science-fiction movie plots that we think could become a reality within the next decade, organized by most likely to least.
1. The Martian
Centered around a crew of astronauts on the first manned mission to Mars, The Martian is a science-fiction plot that NASA and private organizations like Elon Musk's SpaceX are actively pursuing. The federal government has already passed legislature to fund NASA's Mars exploits, and Musk has a detailed plan for putting humankind on the surface of the Red Planet by 2022.
In an overpopulated world increasingly inundated by technology, a lonely letter writer forges a much-needed relationship with a new hyper-intelligent operating system. It's a fascinating concept, not just because of the technology involved but because of the premise: a human falling in love with a machine.
The present already has dumbed-down versions of Her's AI — think virtual assistants like Siri and Viv and AI operating systems like Airocorp — but great strides still need to be made in symbolic processing and machine learning before this plot moves out of the realm of science fiction and into everyday life. That being said, leading experts in the field predict human-level AI is very much on the horizon.
3. Ex Machina
An exorbitantly wealthy tech genius has been toiling away in a secret lab in the middle of nowhere on the next "big thing": AI. Ex Machina is much like Her, except in this case, the AI has a physical body and is rather malicious, or at least willing to do whatever it takes to free herself.
Ex Machina treats the development of true AI as a lone venture, as opposed to a joint one, which does seem a bit improbable. Still, the advent of AI is all but a certainty — it's just a matter of when it's going to happen, not if.
Today's most humanlike robots look surprisingly lifelike, but their movements are nowhere near as fluid as the AIs depicted in Ex Machina. And while companies like DARPA are diligently working on developing humanoid robots, their results are still a far cry from looking indistinguishable from humans.
The real question is this: If humankind can achieve this technological feat, will our mechanical offspring be benevolent or vengeful?
Three of the Navy's top pilots get a fourth wingman, except it's not piloted by a human. Instead of a person sitting in the cockpit, there's an orb of computer components — sophisticated AI that promises to make the fighter jet an even better pilot than the humans. And based on the complicated maneuvers it can handle, it looks like it is. Everything goes relatively smoothly until a lightning strike rewires the AI fighter jet, turning it into a bloodthirsty war monger that will stop at nothing to take down the target of its choosing.
Most of the hardware for this premise already exists today — in fact, it has for a while. Electronic autopilot has been around for decades, the Air Force already has extremely advanced unmanned jets and military drones equipped with AI can consistently (and pretty easily) defeat even the most veteran human pilots in aerial combat. What we need for Stealth to be reality is a major breakthrough in AI.
As mentioned above, many leading experts in the field of AI believe new developments are imminent, but perhaps the most unrealistic aspect of Stealth is simply that such an advanced AI could be reprogrammed by a random lightning strike.
Scientists are supposed to learn from trial and error, but apparently the lab coats didn't wise up after their first catastrophic failure in Jurassic Park. For this sequel, researchers tinker with prehistoric genetic code once again, and once again, it goes terribly, terribly wrong. In a massive park where resurrected dinosaurs roam about in electrified containment modules, some are bound to break free.
The plot of Jurassic World is surprisingly realistic and not too dissimilar from goals scientists are actively working to accomplish — for example, they hope to combine wooly mammoth tissue that's been preserved in permafrost for thousands of years with modern-day elephant DNA to create a new "mammophant" hybrid. The DNA-editing technology used to accomplish this is called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR, and would likely involve the same techniques used by the scientists in Jurassic World.
So the technology to make this terrifying science-fiction plot a reality is nearly there, but the biggest hiccup would be finding dinosaur samples with salvageable DNA — no easy task.
The world of Gattaca is one where everything in your life is determined by your DNA. Affluent parents create children with a superior genetic constitution — increased intelligence, drive and physical strength — and those children are all but guaranteed to accomplish great things. On the other hand, those "invalids" without genetic programming are not afforded the same opportunities. In the plot of Gattaca, one man with an average DNA profile cons his way to the top by posing as the perfect genetic specimen.
Like the story of Jurassic World, much of what happens in Gattaca is already being worked on today. Scientists are using CRISPR to hack DNA and so far they have successfully bulked up animals, eliminated HIV in animals and treated cancer in humans, while DARPA is working to increase neural plasticity in the brain to help people learn more information at an increased rate.
The scenario presented in Gattaca is so real, in fact, it was a point of concern at the 2016 Olympics, where officials scanned athletes to ensure none of them had been gene doping, or altering the way their body fundamentally operates, to gain an unfair advantage.
A hopeful astronomer always keeps one ear to the stars, and one day she hears the sound she's been waiting for all her life. After detecting an alien signal, the astronomer and the world's top scientists work to decode its message. Buried within the complex mathematical language is a set of instructions for a machine that allows a passenger to travel through different dimensions of time and space. When the intrepid stargazer volunteers for the dangerous journey, she discovers new truths about the universe.
The plot of Contact is both completely impossible and yet totally feasible. It all boils down to whether humankind is alone in the universe, a question this article can't answer, unfortunately. Assuming there is other intelligent life drifting through the cosmos, then it must be possible for that life to reach out to humanity with a coded message.
Humankind would face two primary obstacles if it came face to face with Contact's plot: deciphering the message and constructing the machine. This one is a bit far-fetched but still within the realm of possibility.
In the plot of Moon, the Earth's milky satellite is rich with resources. One company has set up permanent camp on the moon's surface, where automated machines dig up ore and return it to the lunar station, where it's then rocketed back to Earth. The twist, though, is that the lone lunar worker, who is aided by a pretty sophisticated AI, is a clone of his original self. This clone's body lasts only for a short period of time — three years — before it fully deteriorates. Thankfully, there's an entire subterranean compartment filled with hundreds more.
There's a lot going on in the plot of Moon: long-term occupation of another celestial body, human cloning and AI. The U.S. proved getting to the moon was possible decades ago, but getting enough supplies to the lunar surface for a full-scale mining operation would be a costly endeavor. Scientists have been cloning animals for more than 20 years now and have also successfully cloned human embryos. As far as AI goes, we're not there yet, but per the outlines above, we're not that far off.
So if the plot of Moon is so likely, why it so far down on the list? The answer is far simpler than the technology required to make this plot possible: Lunar resources aren't all that valuable.
9. The Island
In a remote and secure facility, thousands patiently wait for their turn to travel to the island — the last habitable place on Earth, or at least that's the lie they've been fed. These fortunate people are actually clones of the world's wealthiest men and women, and the island is in fact a facility where their organs are harvested for their owners.
As mentioned above, scientists have already cloned human embryos, and moving on to creating full-grown people is the next natural step. The biggest hurdle for turning the plot of The Island into a reality isn't necessarily the technology but the practicality of it all. In order to make this work, there would need to be hundreds, maybe thousands, of outsiders involved — technicians and construction workers to build and maintain the facility, medical staff to oversee the clones and doctors to harvest the organs — and with a project of this scale, it would be all but impossible to conceal its existence from the public. A screenwriter can dream, though, right?
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