Tuesday, March 19, 2013

When Science Fiction Becomes Reality

Science fiction has provided us with huge amounts of fun technology. Some of it even becomes real.

Start with space travel. Ever since people have stared at the night skies and seen the stars, we have wanted to travel into space. We developed rockets and spaceships, have been to the moon and now to Mars.

One of the most popular items from the "Star Trek" television series is the Communicator, essentially a mobile flip phone. Even Motorola and its StarTac phone a couple of decades ago modeled the design of the phone to mimic the "Star Trek" design.

In the series of books "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," by English writer Douglas Adams, the main characters, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, have a device with the same name as the books. The "Guide" is essentially a galaxywide tourist guide, but it is what we would know as a tablet or e-reader today, complete with text, photos and video.

Another "Star Trek" technology that is making great strides is what they called the "replicator." We now have 3D printers -- the Westport Library has three of them -- that can make a physical object from a computer.

For years, we've heard of videophones and the ability to see and talk to someone at the same time. At the low end of the videophone spectrum are products such as Skype that allow free video calls. At the high end, we have telepresence systems that use high-definition video technology to create the appearance that people from around the world are sitting in the same room.

The ability to use voice to talk to computers is also growing in popularity and usefulness. For a long time, computers have been able to convert text to speech to talk to us. However, the ability for us to talk to them and have them understand us has developed nicely over the past few years.

Most notably, Apple's Siri allows people to ask questions and give commands verbally and the computer mostly understands. Google's Android operating system has similar features. Both of these make computers easier for people to use and far safer if people elect to use their devices while driving.

Some "almost here" technologies that always seem to be just around the corner include jetpacks and flying cars. There are companies developing both of these, but they always seem to be a few years off and awfully expensive.

But the one technology that I really want is yet another "Star Trek" technology, the transporter. This is where one can get "beamed" from one location to another without having to ride in a car or airplane. As much as I like traveling, the ability to be beamed from one location to another would be amazing.

What's your favorite science fiction technology that either has become reality or that you really want? Send me your comments and I'll publish them in a future column.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 20 March 2013.


  1. The illustrious science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wanted to recount a sure story amid interviews:when he was in his 30s and lived in New York,every one of his peers got a kick out of the chance to laugh at him at their extravagant dinner parties over his apparently fantastical ideas.Bradbury kept all their phone numbers and, after the first moon landing,he called a considerable lot of them,laughed and hung up,happy that his dream of space exploration had at long last turned into a reality.