Luca Adly contemplates the striking intersection of pop culture and the trajectories of technological development past, present and future
Thunderbirds and Skype; Star Trek and Google Glass; Back to the Future II and Hoverboards. Popular culture has been incredibly perceptive in predicting the future of today, although some predictions like Tomorrow’s World’s the Worm Omelette have thankfully remained science fiction dreams. This 1960s BBC programme pondered the future of science and technology; other unrealised predictions of the programme include Hissing Sid the Robot Snooker Player, Paper Pants, and the Floating Bicycle. But successful predictions include mobile phones, breathalysers, ATM machines, microwaves, CD players, touchscreens, and laser eye surgery.
Other TV shows have been similarly successful: Star Trek predicting the moon landing, Friends predicting Facebook, 2001: A Space Odyssey predicting iPads, The Jetsons predicting flat-screen TVs. Most intriguing is Contagion, a film portraying experts and doctors across the world fighting the outbreak of a deadly respiratory virus originating from a bat in China - they predicted the COVID-19 pandemic all too well!
Which present-day TV shows hold the correct predictions for our future, however, is anyone’s guess. Some predictions seem like obvious guesses. But others appear ridiculously far-fetched for their time and still end up being fulfilled - consider The Simpsons and President Trump.
In present day TV shows, we are continuing to predict the future. In 2016, Black Mirror presented the idea of autonomous solar-powered drones to pollinate flowers and crops in the absence of real-life insects. Their existence in the future seems plausible, especially considering the rapidly declining bee populations. In fact, scientists have already begun to apply the principles of insect flight to the design of cutting-edge drones called Micro Air Vehicles (MAV) or Micromechanical Flying Insects (MFI). One of the major issues with these, however, is that they usually run out of power because of the amount of time they spend in the air. While they are not what was envisioned in Black Mirror, it does seem to be a possible direction for future science technologies.
Even then, autonomous drone insects are just one of the many predictions made by current-day science fiction shows. Only time will tell which of these will come true. Essentially, the future is extremely hard to predict, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try, right? We might just inspire the future.
From SATNAV Issue 23, page 6.