28 August 2012

FWS Topics: Ten Future Technologies that Will Not Exist (from io9.com)

Io9.com has a top ten list of technological items common in science fiction will not exist. Here is the list:

1. Lightsabers

The hard truth is that the only lightsabers that will exist are at ILM or in the local toy store, these uber geek-weapon are impossible, according to science. Light does not self-terminate to a nice sword-like lenght, nor would it be able to deflect incoming blaster bolts or other laser swords. Some fans then say the lightsabers are actually plasma-touch saber. Well, that wouldn't word either. Plasma burns too hot for a human to hold it that close to their hand, with or without the Force, they're going to get burned, especially with those nice robes and beards. Then the issue of a power source being compact enough to fit into a flashlight sized device, and have the juice to slice through Sith Lords. Simply that is a complete work of space fantasy. Of course, as a friend of mine once said about Star Wars: "It's space fantasy, and how can you have fantasy without a sword?"

2. Teleportation Devices

My wife is looking forward to the day when Star Trek teleportation is commonplace and she can beam to work and to New Mexico. However, during an video interview Dr. Kaku explained that modern science can teleport a single photon about 100 miles, and within my lifetime, we could teleport something as complex as a virus. The issue is transporting some thing as complex as Lt. Worf from ship to shore, who is composed of 50 trillion cells and would require something on the order of millions of trillions of current technology computers to store that level of data. Try that with your HA-9000! Then we comes to the troubling issue of dematerialization of your body, then reassembly at some distance away, and how that transporter version of you is a copy, and the original has been destroyed. This would be near impossible to break you down on a subatomic level, then rebuild you atom-by-atom until you are you, that's not even taking in account the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle! I guess in the future we wouldn't be thinking in portals...pity.    

3. Time Travel

As a general rule, human beings have been compelled with tales of traveling forwards and backwards in time, able to see where we have been, and where we are going. Are Terrans going to evolve into Gallifreyans, constructing legions of Type-40 TARDIS? It seems that the answer is no, however, a form of time travel is possible with the reality of moving at the speed of light, where time would pass at two different rates. Dr. Michio Kaku has stated that it could be possible to use a wormhole and the power collected from a black hole to navigate spacetime for times backwards, but not forwards. Even if that was possible, than would the universe allow humans to possess the ability to go backwards through time? Would the universe just generate another reality, preversing the original 'alpha' timeline? After all, as FWS covered with the post on temporal warfare, one faction of humans having time travel would be bad, real bad. They could reshape our reality to their liking, temporal engineering, if you will. This faction could alter religion to fit their desires, change the outcome in wars, and kill certain people (Sarah Conner) to prevent events from unfolding. It boggles the mind.
I don't buy the argument that if time travel was possible than we would encounter time travelers in our own time. If there are time travelers they would be better at hiding their identity than Dr.Who is, they would be highly trained in blending into modern (ancient) society, or they would use light-bending cloaking technology to walk among us without being noticed.
Also, time has to unfold the first time for there to be a future time period populated with time travelers, like the original wagon trails that later became railroad lines, there had to be the original settlers to go forth to establish the path, and we could in the original timeline that is slowly (too slowy) moving to the future. I would like to think that one day, time travel will be possible so I can save Stevie Ray Vaughn or prevent Lucas from making the prequel films...and maybe look up Raquel Welch while she was filming Hannie Caulder. That would be legendary.

4. Faster-than-Light Travel

We Terrans use the position of our planet and its relationship to the Sun, other planets, and stars to gauge time, however, the universe uses light-speed has it's Omega watch, and therefore, according to mainstream science, that it cannot be excessed without the presents of special relativity, namely Wormholes. Ligthspeed would be difficult enough for a starship, if you impact a beer can at 186,282 miles per second, you can kiss the USS Excelsior goodbye. Then there is getting the Excelsior up to lightspeed, requiring massive amounts of energy, and just as much to slow down the vessel. As a believer in alien visitation to this planet, and the lack of life discovered in the Sol System, than we are to assume that Gort and Klaatu possess some advanced mathematics or knowledge to allow them to travel between the stars. That is if you believe in UFOs that is.

5. Generation Starships

According to the original article on io9, humans will not construct generational starships that move at some faction of lightspeed towards nearby stars. Their reasoning is that Terrans will not raise their offspring in a metal tube, and constructing some on the order of the Babylon 5 station with engines would be too expensive, and that these generational space colonists would always have to live under material constraints to prevent disaster. There is also the matter of time mentioned. Io9 believes that Terrans will not sacrifice themselves for the trip, nor will other generations that are now committed to this eternal star trek. This realization could collapse the spaceborne civilization sense of reality, thus plunging them into anarchy. I think that generational starships are possible if the right conditions are in place. If the Earth is completely fucked, and the fate of entire human race rests on colonizing some distance point of light that has a confirmed M-Class planet, than I think humans can pull themselves together and live in an O'Neil space cylinder with engines.     

6. Anti-Gravity

The io9 article that I based this blogpost off of, it ended the debate on anti-gravity or gravity-nullification fields very quickly, stating it a violation of Einsteinian physics. While io9 may completely write-off anti-gravity, it seems that it could exist, after all there are a number of military and professional research efforts that have explored the possibility of a technological invention that overcomes gravity. My only question, if Nike finally created the BTTF:II Power-Laces, when the hell am I going to get my Mattel Hover-Board? Just not in pink!

7. Personal Force Fields

According to science fiction, we should not worry about gun control, because one day, we will have personal force fields, just don't shot a laser beam at it! The very nature of sci-fi energy shielding is the issue, first with the vast power requirements need to generate a shielding capable of repelling incoming bullets and beams (just not slow blades) would require a nuclear fusion generator in your pants (insert joke here).   Then, according to physics, the shield generator would have to put out has much force as the incoming fire to prevent it from reaching you. EM shielding works on charged objects to repel them, but humans are charge-neutral, and the shielding would not be a nice sphere. The best hope for shielding is interception nanobots, like what was seen in Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda  

8. Reanimation from Cryo-Suspension

In the one of the great episodes of Star Trek: TNG, the 'D' finds an old 21st century cryogentics space station, where the goal was 'freeze-you-now-heal-you-later', but would that possible? There are modern American doing this today...are they wasting their money? According to science, the preserving the brain could be possible with nanotechnology, allowing the possible of your brain being mounted to a Cylon body. The issue, is getting that brain perfectly preserved to avoid degradation of the brain tissue leading to brain injury. Current cryo-tech has led to brain tissue injury. Some believe that this will cause the thawed brain to be more mush than man. It is amazing the levels that human being will go to preserve themselves to cheat death...at least we moved away from hooks in the nose!

9. Downloading your Mind

The human brain is element that allowed human being to rule over this world, and all of its lifeforms, exempt for C.H.U.D.s, but it is not an operating system that runs on either Mac or Windows. However, there is a vast array of science fiction tales were the human brain is downloaded into a computerized network, allowing for immortality. It sounds great, you live as a flesh-and-blood for about 100 years, (less if you eat chicken wings), then download you memories and personality into a computerized Elysium and live out the rest of eternity playing on the game grid with your lightcycle (a red one, please). There is a good possibility that future computer technology will allow for some of our memories and experiences to jacked into a matrix, but io9 asked the question if our unique consciousness will?
At present, neuroscience cannot tell us why we possess a consciousness, let alone the ability to download it like the most recent Brandy Taylor movie. There is the issue of why do you download your mind, and if a person can exist inside a computer, can they exist in the real-world? Then we come to possibility of my future family members accessing my memories (scary as that is especially the NSFW ones), could allow for us to truly know who our ancestors are, and not just in old photographic and scrapbooks. This could also finally prevent the loss of a time periods uniqueness, allowing future generations to understand how people of their time witness the unfolding of history and society. But, if we can do that, then why not dump the copy of our computerized consciousness profile into a new hotter body?Works like Battlestar Galactica and Ghost in the Shell demonstrate technology were memories and consciousnesses are uploaded to a new body...why download your mind into a computer, when you can have a number six body? Somehow, I think is will be impossible, either from a technologically point-of-view, or banned by society or even religion to prevent all of us to become god-like and eternal.

10. Preventing the End of the Universe As We Know It

As it was created, it will die. At some point, the universe will enter the Big Rip, Big Crunch, Big Freeze/Heat, or even the Big Bounce phase, and reality as we know will end. Of course, this will happen many billions of years in the future, when Terra is nothing after our sun goes nova, and humans beings are either long death (I blame Ryan Seacrest for that one), or we will be gods that have spread throughout the universe.
Either way, it is unlikely, that even if we board the good ship Leonora Christina, the human race will not be able to outlive eternity, one day it will end, all of it, and we are just going to have to get use to it, because no technology or weapon system will prevent it. Some believe that by this point, if human civilization is still around, we could escape into an alternate reality.     


  1. Interesting post, William- although I don't agree with all of io9's assumptions, particularly on those about generation ships, antigravity, and shields.

    I don't know if it will ever be possible to stabilize a wormhole for use as a time machine, but the article fails to note that if I had a time machine, I could use it for FTL travel. A hardy star traveller need only survive a long journey, than use his Tipler cylinder or whatever to jump into a long-past era and arrive whenever he chooses. If you can manipulate T in the equation D=V*T, the whole notion of travel time becomes meaningless. If time travel is possible, FTL travel is possible as well.

    The universe does not use C as a universal clock speed. Relativity simply says that the speed of light will measured to be the same by all viewers, no matter where they are or how fast they are traveling. The consequences of this are that other measurements, like the flow of time, mass, and length are relative. There is no universal clock speed. I can only assume the writer knows less about high school physics than my grandmother's pet chihuahua.

    Physicist Robert Forward considered several possible anti-gravity machines in one of his papers. It remains an open question whether electromagnetism could be used to manipulate gravity. It is, however, a question that NASA's late Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program was willing to ask, so I wouldn't rule out gravity control just yet.

    I think we could build a generation ship, if we had too. This topic comes up a lot in discussion of starflight, and there scientific papers written on these sort of ideas. Good luck getting the naysayers to read them, though...

    On force fields, the writer again betrays his ignorance of physics. Applying a force does not require energy input. Does a brick wall use to stop you from walking through it? Does a magnet require energy when it picks up a nail? No. A "deflector shield" would not have to counter incoming energy beams or shells with equal amounts of energy to deflect them. It isn't clear what a "shield" actually is, as it is clearly not a force field as we know it, but it is wrong to assume that a "shield" must use huge amounts of energy to stop attacks.

    The article got most of the biology issues correct, though. Freezing brains or mind uploading are impossible, as the biologist Athena Andreadis is quite happy to explain at her blog.

    I have heard that it might be possible for a black hole to survive a big crunch, and that if an advanced civilization chose to live inside the event horizon of this black hole, they could survive the collapse and subsequent rebirth of the universe. This has obvious uses for a SF story, but I don't know if such eldritch black holes actually exist. You know how it is with physics stuff on the internet.

    Christopher Phoenix

  2. I thought the original io9 article had a lot wrong with it, for most the point you just made. I plan on writing an article on energy shielding for the blog at some point.
    While writing my books and this blog, I wished I had paid more attention to my high school physics class!
    io9.com posted another article on the ten space travel technology that couldn't exist...I'm working on it now.

  3. I bet that if they told students that high school physics- especially the basic stuff like the laws of motion, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism- are invaluable for understanding SF space travel, weapons systems, and energy shielding, physics would a much more popular subject. Instead they write lame stuff like "The Physics of Superheroes"- I don't want freaking spiderman, I want force shields!!

    People often assume that applying a force requires an expenditure of energy, but that is only if you are applying a force over a distance to accelerate an object. Simply have a force field repel objects would require no energy input. The floor applies an equal and opposite force as the pull of gravity does to you, but the floor doesn't need a battery. Many SF fans assume that a shield must applies X amount of joules to stop an attack carry X amount of joules, with absolutely not explanation given- but why should it? Tank armor does not draw energy from the engine to counter enemy bullets, and Earth's gravitational field holds us to the ground without requiring an extension cord to the sun.

    Energy shielding usually deflects a material object, which requires no energy input, or absorbs and reradiates a laser blast, which again doesn't imply that the shield had to counter the laser with an equal amount of energy. If you stick a spoon in a hot cup of tea, it will conduct some of that heat away without requiring you to attach a battery to the spoon.

    Have you got any new books on your list, William? I am nearly finished with A.E. Van Vogt's "The Voyage of the Space Beagle", and I rather enjoyed it. The Space Beagle is a spaceship on a voyage to the great Andromeda Galaxy, and her crew encounter everything from a panther-like alien who sucks the potassium from human cells to a hypnotic attack that causes the crew to begin killing each other. The parasitic Ixtl, who lays his eggs in human stomach cavities, was the inspiration from the xenomorph from Alien- but was far worse to encounter because he could pass through solid walls and was intelligent enough to design advanced weapons.

    A.E. van Vogt's technological ideas are interesting. The spherical Space Beagle's interstellar drive is its "anti-accelerators", which nullify inertia so it can reach incredible speeds almost instantly. The ship's hull is composed of advanced "resistance metals", and it is equipped with a multi-layered energy screen for defense. As for weapons, the crew carry "vibration guns" that apparently project some sort of electromagnetic vibration that violently agitates molecular structures, stunning or killing an organism. The name is unfortunate, since having the crew "draw their vibrators" as they charge around a corner to confront an alien intruder, it brings to mind an altogether different sort of NSFW device. The larger guns include more powerful molecular vibrators, heat blasters, semi-portable heat projectors, and deadly atomic blasters that use a small, supercritical nuclear pile to project an intense, deadly beam of hard radiation- far to dangerous to use on the ship. Interestingly, most weapons come with a tracer beam since the actual deadly beam is invisible and silent. It is, in fact, possible to power a laser directly with a nuclear reactor, which is the closest us 21st century primitives have come to an "atomic blaster" as of yet.

    Christopher Phoenix

  4. travelling to the future is easy, give me a comfortable space pod, a huge fusion engine and a fuelled/dry mass ratio of 10^6. remind me to have a healthy balance on a high interest bank account before leaving.
    travelling back: well i'll have to say my final goodbyes to the earth i know. i'll take a few tonnes of current consumer products/tech so if i want it i've got it when i reach whatever distant future is aim for and so i can sell it as pristine condition antiques. i will sadly not be able to send any kind of thank you message to einstein for his discovery of the theory of special relativity which my coming trip will rely on.

  5. All of these are great. I think that 5 and 9, though they are extremely unlikely, are not actually physically impossible. Future developments will never find a way to FTL, for example--unless causality and relativity are wrong. They certainly aren't wrong.

    However, we may or may not discover a tangible origin of consciousness. It is certainly a tangible thing; the only alternative is ghosts or souls or some other spooky nonsense. Whether or not it is discoverable or transferrable is yet to be known. Giving up on that possibility makes unreasonable assumptions with respect to our current knowledge.

    We also may or may not have a civilization in the future with orders of magnitude more resources than our current civilization. We do, after all, have orders of magnitude more resources today than civilizations only a few centuries ago. This would make generational ships buildable. Then it's only a matter of motivating the crew and their descendants. I think this would be possible; after all, isn't Earth itself similar to a generational starship? What's the great advantage of living here over a generational ship or colony if one has the resources to build a comfortable enough facsimile? I would think that being born, raised and dying aboard a nice enough ship would be just as fulfilling as being born, raised and dying in a small rural town, and plenty of people do just that. Still far-fetched, but not strictly impossible.

    A more dystopian route is social and genetic engineering, plus drugging and mind-conditioning of the colonists. Make them consent and be loyal to the mission whether they like it or not. Or simply don't teach them that they were supposed to be raised on Earth, or even what Earth is, and they will live and die to the best of their abilities in the generational ship because it's the only thing they know. There would be no choice. To them, it would be normal. They'd take good care of the ship simply for their own survival, and when their descendants arrive at the destination a computer system could reveal their true origins and purpose. Of course, eighty thousand years is still a long time to preserve social stability. There would need to be some kind of AI system to detect unrest and sterilize the ship if it occurs, then raise new embryos and raise them to be a good crew. To reset society. Truly a dark premise, but possible. Maybe these are the new atrocities of man's future.

  6. Re, FTL travel: read up on the Alcubierre/White drive. Absolutely works on paper. Still have to solve some issues though.

  7. All of the above is based on our current understanding of physics and how the universe works. An intelligent species that has been evolving and progressing as a high tech civilization for millions of years might have knowledge and understanding of the universe that would make our understandings look as flawed and primitive as that of medieval alchemists.

    To say that Time Travel is impossible is probably a safe bet. But it seems really shortsighted to say that the other things will never happen. Then again, I've never liked io9 at all. The whole userbase at io9 just seems "off," like they are not really geeks but are instead something else pretending to be geeks for some unknown reason. It's like some kind of shallow superficial Cargo Cult geekdom over there.

  8. If there are infinite worldlines—*big* infinity, the biggest possible—then there could absolutely be time travelers running around on a regular basis, and we personally just didn't run into any yet. Or, let's say, enough to recognize and make sense of.

    This is not wild fantasy; it's just a by-the-numbers possibility. Science depends on the testable and repeatable. If something has happened only once in the modern era of instruments, it is assumed to be an error because it doesn't fit the existing framework. What would this make of events that are indeed real and would change our understanding, but are so rare they only occur once every 10,000 years or something? It would make nothing of them; no scientist would try to publish on such a thing because he'd be ridiculed when it wasn't testable and repeatable.