There are a number of science fiction tropes that might come true at some point, but not necessarily within our lifetimes or near future. They’re extremely common, however, and challenging them can elicit strong emotions from some. Let me list them here today, as I see them, and open some discussion that can be followed up in future posts.
1. FTL. A lot of people want faster-than-light (FTL) travel to make interstellar distances more like interplanetary distances, or less. Almost every far-future science fiction series (Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, etc.) invokes FTL. Some justify FTL using wormholes or warping space, something that is far beyond any projections of our power currently. Reasonable extrapolations of our space program many decades into the future do not include relativistic speeds, let alone FTL. We still need to reach for the stars, but currently do not have a clear path to them.
2. Singularity. AKA “Rapture of the Nerds.” Part of the problem here is that it is not well defined, and by some measures we’re in it already. By other measures, it requires AI smarter than humans, after which there are no realistic predictions. It’s possible that “smarter than humans” doesn’t get you so much, as “smarter” is also hard to define. It’s possible that advancement depends on exponential growth that we won’t be able to maintain. Anyway, it’s hard, because moving the goalposts is way too easy.
3. Nanotech. We already have nanotech, but not nanotech as described by Eric Drexler in Engines of Creation. It’s possible that nanotech will never (in the next few hundred years) do better than existing biological systems and fall far short of the pseudomagic seen in some science fiction.
4. Immortality. Effective immortality anyway, doing away with aging. It’s kind of amazing to me that the details of aging are not better understood, so it isn’t quite even a problem that is well-posed yet. With all the recent deaths and terminal diseases being announced recently of artists I love, it’s a shame.
5. Teleportation. Quantum teleportation doesn’t count. I don’t see this on the horizon at all.
6. Artificial Gravity — the magic kind, that isn’t spin-based. Also not on the horizon.
7. Humanoid Robots that can pass. This is one of the most plausible things on the list. It doesn’t require actual strong AI, just an approximation to that. Lots of different sciences required. The standard, for better or worse, is the robot prostitute, which is a high standard physically if not intellectually.
8. Uploading Minds. This depends on brains being equivalent to computing processes, which might not be the case in any straightforward way. And even if there is some equivalent, it’s copying. While I might like some part of me to live on, it’s not the same as living on.
9. Casual body modification. We have plastic surgery today, and it is a big deal. The kind of thing seen in Logan’s Run or Babel-17 seems a very long way off. I think we’re going to be effectively homo sapiens 1.0 for a lot longer than I’d like.
10. The elimination of money. Some shows like Star Trek take the approach that humans move beyond economics in the near future. That may be the most unrealistic thing about science fiction here! Remember the Golden Age vision of robots eliminating human labor, so we could have lives of leisure? Yeah, no evidence of that. Humans just do so many different jobs too many hours per week.
Others I missed? Some of these I treated unfairly?