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Tech in the Media Vs. Tech in Real Life

January 3, 2022

The science fiction and fantasy genres have exploded in the last ten years, but media has explored futuristic technology for much longer – going back centuries, according to some scholars. But how has the depiction of technology differed in media compared to reality? Some works have managed to successfully predict the future while others fell short. And some may even currently be showing us fictional tech that will one day become reality and go on to change the world.

Space exploration has been a focus in the media for longer than most people are aware. As far back as 200 CE, a Greek satirist known as Lucian wrote a tale about sailing to the moon, states Brittanica. Later, in the 1600s, Cyrano de Bergerac penned a story about a man traveling to the moon to discover a utopia. Jules Verne wrote From the Earth to the Moon, a story about a cannon used to fire three individuals to the moon, in 1865. An early French film in 1902, A Trip to the Moon, takes a lighter look at space travel with a visit to “the man on the moon.”

All of these creators provided fantastic methods for landing on the moon, and all correctly predicted that it would happen one day, though sadly, none were around to witness it occur.

Though released in 2015, the epic film The Martian, based on a 2011 novel by Andy Weir, provides a glimpse into our near future. Taking place in 2035, the movie follows an astronaut left alone on Mars to fend for himself until he can be safely returned to Earth.

While no utopia exists on the moon today, NASA along with international partners are working toward establishing a long-term presence on the moon with hopes set on an eventual trip to Mars. Only time will tell if reality meets the 2035 goal set by The Martian.

Artificial intelligence and robots are another area of technology that media has explored for years. Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot is a collection of stories focused on robots and delves into several themes, including how robots can help humanity and the ethics of artificial intelligence. The I, Robot story “Runaround,” introduces the Three Laws of Robotics. This, along with the story “Little Lost Robot” later formed the basis for the 2004 film version of I, Robot.

In the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, a robot named HAL 9000 is central to the film. HAL is a voice-commanded robot with the ability to interpret and perform commands – and, eventually, make decisions on his own. The movie also features tablets and video communications.

The Matrix movies explore the extremes of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the complexities in the relationships between humans and technology. While we are not living in the matrix (we hope), elements of the movie have come to life through VR headsets, robotic/automated surveillance, and the speed and ease with which we seamlessly connect to the internet.

These examples ultimately predicted machine learning and artificial intelligence, along with the use of robots and other technologies in daily life. While we may not have robots such as those in I, Robot or 2001 in our daily lives, we do have robot vacuums, smart home devices, surgical robots, self-driving cars, and a variety of other industrial robots.

Long before the internet was ubiquitous, 1995’s The Net explored its impact on one unlucky individual. Sandra Bullock plays a systems analyst in a movie that predicted both a major benefit and major detriment to the internet. On the benefit side, 25 years before it became the “norm,” Bullock’s character telecommutes – something only 9% of workers did at the time.

On the detriment side, however, the movie explores the issue of identity theft – though taken to the extreme as Bullock’s character is ultimately stripped of her entire identity. When The Net was released, identity theft via digital sources was uncommon. Identity theft is now so prevalent there’s a federal website dedicated solely to tracking it: The FTC reported that there were over 1.4 million instances of identity theft in 2020. This may be once instance where we all wish a movie had not predicted the future quite so well.

One area where media has not predicted the future – at least of yet – is in the realm of time travel. Back to the Future, the Terminator movies, and Looper, among many others, all feature the use of technology (of all kinds). As far as we know, no one has successfully traveled in time to date, but you never know when science fiction will become science fact.

Capitol Tech offers bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD programs in cyber and information security, cyber analytics and data science, and aviation and unmanned systems, including courses in cybersecurity, machine learning, artificial intelligence, spacecraft systems, and robotics. Email for more information.