Looking at retrofuture predictions of our modern age, it’s easy to feel a little short-changed. To quote Calvin, of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comics, “Where are the flying cars? Where are the moon colonies? Where are the personal robots and the zero gravity boot, uh? You call this a new decade?! You call this the future?? HA! Where are the rocket packs? Where are the disintegration rays? Where are the floating cities?”
For the most part, Calvin is right. Popular predictions of the “World of Tomorrow” tend to be more wrong than right, and some of the ideas – like nuclear-powered cars – seem downright ridiculous when viewed in a modern light. But for all their incorrect predictions, those early futurists did manage to stumble across a few good ones. Here are six of the more common visions of the future that they managed to get right:
Following in the same track of research into “ultra-low-power” medical devices as other MIT researches earlier this year, a team of researchers from MIT’s Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infimary (MEEI) demonstrated the ability to directly harness electrical energy from the inner ear without impairing hearing.
The cochlea, a portion of the ear unique to mammals, translates sound vibrations to the eardrum into electrochemical signals for the brain to process, making it into a “natural battery”. Although scientists have understood this process for years now, it was considered dangerous to attempt experimentation with the inner ear since it could result in a loss of hearing. This experiment is the first to demonstrate that it is possible to tap into this energy source without producing any hearing loss
If you thought that bionic limbs were a mere showcase technology, still decades away from fruition or practical application, the folks at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) have some news for you.
On November 4, 2012, Zac Vawter, a single-leg amputee and research subject for RIC, performed a stunning practical demonstration of the capabilities of RIC’s neural-controlled bionic leg. As part of the charity event, SkyRise Chicago, Vawter climbed 2,109 steps to Willis (formerly Sears) Tower’s observation deck.
The bionic leg is the latest step in the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s work with neural-controlled prosthetics, and represents a large leap in the safety and reliability of such technology. While researchers and engineers have succeeded in producing neural-controlled fingers and arms in the past, legs were considered a challenge due to the increased safety risks associated with them: If a bionic arm fails during use, you aren’t likely to do much more than drop what you’re carrying, but if your bionic leg fails, you could quite easily be injured from a fall. In this case, a fall down a 103-story skyscraper.
Bottom line, up front: Altered Carbon is a good book. Not just kinda good or good-for-a-debut-novel good, but “Holy shit, I can’t put this thing down!” good.
Despite being a big fan of futurist and transhuman fiction, I initially avoided Altered Carbon due to my disinclination for mystery novels. It was only after one particularly long stretch of limited Internet access that I finally gave the loneliest novel in my Kindle library a chance, and I was quickly hooked. If Philip K. Dick can be said to have pioneered the merger between pulp noir and science fiction in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Richard Morgan has shown just how much further the genre can go with Altered Carbon.
Defining transhumanism is a tricky subject. Depending on what website or what book you choose to consult, you’ll find yourself with wildly varying answers. Even stranger, each of those wildly varying answers is often just as correct as any other.
The real trouble is this: transhumanism has come to embrace such a wide range of ideas, philosophies, and technologies that it is difficult to pin it down to any specific definition. Even the fundamental principles of transhumanism – ideas such as bioethics and personal freedom – are themselves massive ideas. The essence of transhumanism is often lost in the chaff of its own expansive scope.