6 sci-fi prophecies that are already here

Think the future isn't already here with us? Think again!


One of the reasons we love sci-fi so much is that it has an amazing ability to make the most impossible concepts actually feel possible. Well, it turns out that some of these concepts are much closer to reality than we might think. In fact, some of them are already a reality.

In this article, we’ll take a look at six of the most popular sci-fi prophecies that are already here in 2018. 

Flickr user Adri / Creative Commons

Virtual reality

We’ve witnessed many different experimental interpretations of virtual reality over the past few decades. From perhaps one of the most famous movies of all time, The Matrix, to The Veldt, a short story about two children and a virtual nursery, to The Tunnel Under the World, a story about a man who was forced to relive the same day over and over again, before discovering that he was trapped in a virtual marketing simulation.

Perhaps one of the most accurate descriptions of the VR we have today is Pygmalion’s Spectacles - a short story written in 1935 by Stanley G Weinbaum.

Now, thanks to headsets like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, virtual reality has become available for the mainstream population to enjoy. In the future, it’s likely that virtual reality will be developed even further to impact all of our senses, including the likes of even touch and smell. 

100% the best stock image we've ever come across at Big Think, c/o Pixabay.

Augmented reality

While virtual reality completely immerses you in a whole new world, augmented reality merely adds digital elements and suggests effects to a live view using object recognition.

Augmented reality has been a popular concept in many sci-fi works. Smart Glasses that give characters x-ray vision are one example.

Snapchat filters are one example of augmented reality in action, but this is only the beginning. There are now augmented reality cameras capable of conducting 3D scans of entire rooms. This is very effective for redesigning areas, as it can help to measure spaces and even placing virtual items, such as furniture, into them to see how it will look.

A wicked case of futuristic pink-eye. Creative Commons / Pxhere

Contact lenses that record experiences

Just imagine contact lenses that are also cameras, giving them the ability to record and store whatever you see so you can play it back whenever you want to - your wedding, the birth of your child, or a particularly happy vacation that you don’t want to forget.

Well, Sony has recently filed a new patent for ‘smart contact lenses’ that actually record your experiences. The technology behind these lenses would be highly sophisticated. They would feature special sensors that would convert mechanical energy into electrical energy to activate the camera. It would even be able to adjust for the tilt of the wearer’s eye and use autofocus to adjust for blurry images. 

Steve Jobs unveils the iPad—and perfects his tucked-in turtleneck look—in 2010. c/o Apple's YouTube channel. 

The electronic tablet

The electronic tablet appeared in many science-fiction works many years before it was actually created and sold to the public by the likes of Apple and Samsung.

If you’ve ever seen the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey that was released all the way back in 1968, you might remember the tablet-like device.

In the Samsung-Apple patent battle where Apple claimed that Samsung’s Galaxy phones and tablets infringed on Apple’s intellectual property, Samsung even used this scene to claim that iPad-like tablets had already been established as ‘prior art’.

 

A Google Home device at home, googling, presumably. c/o Google. 

Smart home devices

When Disney’s Smart House movie was released back in 1999, most of the technology seemed like a far-off concept. But fast forward today, and it turns out that quite a lot of it is already a significant part of our everyday lives.

The movie features a family that moves into a ‘house of the future’ that is run by an inbuilt virtual assistant. There are a couple of concepts that particularly stand out.

For instance, the family relied on a voice-powered smart assistant - much like Amazon Echo - to delegate tasks. The assistant could even support voice commands for tasks such as controlling the lighting or the temperature of your home - something that many of us have implemented in our homes today.

KITT and The Hoff, press photo for Knight Rider, 1982.  

Autonomous cars

Back in 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger took a self-driving taxi called a  ‘Johnny Cab’ in the movie, Total RecallFast forward to today, and Google is now test-driving self-driving cars. As of today, Google’s cars have racked up a total of over eight million self-driven miles. Right now, their cars are driving a combined total of 25,000 miles per week - most of which is done on complex city streets. They’re already rolling out their first public trial of self-driving cars in Phoenix, AZ in the United States.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s Elon Musk reports that within the next year or so, Tesla cars will be able to drive themselves all the way from California to New York without any human interaction.

However, following a recent report by Navigant Research at the beginning of 2018, it’s clear that what was once thought to be one of the leading players in the autonomous car industry still has quite a long way to go.

This is only the beginning

As technology continues to advance, we’ll see more and more implementations of concepts that we once believed to be impossible.

So the next time you watch a sci-fi movie, pay close attention - in a few years, it could become a part of our everyday reality.

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Kosovo land swap could end conflict - or restart war

Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case

Image: SRF
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  • The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
  • Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
  • A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict

The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it wasn't: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Serbians are historically very attached to it. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that recognise the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it actually has a lot of international support for that position (2).

The irony is that on the longer term, both Kosovo and Serbia want the same thing: EU membership. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued, between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics and not a few locals warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovar independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

In principle, countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging, but land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the Meuse river (3). But those bits of land were tiny, and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders carry a lot more weight in the Balkans.

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