Can someone freeze-frame the scientific wonders?

opinion April 07, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

The pace of technological change is getting faster, to the point where new advances almost cease to impress

A famous futurist wrote that what Harry Potter could do may be just ‘ultimate science’. Some years ago, that statement would have been a little stretch of human capabilities and possibilities. But like they say, magic is simply science in its utmost form. And there have already been times when “magic loses its magic”, like when humans find it ordinary to take to the sky or talk to someone on the other side of the globe.
Only, everything is happening so fast. There’s no big fuss now about a new mobile application capable of typing what you say, in Thai, which is interesting. Why should we raise an eyebrow, anyway? “Siri” – an iPhone app that listens and executes your voice commands in English – came out a few years ago, so what’s the big deal about an app that understands Thai?
That’s the whole point. When something “magical” becomes so “normal”, the world’s lost another wonder. And nowadays, old-fashioned magic is vanishing at an alarming rate. We don’t even have time to wonder ‘what’s next?’ Such is the pace of technological advancement, and it will only get faster.
If we call Harry Potter uttering some words or things happening as “magic”, check out what your kids can do with their phones. Science is the secrets of magic discovered, whether they are to do with communications, travel, or some other physical marvels.
Technology is encroaching on the realm of magic from various directions, and faster and faster every day. Some scientific developments have even overtaken sci-fi prophecies, although others have not. The computer screens in ages-old “futuristic” movies have been embarrassed by the real ones being used today. And if there is anything that can worry the makers of the latest versions of “The Aventures” or “The Iron Man”, it’s how their super-cool gadgets will look 10 or 15 years from now.
The voice recognition thing will become child’s play really soon. Star Wars robots are beginning to turn from cool to funny. And it seems like memory transfers or implants, like in “Total Recall”, “Strange Days” or “Dark City”, will be deterred by ethical obstacles, not technological ones. All this doesn’t mean we are downplaying the imaginings of older generations, though. In fact, we must thank them for their insights and inspirational powers. 
Scientists have reportedly made a breakthrough that could bring invisibility cloaks – like the one used by Harry Potter – closer to reality. Optical and nanotech know-how is being geared toward creating something that was totally impossible just a few years ago. Again, how many people are excited by that? The story, which says human beings will be able to make themselves transparent someday soon, has not even made the front page of most newspapers.
Will humans ever fly personal vehicles to work? It’s just a matter of time – if we still need to “go to” work, that is. “Virtual workplaces” can be set up in every home, turning your walls into screens broadcasting what your co-workers do 100 kilometres away in life-size and high definition so perfect one can’t tell the difference.
These are just a few examples. We can still be wowed by them, but future generations will most likely live with them. Today’s magic is tomorrow’s reality. If you feel envious of your great grandchildren, be comforted by the fact that your great grandparents would have been very envious of you, too.