Dreams of Sci-Fi: How the Ideas of Yesterday Become the Reality of Today

Thursday 10/20/22 09:05am
Posted By Rajan Mistry
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Snapdragon and Qualcomm branded products are products of
Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

What do on-demand language translation, self-driving cars, and video calls have in common? They’re all examples of today’s ubiquitous technology that was once the figment of science fiction (sci-fi). As technology evolved over the last several decades, it’s been exciting to watch how inventions, once popularized through pop culture media like TV and film, became real.

Let’s explore how ideas transition from the pages or screens of sci-fi to become real devices you can own, and how our very own technologies have helped shape examples from the past to the present day. Then we can take a look at how you might use sci-fi and other forward-thinking mediums to pursue your next innovation.

From Sci-Fi to Reality
Have you ever reflected on an old movie or TV show that featured a cool, futuristic device that eventually became real? You might have passed it off as a coincidence, but as it turns out, that technology may have had some help from a forward-thinking methodology like science fiction prototyping. Sci-fi prototyping blends sci-fi and scientific fact, exploring the possibilities and implications of future technologies to prototype the future. For example, the paper Exploring the Referral and Usage of Science-Fiction in HCI Literature explores how sci-fi has shaped our world regarding human-computer interactions (HCI).

Many organizations use sci-fi prototyping to dream up new, forward-thinking ideas. The article Science Fiction Prototyping, suggests this process:

  1. Evaluate today’s technology as a baseline.
  2. Envision where the world will be in the future (e.g., ten years from now).
  3. Ask questions about what technology will be prevalent, how society may change, and what the answers mean for you and your customers.

If predicting the future is not your specialty, you can always call upon a futurist for assistance. Or, check out how some companies are using sci-fi writers to see what the future might hold.

Real Technologies Which Evolved from Sci-Fi
Let’s take a look at six devices that only existed in the imagination of sci-fi writers just a few decades ago.

The personal access display device PADD was a handheld device for accessing information, first popularized in an American space exploration TV series. Thanks to advances in mobile SoCs like our Snapdragon Mobile Platform and wireless connectivity like 5G, just about everyone today has a smartphone or tablet which can send and receive information from virtually anywhere.

Also popularized in science fiction is the universal translator, a device to provide real-time translation of spoken languages. Today, advances in machine learning (ML), powered by ultrafast inference on silicon like the Qualcomm Hexagon DSP, help bring visual and audible language translation to many mobile devices. ML on mobile has also helped many other sci-fi ideas come to life including real-time voice manipulation, image and semantic segmentation, and super resolution for photography, to name a few.

A comic series in the 1940s featured intelligent wristwatches that allowed a heroine to perform functions like two-way communication and video calls. With technology like our SoCs for wearables, different types of wearable devices, from smartwatches and trackers, to body sensors for health and fitness technology are now possible.

In the late 1960s, an epic sci-fi movie about man’s discovery of a monolith on the moon and the subsequent exploration, showcased the use of video conferencing technology. Today, we take video calls for granted in our PCs, smartphones, and tablets. These experiences got even better thanks to high-bandwidth communications through Wi-Fi and 5G and functionality like AI-powered voice isolation technology.

Those who hold fond memories of the 1980s, will recall the breadth of action-oriented TV series. One series featured an AI-powered sports car capable of autonomous driving, speaking, and acting on voice commands to help its hero driver carry out dangerous missions. Today, technologies like our Snapdragon Digital Chassis allow developers to implement many of these features in modern automobiles, albeit for more practical uses like safety and personalization.

And let’s not forget virtual reality (VR). One popular sci-fi movie from 1982 let us experience what it might be like to enter a computer system controlled by AI as an alternate reality. Today VR technology allows us to create and explore virtual worlds, while constructs for augmented reality (AR) and technologies like Snapdragon Spaces Technology and the Snapdragon XR2 Platform allow developers to blend digital assets with the real world for new and interesting practical use cases.

If all of these ideas sound out of this world, look no further than NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter powered by the Qualcomm Flight Platform. Several decades worth of sci-fi films have portrayed trips to other planets, and now, flight in the Martian atmosphere has been proven a reality thanks to Ingenuity.

Dream up the next Sci-Fi
Sci-fi continues to push tomorrow’s reality and offers key takeaways you can apply in pursuing new ideas, inventions, and innovations.

Start by exploring past inventions and the history behind their development. You’ll often find a long and interesting journey of how technologies and ideas from different disciplines converged to allow new inventions to take shape.

Consider employing specialists from unconventional disciplines to bring new ideas to your organization. For example, Arizona State University’s (ASU) Center for Science and the Imagination (CSI) brings together storywriters, artists, scientists, and other creative thinkers to explore new ideas around science, technology, culture, and society. Their projects have been supported by several well-known organizations like NASA.

Explore and re-envision how existing ideas could have been done differently, with new knowledge or technologies. For example, the alternative space program on ASU’s Project Hieroglyph website, explores an alternative evolution of space exploration using research-based visions for spacecraft that are both speculative and scientifically grounded.

Finally, check out our rich collection of dev kits, tools, and SDKs, along with our sample projects on QDN, to get inspired on how you can start building tomorrow’s dreams of sci-fi today.

Snapdragon, Qualcomm Hexagon, Snapdragon Digital Chassis, Snapdragon Spaces, Snapdragon XR2, and Qualcomm Flight are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.