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10 highly improbable things from fiction that might actually become a reality

By 5th Oct 2016Oct 16th, 2019No Comments
10-highly-improbable-things-from-fiction-that-might-actually-become-a-reality

The coolest thing about fiction is its ability to transport us to another world that can be anything it wants to be. What’s cool about technology is that it is capable of making things from fiction appear to be real, or even real itself. Nike released the exact shoes from Back to the Future II last year on the exact date that Marty McFly went back to the future.

We compiled a list of 10 things that are so close to becoming real, it’s scary

Deleting or replacing memories

For some time, neurologists have known that the brain is not the biological hard drive that we may perceive it to be, with our experiences etched indelibly as memories. Rather, memories are not so much created as recreated, over and over, through a process known as memory reconsolidation.

When an event is recalled, it is essentially recalibrated and refiled in the brain, often (if not always) coloured by the mood and mindset at the time of recall. This is how memories become unreliable. It is also how traumatic memories become less so over time as the initial emotional reaction to the event (the trauma) is adjusted according to the emotional state at the time of recall. This is, of course, particularly effective in guided therapy.

More recently, a link has been made between a certain protein (known as “PKMzeta”) and the retention of memories. Certain drugs (“PKMzeta inhibitors”) have had success with blocking unwanted traumatic memories in patients by—wait for it—inhibiting PKMzeta production, which has the effect of severely limiting long-term recollection.

Meanwhile, researchers have also discovered how to hack the brain’s reconsolidation process to change the information being processed, essentially using the power of suggestion. One psychologist used this technique to convince subjects they’d committed a fictional crime, which they were later able to provide a detailed description of even though it never happened.

It has been suggested that a combination of these two techniques—blocking PKMzeta production while forcing a recall of a memory, invoking the reconsolidation process—could result in that memory being deleted forever.

Lightsabers

Yes, we are close. Scientists “accidentally” created a “photonic molecule“—heretofore thought impossible because photons (particles of light) have no mass. By creating a unique medium in which photons interact strongly with each other (as opposed to passing right through each other, per nature), they were able to get the photons to bond… forming an (as yet subatomic) new form of matter made out of light.

You may have suspected that the lightsaber was not the first practical application to come to mind. This type of matter could be particularly useful in the development of quantum computers. It could also one day be used to make crystals of light as well as the long-awaited holiday gift that is sure to result in a rash of accidental Christmas morning self-dismembering’s.

Lab-grown humans made with artificial sperm and eggs

For some reason which we cannot fathom (okay, maybe to assist the infertile with conception), scientists have long sought a viable technique for producing artificial human eggs and sperm. In 2014, Cambridge researchers were able to produce early, precursor “germ” cells—which could develop into mature cells—using human stem cells, a process only previously accomplished with rodents. As impressive as this is, Chinese scientists recently took it one large, scary step further.

In June 2016, Nanjing Medical University published its study indicating that a new experiment with rodent stem cells produced sperm that were much further along in the maturation process. These sperm were missing tails and therefore had to be injected into a mouse egg—which became fertilized and developed into healthy embryos, which in turn became healthy live mice. With no fathers.

Given that developments on the human side of this endeavor seem to lag a year or two behind the rodent side, we can likely expect to see this breakthrough with human sperm very shortly. Assuming that similar breakthroughs with eggs are not far behind, it could well be within our lifetimes that bioengineered organisms—up to and including human beings—become a reality.

Restoring the Dead

In what sounds like the beginning of either one of the greatest breakthroughs in medical history or the most horrifying apocalyptic science fiction ever, University of Arizona researcher Peter Rhee has pioneered a process to revive you “when you are at [10 degrees Celsius (50 °F)] with no brain activity, no heartbeat, no blood [and] everyone would agree that you’re dead.”

In a procedure that likewise has shown remarkable success with animal subjects, the body is induced into a state of “therapeutic hypothermia,” which sounds a little counterintuitive. All the blood in the body is then replaced with a saline solution, which sounds even more so. In this state, the metabolism stops, and doctors can operate without the threat of oxygen deprivation damaging tissue.

When the blood is replaced and the body warmed back up, according to Dr. Rhee, “It’s quite curious, at [30 degrees Celsius (86 °F)], the heart will beat once, as if out of nowhere, then again—then as it gets even warmer, it picks up all by itself.” Rhee’s partner has stated his intention to begin trying the technique on hopelessly injured gunshot victims.

Creating Black Holes

In a recent experiment that will likely secure Stephen Hawking a Nobel prize for predicting it four decades ago, physicist Jeff Steinhauer used sound waves to create a simulated “lab-sized black hole” that could prove much of what has been hypothesized about them. This soundhole was created by supercooling and then rapidly heating helium to create a barrier that should be impenetrable by sound waves. This, however, was not what Steinhauer observed.

Rather, as Hawking’s radiation theory predicted that black holes would generate photons, Steinhauer detected phonons—little bundles of energy that create sound—escaping the event horizon of his artificial black hole. Though the results have yet to be independently verified, the discovery is potentially ground-breaking and Nobel inducing.

Dinosaur Clones

It is now well established that dinosaurs have avian ancestry. The birds and chickens strutting about the Earth are one of the great examples of the evolutionary process over millennia. In a truly bizarre experiment, Yale and Harvard’s researchers hoping to gain insight into this process have created a chicken embryo with a distinctly dinosaur-like snout and palate—specifically, similar to their smaller, feather-covered dinosaur cousins of eons ago. You know, like a velociraptor.

Despite the team insisting that they were not trying to create “dino-chickens” and that their main focus was the evolution of the beak, the fact remains that a successful attempt to essentially reverse evolution in a modern species has been made.

Liquid Armour

Meanwhile, in Poland, researchers at Moratex Institute of Security Technologies seem to have perfected a technology that has been in the works since at least 2010—body armour composed not of the traditional tightly interlocking woven fibres but of a type of “shear-thickening” fluid that seems to defy the laws of physics.

And fittingly, as Isaac Newton was one of the founding fathers of modern physics, this type of fluid is referred to as “non-Newtonian.” Unlike normal fluids, which change chemical structure when subjected to pressure or changes in temperature, non-Newtonian fluids change properties when subjected to stress—like a hard impact—causing this particular fluid to instantaneously harden to the point where it can practically vaporize a bullet.

Personal Hologram Devices

Although the idea of a pocket-sized device that can project holograms might seem very Star Trek-y, several companies have already introduced this concept into existing smartphone technology by using supplemental materials or devices. From pyramid-shaped objects that rest on the screen to film overlays to an actual box that you put your phone into (created by British company Virtual Presence), it’s clear that the mobile industry has an eye toward perfecting this technology—and it looks like researchers at Harvard may have given them something to be plenty excited about.

They’ve created a new type of hologram with the use of polarized light and what they are calling “metasurfaces,” resulting in a far smaller amount of light being lost than in the generation of a typical hologram—which means a much better image. The silicon metasurfaces act as “superpixels” responding to different polarization states of the light used to produce the hologram.

Invisibility

Rochester University scientists have famously been working on this one for years, first using a series of lenses to bend light around an object. They recently upgraded to a digital version of the same technique, and they can make pretty much any object vanish—but only as an image, viewed on a display in front of the object. Their technique takes a lot of scanning and preparation, a stationary object, and that darn display, which is admittedly not as cool as an actual invisibility cloak. But consider: What if the cloak was made out of displays?

While flexible, bendable displays have been prototyped by many tech companies, LG appears to be taking the concept absurdly seriously. They recently debuted a 45-centimeter (18 in), superthin display that one could roll up and swat a fly with, and it’s not too difficult to imagine even larger thinner displays—wearable ones even—very soon. Paired with the inevitable, undoubtedly more powerful next generation of the Rochester team’s light-bending magic, this makes an actual invisible garment seem like something that we might be able to preorder for the next holiday season

Laser Guns

Finally, if you thought that the US Army wasn’t actively pursuing the creation of actual laser guns, then you just don’t know the US Army. In March 2016, they announced that not only are they very close to an official debut of such a weapon but that they expect technology straight out of Star Wars to be standard issue on the battlefield by 2023.

The announcement of the army’s progress on what they call “offensive and defensive direct-energy weapons,” which is a phrase we are sure we have heard in at least one movie, indicated that these weapons are the hallmark of a “third offset” strategy—which means “gigantic game-changer.” “Offset” refers to the concept of asymmetrical (lopsided) advantage, with the first and second offsets considered to be nuclear weapons and precision weapons, respectively.

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