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The Future!

Here’s the cool thing about Sci-Fi: Sometimes it happens. For realz. There is so much science fiction out there, the world is such a whacky place, and scientists are such a clever bunch that it only makes sense that every once in awhile scientists are bound to discover something that already existed in the fictional works surrounding us (or at least surrounding me, I don’t know how you have your room organized). Comics are no exception so I present to you: 5 gizmos/ideas/other stuff comics dreamt up and science later delivered! 

 
5) InvisibilityCloaked for your pleasure.
 
From the comic: The Invisible Man in Mystic Comics #2 (1940) then in Sensation Comics #1 (1942) as Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet.
 
You may be thinking “you start with invisibility? Shouldn’t that be higher on the list?” Well it doesn’t work that well so it’s stuck being first. The basic idea is if you can build a material that forces light to bend around it then it won’t be seen. I won’t bore you with the nitty gritty details (i.e. I don’t know them, it’s crazy optical physics for crying out loud) but outside of existing stealth technology, which may as well be called invisible, we’re a ways off from an invisible plane. There are two sizable hurdles facing current generation cloaking technology. The first is it only works with infrared light, which our eyes can’t even see anyways. The second is it only appears invisible if you’re looking straight at it. So you’d have to know where it was to not see it, which entirely defeats the purpose of it being invisible at all. This hurdle was recently “overcome” when some scientists expanded this plane to a range of 30 degrees. It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s work to be done if Diana wants her ride anytime soon.
 
4) Time travelRunning on a Space Station
 
From the comic: The Flash #125 (1961) [If you know an earlier example tell me in the comments.]
 
Again, you’re probably thinking, “exactly when did science successfully solve the issue of time travel?” Well theoretically time travel hasn’t been a pressing issue since the theory of General Relativity, which is not a way of figuring out X-Men continuity but rather a way of explaining the relationship between special relativity (E = mc^2) and gravity. And since it was first proposed in 1915 it technically predates modern comics as we know and love them today but it’s the ability to implement said time travel that has only since been figured out. Why wasn’t this news? Well because it was those darn Rooskies with their space station Mir that did it. The cosmonaut in question is Sergei Avdeyev, who is considered by some to hold the world record for human time travel. Broken down to basics, the physics are pretty simple. According to general relativity, the closer you get to the speed of light the more your space-time inertial slows down relative to those travelling at slower speeds (remember, we’re all on a big rock moving pretty fast through space, so none of us ever really standing still). The longer you maintain that relatively higher velocity the less time you experience relative to the slowpokes, so given enough time at high speed the rest of the world moves ahead of you and you’re essentially living in the future by a very tiny, yet calculable, margin. Avdeyev spent more than 748 days aboard MIR travelling about 17,000 mph that entire time, which was enough for people who like to do that sort of math to conclude he’d time travelled. Like our own 4th dimensional existence, we can only travel forward through time, backwards time travel presents a lot of potential paradoxes and as far as I know isn’t theoretically possible. Before you get too excited by the possibility of jumping into the next millennium, Adeyev’s record is 0.02 seconds of travel into the relative future.
 
3) JetpacksFlying right into the future.
 
From the comic: Real Fact Comics #1 (1946) in the story “Rocket Lanes of Tomorrow”
 
While not quite Rocketeer status we do have things you can strap to your body that’ll get you off the ground. They aren’t cheap and don’t work that well, but maybe they work well enough to get the constant “where’s my jetpack?” complaint a bit of a rest. Because this gadget has become iconic of science’s “failure” to provide the future we all hoped for it’s something I was hesitant to cover for fear of seeming defensive. Scientists are working hard on that jetpack. We want them too! The funniest thing about its portrayal in this comic, drawn surprisingly by Jack “King” Kirby himself, is that the jetpack is presented at the cheaper alternative to owning your own rocket. *Sigh* were that those were the problems we actually faced. Oh well, moving on. 
 
The options out there suffer from a number of issues such as less than sufficient initial thrust, requiring the user to jump out of a plane to get it going, too little fuel, meaning you don’t get to play very long without a hose strapped to the thing too, or lack of control. I tackle these problems in greater detail in an article I wrote for Marvel.com on the science of Iron Man’s flight capabilities. Suffice it to say the obstacles to overcome now that we’ve made it this far are significant, but that’s never stopped scientists before and will definitely not stop them this time.
 
2) Global WarmingSo sad, so in the future.
 
From the comic: Real Fact Comics #11 (1947)
 
I’m definitely not saying scientific research is responsible for causing climate change; it’s more the march of industrial progress as aided by applied science. But my point is that the idea of global warming was only discovered by the efforts of scientists, so without science we wouldn’t know just what the environment around us is up to.
 
The story presenting this idea was called “Just Imagine – If an invading sun menaced earth!” So the global warming presented is far from anthropogenic (anthropo = man; genic = made) but it does deal in some alarmingly prescient the problems such warming would present. The image that most shocked me was one of a polar bear floating in the arctic sea on a greatly reduced glacier, which a modern artist could sadly photo-reference.
 
1) iPhoneRight in the palm of your hand.
 
From the comic: As the Mother Box in The Forever People #1 (1971)
 
I’m already anticipating the backlash from this one. People feel very passionately about Kirby and Apple so combining the two will probably start some kind of Chernobyl-esque chain reaction of vitriol, but I’m gonna do it anyways! Here’s my thinking, the Mother Box is a sentient and portable supercomputer. My iPhone is portable and with the new OS has voice control. I can say “Play songs by Passion Pit” (thanks again, Ron) and it will. I can say “Dial Mom, mobile” and it knows enough to dial my Mother’s cell phone rather than her house or fax machine. I didn’t need to train it with my voice or anything like that, it just knows. Almost like it’s… sentient. One of the main features of the Mother Box is its ability to “summon” Boom Tubes. Summon is a bit ambiguous, does the Mother Box create the Boom Tube or call it forth from another location? Regardless, my iPhone can’t do that, but it can help me get from place to place with ease with GPS, maps and even a compass (if you’re really lost). Mother Box can access the source, my iPhone can access the Net (that’s the kids are calling it these days, right?). The most important feature is much like the Mother Box, my iPhone is connected to my very soul. Without it I’d probably die, but if I didn’t die I’m sure I wouldn’t feel up to fighting Darkseid. 
 
So that’s my list. What did I miss? Did you uncle build an ultimate nullifier in the garage? Did you manage to get your skateboard to fly with some well placed rockets? Most importantly, aside from the jetpack how does it feel living in the future?! Cause I think it’s super-sweet.
 

Ryan Haupt believes the future is now! No wait, now. NOW! He has used Twitter in the past, and will likely do so again IN THE FUTURE!! HIs podcast Science… sort of is kept on track by his cohosts, Patrick & Charlie, for which all listeners are eternally grateful.

Comments

  1. Someone needs to make a Mother Box app for the iPhone. Ping!

  2. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I’m not ready for any of this!

  3. Another interesting technology was posited by me and a friend in my latest myspace blog entry.

    Given that nano carbon tube batteries and quantum-based consumer electronics are not that far away, it is possible to theorise that police officers or military personnel could soon be wearing power-assisted lightweight suits.

    The non-seperability area of quantum physics demostartes that an object can have mulitple different postitions and trajectories. Couple this with wireless power stations able to enhance the wearer’s energy output and abilities, one could quantum tunnel (ie teleport), add extra force to movements/attacks. The possibliities to use cutting edge science for comics is still hugely untapped!!

  4. I love this sentence "Broken down to basics, the physics are pretty simple."  I try that with Econ all the time, but it seldom works. 

    @flakbait – I’m hoping the 4G will have a boom tube app.  I hear Saturn is nice this time of year.

  5. iPhone as Mother Box = brilliantly hilarious!

  6. I’d like to hear from Reed Richards.

  7. Awesome!

    I believe that the military has developed an invisible suit. The design is actually relativley easy. The suit is pixelated and basically shows a video of what is behind the person.  You do need a very very advanced processor and of course lots of $$$.

  8. I worry about timetravel. It’s just a science that shouldn’t be allowed to happen just because of how devastating the side effects could potentially be.

  9. If I receive the anti-life equation through my iPhone I’m blaming you Ryan!!! 😉

  10. There are also videos on places like youtube where people are demonstrating invisibility suits, similar to the Metal Gear Solid sneaking suit. That was at least 3 years since I’ve seen that, so I wonder how far they’ve gotten with it now.

     

    I think that you missed out on a #6: robots. There are soe many cool robot stories that are coming out with greater frequency. There is even this guy named Sam Todo who took junk and created a robot out of it.

     

    We live in interesting times, for sure.

  11. @Kuzimu – Quantum makes my head hurt. I tend to just tune it out. 

     

    @Paul – Get with the times old-man! 

     

    @Mangaman – All advances in the progress of humanity have the potential for devastating effects. The Wright Brothers thought planes would end war by being such a awesome force on the battlefield that no one would want to fight each other. Orville Wright then lived long enough to watch an A-Bomb get dropped from a PLANE onto Hiroshima & Nagasaki. But planes also provide many benefits as does nuclear energy. Most things are double-edged swords and we shouldn’t let fear prevent us from pushing the boundaries of our knowledge.

     

    @VichusSmith – I predicted people would have good suggestions. I now will steal those suggestions for Part 2! Mwahahahaha. Evil science plan is a raging success.