Science Fiction and the Quest for the Every-tool

It’s not uncommon for works of science fiction to give us glimpses into our future. Rarely is it so direct like Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon novel which predicted our modern moon landing, despite being written in 1865. Usually it’s more general, like the wireless communication devices used in the 1960’s Star Trek series which resemble the cellphones and headsets we use today.
The Science Channel follows this belief as it currently airs a show called Prophets of Science Fiction, hosted by Prometheus director Ridley Scott. Each episode showcases a different science fiction writer and how their works served as precursors for our modern reality.
The H.G. Wells episode for instance features an eerie prediction from the writer’s book The World Set Free which coined the phrase “atomic bomb” in 1914, decades before an actual nuclear bomb was dropped in 1945 on Hiroshima. Predictions need not always be so grim however.
It’s hard to find a tech device that does one thing in modern society. Take video game consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System of the mid 1980’s. It served one purpose, playing games, a simple feat when compared to one of its modern successors, Sony’s Playstation 3. The PS3 plays games as well as CD’s, DVD’s, and Blu-rays. It has a web browser, can access Netflix, and has its own online store.
Cellphones can fill the visual entertainment role once exclusive to television with their own video playing abilities. TVs now have caller ID displays and newly emerging touch screen interfaces, so the reverse is also true, televisions are acquiring the abilities of cellphones.
Frequently in science fiction we see characters using catch-all devices that do everything from communication, to medical assistance, and even entertainment. In the multiplatform videogame series Mass Effect, the player is presented with a holographic gizmo known as the omni-tool, a device that readily lives up to its name. In one segment a TV reporter uses it as a microphone during interviews, in another a thief uses it to hack into a computer.
Like a hyper-advanced iPad, Stark Trek’s tricorder records data, scans environments, and holds encyclopedic knowledge. The sonic screwdriver from British TV series Doctor Who has similar scanning capabilities as well as being able to lock/unlock, shutdown/startup just about anything. Even in the post-apocalyptic dystopia of the Fallout videogame series, players have the wrist mounted Pip-Boy which serves as a radio, flash light, Geiger counter, and a monitor of your vitals all-in-one. You play in a world that is collapsing around you, and yet still have your technology to guide you.
John Lasage is a webmaster for the site Future For All. The website compiles videos and articles about future technologies. Lasage says, “Certainly there will be an every-tool. All roads are leading to it–wireless communication, computer size, A.I, NBIC. But the main reason an every-tool can be predicted with confidence, is that humans desire devices that make their lives easier. What will an every-tool do? Everything it can.” Lasage predicts we’ll see such a device around the year 2030.
On a night out at dinner, Wake Tech student, Mike Bolio uses his Samsung Galaxy to scan words whether they’re written on dinner menus, signs or T-shirts, and input them automatically into the phone’s web browser. “You can do anything,” he says, referring to his real life every-tool. When asked what their favorite smartphone function is William Peace students Margaret Coultas and Caroline Mansfield simultaneously answer, “Facebook!” So far the smartphone leads the pack in most closely resembling the catch-all-devices of science fiction. Not only because it’s so multifunctional, but portable. For the every-tool to be fully functional, it must always be present.
So what is the next step from portability? Will such devices one day be internal? Lesage predicts, “I think eventually it will all be internal. My best concept of an every-tool would use retinal displays and wireless brain-machine interfaces (BMI). You control your world by simply thinking, and all information is available instantly. In the meantime, Google Glasses and wearable BMIs like Emotiv.”
To specify, Emotiv is developing headsets that allow users to interact with PCs through thought and facial expressions. Google Glasses (a pair of lenses speculated at a $1,500 price tag and a 2013 release date) will allow the wearer to scan the world around them for data as though they were a walking computer. Perhaps when we begin wearing our technology we’ll be one step closer to having it function as a part of us.

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