Magicians, psychics and other sparkly frauds have been scamming the gullible and dim-witted for centuries using elaborate trickery to simulate fantastic powers. But now science is finally here, and it's going to follow through on all of their broken promises.
Here are the technologies that, if you could take them back in time, would totally let you cash in as a wizard.
In many ways, mind reading is a lot like the human digestive system: no matter what you put into it, ultimately all you're getting out is a bunch of shit. Psychics are mostly just using cold readings and leading questions to pick up clues. They see a guy in a red, white and blue cowboy hat and the "spirits" tell them that he likes country music. The guy is impressed, and hands them money to hear more.
"I'm sensing an object."
"It's not an object."
"Of course! I'm sensing something like an object, a... person!"
"My god! It is a person! My wife, Jenny!"
"Aha! Women are basically objects; you see how the reading was murky."
By creatively hedging their guesses and keeping all information vague, a good cold reader can emulate psychic abilities at least well enough to fool chumps, and chumps' money spends like anybody else's.
How it's Becoming Real:
Scientists at Berkeley University figured out that an MRI machine gives them a pretty clear picture of what the brain is doing. So, if they simply compare what the brain is doing when in different states of mind, you should eventually be able to come up with a machine that can see your thoughts. They already were able to make the machine "see" what word you were thinking of with a freaking 90 percent success rate.
We bet airport security would love to have one of these that you pass through, flashing your thoughts up on a screen for some bored TSA agent to chuckle at. We've got a feeling that in 20 years there'll be a booming industry in telepathy-blocking skull implants.
Telekinesis is the ability to move or interact with physical objects using only one's thoughts, and charlatans have been replicating it for centuries. Like say you want to bend a spoon with your mind. Simply misdirect the audience while you use your hands to bend the spoon in such a way that, when viewed from a top down angle, it still appears to be unbent. As you slowly adjust that viewing angle, the spoon appears to bend before the audience's very eyes! Hey! Look at you! You're better than Criss Angel!
Oh, not "better" in terms of magic tricks; he's got some pretty neat ones. You're just better than him in general. Because you're not Criss Angel. It's uh... it's not a hard thing to do.
LOOK AT HIM!
How it's Becoming Real:
About five years ago, a group of scientists successfully decoded the brain signals human beings use to control their hands. Because said scientists were both astoundingly awesome and amazingly irresponsible, they then used this discovery to implant microchips in the brains of monkeys which allowed them to move computer cursors with their brain.
Guys, we need to sit you down and show you a little movie called The Lawnmower Man.
"I wish he'd stop clicking on 'kill me; I am a monster and should not be.' Why did we even put that option in there?"
Fast forward a few years and now we're starting to see the first wave of products resulting from that experiment. Behold the BrainGate, and despair!
From the company Cyberkinetics--which totally does NOT sound like a villainous organization dedicated to mass producing psychic robots--the BrainGate is a chip implanted in your motor cortex that monitors your brain activity and converts it into computer commands used to operate machinery. It was originally built for amputees and paraplegics, but the company has recently received a $4.25 million grant from the Department of Defense for their product.
It's not clear exactly what they're going to do with the technology, but odds are it's going to be less along the lines of "helping paraplegic monkeys to live better lives" than it will be "fusing human brains into unstoppable, unkillable robot bodies." Hello? RoboCop 2? Seriously, do you guys not have Cinemax?
"What does it want?!"
"Crack! It wants crack!"
"Why did we build a crackhead robot?!"
"I DON'T KNOW WE REALLY WENT DOWNHILL AFTER THE FIRST MOVIE."
Alchemy is the ancient, bullshit version of chemistry. When most people hear the word they immediately think of the alchemists who claimed they could turn lead into gold (a practice called Chrysopoeia, which is not to be confused with Chrysopelea, which is a flying snake. Seriously, don't confuse them. Your experiments will get terrifying in a hurry.)
"Now marvel, as I transmutate lead into gol-AHHH SNAAAAKES!!!"
--Mernil the Dyslexic Wizard
Of course, the closest old-timey alchemists ever really got was mixing sulfur and gold powder into a metal to turn it yellow. That's right: All it took to create "gold" from lead was to put some gold in it! Good god, it was staring us in the face the entire time!
How it's Becoming Real:
Science has made monumental leaps since that era when alchemy was considered the second-most promising method of obtaining gold after "capturing a leprechaun." We now know that gold is an element that simply has three fewer protons than lead. If you could somehow change that using SCIENCE...
Oh, actually we're kind of late on this one. Back in 1980, a scientist named Glenn Seaborg accidentally made gold out of bismuth, using the aforementioned proton-plucking method (OK, it was a bit more complicated than that).
Yes, bismuth, the same stuff that's in Pepto Bismol.
Or "Pink Bismuth" if you can only afford the generic.
It was only a few thousand atoms' worth, and the cost of doing it was way more than the resulting gold would be worth. But still. He made gold.
Seaborg, seen here without gold. There are, like, 200 friggin' pictures of the guy, and not one of them has gold in it. Awesome work, Google.
And mankind is really just getting started with the whole "change elements by farting around with their protons" business. Transmutation of elements is one of the things they're always doing at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider. Though they're talking less about turning lead into gold and more about turning radioactive waste into something that won't poison our great great grandchildren.
But hey, thanks to Cracked, Google search and poor reading comprehension, we're laying odds that at least one Internet-frequenter will be microwaving some Pepto tonight, and keeping that old dipshit alchemist spirit alive!