6 Sci-Fi Technologies With Suspiciously Unaddressed Problems
For over a century now, science fiction has been pretty good at predicting future developments -- from rockets that can fly to the moon to little machines we can use to photograph our genitalia, many of the most impressive advances in technology started out in the imagination of some nerd/writer.
However, there are some admittedly cool future advances presented to us by sci-fi movies that we hope never come to pass, because when you stop to think about them, they would cause more trouble than they're worth. For example ...
The Dark Knight Rises -- Batman's City-Destroying Reactor Has No Safeguards
In the years following The Dark Knight, and faced with a dwindling supply of masked criminals to fight, Batman sets out to punch economic disparity in the face. Under his identity of billionaire/occasional beard-haver Bruce Wayne, he develops a fusion reactor capable of meeting Gotham's energy needs at a fraction of the current cost.
"Half that energy will go toward powering my Batc- uhhh, Jacuzzi."
When a Russian physicist proves that fusion reactors can be easily modified into massively powerful nuclear bombs, Wayne decides to abandon the project and hides the reactor, taking the precaution to add a button that floods the chamber in which it's stored to make sure it isn't used for evil purposes. It's not Batman's fault that someone later figured out how to bypass his security and used the thing to turn Gotham City into an even bigger shithole.
Wait, no, it totally is his fault, because there was no security. Wayne just dumps this incredibly powerful nuclear bomb in an empty basement under a huge city and forgets about it. Yes, it's hidden (accessed by a secret elevator), but that's pretty much it. There are no security guards visible anywhere.
Lucius Fox explains that the chamber "can be flooded in case of a security breach," which sounds great, only that feature stops no one. First Bane steals the reactor, then when the "flooding" mechanism is activated later, it's so slow that even elderly businessman Lucius is able to get away from the room before getting even slightly damp.
"My shoes, your parents ... we've both suffered terrible losses."
Hilariously, when they're showing off the device and the security, Talia says, "Is Bruce Wayne really that paranoid?" That wouldn't have been our reaction. Keep in mind, it took about the same amount of effort to turn this reactor into a nuclear bomb as it would if it had just been an actual nuclear bomb from the start. Which is to say, very little. But where actual nuclear bombs are guarded by entire armies, this thing was sitting unattended in a basement in hopes that nobody would find the secret elevator button. There are people who keep their collectible Pokemon cards behind more security than that.
And why? Wayne wasn't using the reactor, so why keep it in a functional state at all? Why not just take the pieces apart and store them in different places? Hell, destroy the fucking thing and make sure to keep a copy of the schematics somewhere safe.
Perhaps encrypt them into the Bat-beard.
Back to the Future Part II -- Holographic Ads Would Kill People
In the second Back to the Future, Marty McFly is transported to a futuristic Hill Valley that's way ahead of our current society in everything except fashion sense (somehow, everyone's clothes are even more '80s than in the actual '80s). For example, at one point Marty encounters a nifty holographic ad for the latest Jaws film. Marty's just standing in front of the cinema, staring at the obscene future-gas prices across the street ...
This is a dystopic alternate timeline where Jaws 4 somehow didn't kill the franchise.
... when a giant holographic shark emerges from the billboard ...
... and, after alerting Marty to its presence via its own theme music, casts him as Quint in its own personal remake of the first movie.
We really hope they've eliminated heart attacks in the future.
So Marty didn't even have to be looking in the ad's direction for it to target him. How cool is that?
OK, now imagine you're driving along when a brand new billboard for Trojan shoots a giant purple holographic boner across your windshield. Now imagine you're in a flying car when that happens. You'd better hope your future aircar has both air bags and parachutes. Keep in mind, even in our current, sadly earthbound cars, distracted drivers cause about 80 percent of accidents. Just taking our eyes off the road to look at a tiny iPhone screen is an incredibly serious and deadly problem, and people have complained that electronic billboards are "weapons of mass distraction" for drivers. And those don't usually try to eat the viewer.
We've previously pointed out that flying cars would be pretty damn unsafe -- now add the fact that holographic ads can jump at you at any moment. Imagine you're flying above that scene with Marty (we even see some flying cars landing nearby earlier in the clip) and you see the huge fucking shark come out of nowhere below you. And don't say that Marty was only startled because he was from the '80s and unfamiliar with holograms -- you try flying home at two in the morning and suddenly having a giant holographic Ronald McDonald come screaming out of a sign, demanding that you eat a McRib.
"The McRib is made from organ donors, so we win either way!"
We don't care if you live in the future or not: The first time you see that ad, you're going to simultaneously slam on the brakes and shit your pants. And for all of the people living at ground level, it's about to start raining flaming car parts.
Minority Report -- Putting Criminals in Stasis Doesn't Rehabilitate Them
In Minority Report, the Pre-Crime department solves crimes before they happen, as the name cleverly suggests, so authorities have to come up with a way to house all of these pre-criminals. The solution is leaving them in a weird limbo dream state for however long their sentence is, unless they're awoken in the future and have to catch Wesley Snipes ... wait, no, wrong movie.
Sorry, we were thinking of the other short action star who only plays variations of himself.
In the movie, we see that the psychic predictions of the prevented crimes are played on a loop in front of the captured criminals, so presumably they're aware the whole time and being subjected to those images for as long as their sentence lasts.
"Putting criminals in a coma" has always been a pretty dumb solution for sci-fi movies, because if they just go to sleep and wake up when their sentence is over, then the whole point of the punishment is lost. Minority Report attempts to solve this with the whole "playing their crimes to them" thing ... but they're actually just making things worse.
Serious question: For sex crimes, wouldn't this just be showing them what they wanted?
Think about it: From the perspective of these people, one day the police showed up and trapped them in a strange place, then tortured them with images of a crime they had no recollection of committing. They were arrested before doing anything, remember?
The movie confirms just how ineffective this rehabilitation process is through the character of the eye doctor. After John Anderton (Cruise) is put on the wanted list, he decides to get an illegal eye transplant to avoid detection by retina cameras. So he hires the shadiest doctor in the world to perform the surgery ... who turns out to be one of the prisoners that Anderton had previously put away for the same crime. Progress?
In the original draft, he also gave Anderton breast implants as payback.
Even worse, at the end of the movie, every single criminal is let free on the basis that the Pre-Crime department was illegitimate. So now there are hundreds of people wandering the streets of D.C. who have been forced to watch a possibly fake video of themselves murdering somebody over and over again. If they weren't psychos before, they probably are now.
Looper -- Why Entrust Loopers With Killing Themselves?
In a dystopian future, criminals have developed a foolproof plan to get away with murder: time travel. They capture their hapless enemies, hogtie them, and shove them 30 years into the past, where assassins, called loopers, are waiting to blow their heads off and dispose of the bodies. All parties are happy: the loopers are paid richly for their services, the mob bosses get to evade present-day authorities, and the soon-to-be-dead guys at least get to take a cool trip through time.
And Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets to pretend he'll turn into Bruce Willis.
One tiny drawback for loopers, however, is that they know too much to be allowed to roam free in the future, so their contracts state that they'll eventually be sent back in time to be killed by their own younger selves. But other than that, they are free to do whatever they want (without having to worry about the state of their livers or lungs) until the past literally catches up with them and shoots them in the face.
Why send the loopers back to the one person who has a reason not to kill them, though? All time-traveling victims have their faces covered, but the movie shows us that there's nothing stopping them from humming a melody that only their past version will recognize -- or, you know, talking, since their mouths aren't completely covered.
As a result, occasionally a looper will hesitate and his future self will escape, creating a whole mess of complications (it's what sets off the entire plot of the movie). The only practical purpose of this system seems to be that it allows the bosses to send the loopers the extra retirement bonus they get for completing their last job, but they could just as easily send that money by itself, or with a dead mule, once they've confirmed that the looper was killed by someone else.
"Here's the payment for the job you haven't completed, amoral killer. Don't try to con us or anything."
Oh, and did we mention that in the future, time travel is about as illegal as murder? The crime bosses are setting themselves up for failure; if they don't get in trouble for breaking the laws of man, they will get caught for breaking the laws of physics.
Surrogates -- Robotic Surrogates Would Squash Our Babies
In the world of Surrogates, human beings spend all day sitting in comfy futuristic chairs while their remote-controlled robo-avatars go about their daily lives. It's kind of like playing World of Warcraft, only you never leave the hou- actually, it's exactly like playing WoW. Your surrogate even looks like an idealized version of yourself.
Which means at some point, Bruce Willis' character said, "Yes, I want that comb-over."
Pretty much everyone has a surrogate in this future, to the point that it's incredibly unusual to see real human beings out in the real world. And why should they come out? This way, you can do anything you want without risking any bodily harm -- the chair itself makes sure your body stays in shape, so you don't get bed sores or butt cramps. If some dick hadn't started using surrogates to kill people, it would have been a utopia.
Except for one thing: How the hell do you raise kids in this world? At one point, we're shown an ad for "Surrogates for Kids," so we know that the whole "human beings start out as fragile screaming midgets" problem hasn't yet been solved in this future. Kids still exist.
They don't seem to understand how skateboards work, though.
But surrogates are incredibly strong -- they can jump insane distances and pick up lampposts and so forth -- and we're explicitly shown that the low-budget models used by a big chunk of the population have really terrible coordination. At one point we see one trying and failing to put a key in a lock. Now imagine that super strong, super clumsy robot trying to change a baby's diaper.
You can see the problem, right? But even if you can afford one of the more expensive models, there's another problem: When do you give the kids a surrogate? They can't survive in a world of careless robots without a robot of their own, unless they enjoy being accidentally hip-checked into a wall by a powerwalking surrogate.
"PleaseletthatbegumIsteppedon. PleaseletthatbegumIsteppedon. Ple-"
Of course, we're just avoiding the bigger issue here, which is: If everyone stays in all day, how do they conceive babies in the first place? Are the robots anatomically correct? You failed to address the issue of robot penises, movie.
Star Wars -- Blasters Are a Stupid, Stupid Weapon
We're using Star Wars here because it's the most famous and beloved example, but every self-respecting sci-fi franchise has them -- laser guns are the coolest guns ever, and in every futuristic universe where they've been invented, they've also completely replaced regular guns. We've never seen a Stormtrooper shooting a rifle -- after all, why would you bother with bullets if you have freaking lasers?
Bullets don't go nearly as well with Pink Floyd and LSD.
You have to understand something about the guns armies use right now: They're not designed to put a neat hole in the enemy. They're designed to create ragged, horrific wounds that bleed a lot. But like all energy weapons in the Star Wars universe, blasters do the opposite. They cauterize wounds -- that's why we never see any Stormtroopers or Rebels bleeding after being hit by those things, and why when Luke's hand got chopped off by a light saber (which presumably works the same way as blasters), it didn't turn into a Tarantino-esque bloodsplosion. That's like creating a sword that instantly disinfects and patches up any wound it creates.
"Stop whining. These were originally invented for Padawan circumcisions."
And then there's the fact that they also give up your position. If you're in the middle of a war zone and shooting at your enemies from cover, it's pretty important that they don't know where you're standing so that they can't, you know, shoot back. But if you're using a Star Wars-style blaster, every single shot fired is like a big neon sign pointing in your direction. Hell, that's actually understating it -- the thick, slow-moving energy beams are a hell of a lot more visible than neon, even in broad daylight.
But almost none of that can hold a candle to the one thing that, in the real world, would render the blasters utterly useless: Laser shots appear to move much slower than bullets, or even arrows. Characters easily dodge them or deflect the beams with light sabers. We don't care if you have "Jedi reflexes" or not: If you tried that shit with a bullet, you'd soon find yourself sans hand. Also, we've seen non-Jedis dodge laser blasts, too, once while sitting three feet from the guy doing the shooting. You remember that scene, right?
We're just gonna leave this here.
Chris blogs over at Laffington.com.
For more sci-fi technology that doesn't jive with us, check out 5 Powerful Sci-Fi Technologies Wasted by Their Own Movies and 6 Technologies Conspicuously Absent from Sci-Fi Movies.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Shocking Truth About Gun Violence (By Dogs).
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn the difference between a photon torpedo and a proton torpedo.
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