5 Famous Sci-Fi Devices That Totally Ignore Actual Science
Science fiction presents captivating tales of machines that take us beyond the stars, allow us to travel back in time, or make it easier for us to masturbate. Unfortunately, just like in the real world, these fanciful inventions would have terrible unforeseen consequences that would make living in a sci-fi universe a waking nightmare. Or, at least, kind of a pain in the ass.
Ant-Man's Shrinking Technology Would Punch You Into The Ground
In addition to gallantly adding another middle-aged man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man brings back a trope not seen in sci-fi lately: that of a shrinking man. This continues a proud tradition that includes works like The Incredible Shrinking Man, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and Benjamin Button.
Ant-Man's power comes not just from being as small as an ant or as charming as Paul Rudd but from the fact that his suit works by reducing the distance between atoms. Because the atoms are merely squished together, he still has the same mass, but it's tightly compressed into a body the size of an insect. That's a key part of the character -- the whole reason he packs such a wallop is that he has "the force of a 200-pound man behind a fist a hundredth of an inch wide."
In addition to being a gross misunderstanding of how much Paul Rudd weighs, it's also a gross misunderstanding of how that would work out.
In particular, Ant-Man would have a lot of trouble getting around: No matter how he moved, he would be putting all the weight of a full-grown man into an area the size of a knife point. He would constantly be sinking into all but the hardest surfaces, unable to pull himself out of them because he'd be ripping them apart as he tried to break free. And in softer surfaces, like soil, wood, or plastic, he would just sink straight in and fucking suffocate. Lord help any ant he tries to sit on and ride, because any tiny animal husbandry would just end in a miniature bloodbath.
Now, in Captain America: Civil War, we see that Ant-Man has the ability to use the same technology to become Giant-Man, which, as the name implies, results in a 13-story Paul Rudd.
Since the physical principles are still the same, that means he's now increasing the distance between his atoms but still keeping the same mass. Because the mass of a normal-sized person would be spread pretty thin across a giant, this would essentially make him a huge balloon. So instead of being able to stomp cars into the pavement, his foot should bounce off of anything he steps on, if he can manage to walk without being blown away by the slightest breeze.
Space Colonies Would Become Incestuous Nightmares
Plenty of science-fiction movies (Gattaca, Elysium, Pandorum, Boat Trip) feature a small group of people tasked with the explicit goal of rebuilding the population. Sometimes it's a small group of colonists off to create a better future on a new planet, and sometimes it's Earth's elite using their wealth to secure a coveted spot in the new world, but it always involves an ark full of people boning for the future of humanity. In some cases (such as the ending of Snowpiercer) the task falls to just two people.
In our world, the joke about how inbreeding creates genetic deformities is in fact based on science. Getting enough genetic variation to avoid that fate actually requires a whole lot of people. Insular communities such as the Amish -- even avoiding outright incest -- have staggeringly high incidents of genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis and Cohen's disease. So, just add the word "space" to the beginning of either of those, and that's what everyone riding that Halo in Elysium has in store for them.
This is just one reason why anybody talking about the importance of "racial purity" should make you just roll your eyes. Having a tightly knit, homogenous population that doesn't breed outside the gene pool isn't likely to lead to a master race, unless you're talking about mastering the need for constant medical attention. That's why space neo-Nazis like the villain in Moonraker need to rethink their plans. Similarly, the people hoping to repopulate the Earth on The 100 are in for a rude surprise a few generations down the line, because they don't have nearly enough people to pull that off:
Basically, with 150 people as the starting population, genetic variation is so low that everyone would eventually look like the weird prince Jenna almost marries on 30 Rock. The larger the initial population, the better they hold on to their genetic variation. But you don't find genetic variation stabilizing at better than 90 percent until you get to a starting population of about 10,000. That's the minimum recommended amount.
That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for anything to go wrong, which seems like poor planning for anything involving space travel. To really do it even close to right, the recommendation is 40,000 people. So future colonists should expect some serious genetic disorders down the line, unless they leave to cultivate their new world in a biblically humongous spaceship with a group equal to the population of Annapolis, Maryland.
Faster-Than-Light Travel Would Cause World-Ending Collisions
The universe, much like a bingo hall reserved for a Pagemaster fan convention, is large and mostly empty. That means if you're going to get from one place to another in plot-relevant time, you're going to need faster-than-light travel. That's why it features so prominently in Star Wars and countless other sci-fi movies that aren't even worth mentioning now that we've gotten Star Wars out of the way. What we never see in those movies, though, is the untold billions of deaths caused by the invention of consumer-grade hyperdrive.
And note we are specifically talking about space technology that amounts to "go really fast" and not the ones that use some wormhole bullshit or something. Han Solo, for instance, specifically mentions that he has to plot his course around existing stars, so that he doesn't smash into them at nearly incalculable speeds and launch Chewie through the windshield.
But stars aren't his problem. What about random space debris, like satellites or asteroids? What about a huge field of asteroids hurtling from a recently destroyed planet -- like, say, the one the Falcon comes through when arriving at the thoroughly exploded Alderaan? There's no way Han could've known where any of those random space rocks would be, yet they somehow manage to drop out of light speed right in the center of them, with nary a scratch on the ship's hull. If he hadn't been so lucky, the impact of his ship versus a hunk of his planet would have been so massive that we're not sure the nearby Death Star would have survived it.
This is thanks to the awesome, destructive magic of velocity. You already know that a gun is, thus you know that just adding velocity turns a tiny piece of metal into something that can explode your skull like a watermelon dropped off a skyscraper. When a hunk of rock a few hundred feet wide hit Siberia in 1908 the blast was the equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. That's not from impacting the ground -- that was from hitting the atmosphere. It never made it to the ground -- at that speed, even running into fucking air creates a doomsday event.
That object was probably going about 25,000 miles an hour. The Falcon is going 27,000 times faster. If Han Solo accidentally steered his ship into the Earth at that speed, the entire planet would be vaporized.
So, yeah, with thousands of ships zooming around the galaxy's trade routes at light speed, eventually someone is going to plot a course through a solid object. Sure, this isn't a problem when you're cruising at the edge of the universe, but if you're anywhere near a bustling trade hub (like Coruscant) or a moon-shaped space station, this is going to be a weekly freaking occurrence.
Time Travel Would Unleash Countless Plagues
Time travel would be an amazing socio-scientific tool: You could witness every major historical event firsthand, you could become history's greatest hero by getting Hitler into art school, or you could go the Biff Tannen route and use your future knowledge to win a bunch of money betting on who wins every season of The Bachelor. However, while time travel would be undeniably great for us here in the future, it would be downright catastrophic for every single person in the past that comes into contact with a future germ-carrying time-traveler.
Allow this science documentary to explain.
The thing is, humankind is currently locked in an arms race with germs: As we create better methods for dealing with a given strain, another strain will become immune to the same treatment, meaning germs get more resilient every generation.
So, if Marty McFly took the DeLorean to, oh let's say the Old West, he'd be carrying a denim jacket full of hip, modern diseases. And while his body may be vaccinated against them and/or carry immunities developed over several generations, his presence would be like biological goddamned warfare against the people of Hill Valley, 1885.
And it's not like those of us here in the 21st century would be safe, either. If we had time travel, presumably the future would have it as well, barring some mass time machine product recall. We would be constantly inundated with super viruses from the year 3000 or whatever, piggybacking on the fashionable clothes of the Marty McFlys of the future. We'd have planet-wide plagues as often as we now have time-travel movies.
Related: 15 of History's Strangest Plagues
Universal Translators Would Allow Private Companies To Have Access To Your Brain
Considering there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken on Earth alone, a universal translator would be a pretty damn vital device if we ever expect to go off exploring the galaxy. Countless sci-fi movies, most notably The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, feature some way to instantly translate any alien language into a language the user understands (presumably including emojis). Since communication is an indispensable part of diplomacy, universal translators should be a force for peace in the universe.
Let's not forget, though, that every device has the ability to be hijacked by people who want to use it for other purposes. In particular, universal translators would be the wet dream of the space-NSA.
Think about it: In order for universal translation to work, it has to be instantaneous and function on preverbal thoughts. Translating a creature's speech and then converting the translation into an audio signal for the receiver would make communication too slow and would run into fundamental problems about how to translate untranslatable things (such as words or phrases in one language that have no equivalent in another).
So, the only way for a universal translator to work would be if it read the language center of the brain and translated the thoughts before the speaker's mouth even begins moving -- making it appear as if the speaker is speaking the listener's language. But that means you have to have technology that can read your mind (or a psychic parasite living in your brain).
"Now with fewer teeth!"
If you thought Pokemon Go accessing your Gmail was bad, just imagine if a company had access to every thought you'd ever put into words. Just think of all the information Apple has about you, and now imagine that they designed a universal translator that requires you to sign a user agreement giving them access to your fucking brain. And as we recently saw, a government could absolutely request that information. So could space empires, space corporations, and space gangsters, for that matter (although they'd probably put the word "request" in quotes).
Now add to that worries about hackers who could reprogram it. They could steal your most private secrets or jack up your translator to make you bungle important business or diplomatic meetings (or just ruin a date, if they felt like being intergalactic dickheads). What started out as a method for improving understanding would be used to jail, manipulate, and spy on you. Can you even imagine?
For more ways Hollywood just doesn't get it, check out 8 Scenes That Prove Hollywood Doesn't Get Technology and 5 Things Hollywood Thinks Computers Can Do.
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