Shock! Horror! The Guardian’s Jenny Rohn has discovered science fiction writers not only failed to predict everything that has happened in the past 50 years – some of what they did predict was wrong!
An even more glaring bubble-pop happened when I was watching Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut) the other day. I could forgive Rick Deckard slouching against a wall reading his (paper) newspaper – it somehow worked in the retro ghettoized futurescape of LA’s Chinatown. But the smoking! Indoors! In your place of employment!
Nor does Robert Heinlein escape unscathed.
But then you read “Star Trek style ‘tractor beam’ created by scientists” on BBC News and the Guardian’s myopic vision regains its original sharpness as you’re reminded – science fiction imagines the future rather than predicts it. Sometimes what is imagined comes to pass.
Or in the case of Star Trek technology like the tricorder and the tractor beam, science fictional imaginings motivate scientists and engineers to try and make them come to pass.
In 2011, researchers from China and Hong Kong showed how it might be done with laser beams of a specific shape – and the US space agency Nasa has even funded a study to examine how the technique might help with manipulating samples in space.
The new study’s lead researcher Dr Tomas Cizmar, research fellow in the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews, said while the technique is very new, it had huge potential.
He said: “The practical applications could be very great, very exciting. The tractor beam is very selective in the properties of the particles it acts on, so you could pick up specific particles in a mixture.”
“Eventually this could be used to separate white blood cells, for example.”
Cizmar warns that the technology involves a transfer of energy that works on a microscopic scale “but on a macro scale it would cause huge problems.” So this is not, in fact, a “Star Trek style ‘tractor beam’” – although I won’t predict there isn’t one in our future…
[Thanks to Janice Gelb, Martin Morse Wooster and Andrew Porter for the story.]