Fulfilling science fiction prophecy

Jetpacks are the most recent science fiction idea to become reality

This is a great week for science fiction. Jet packs, predicted in the 1960s to be the future of transport, have finally made an appearance – without leading to a Darwin award. Meanwhile a version of Dr Who’s sonic screwdriver is the next leap forward in brain cancer treatment.

Good science fiction is the forefront of great science research. It follows a logical series of true scientific developments and extrapolates them further to show what could be possible if research continued fully supported and well-funded.

The stories plant the ideas in the minds of scientists, non-scientists and, in particular, children who then grow up and ask the awkward question: Hang on, why aren’t there jet packs? And then devote years inventing one. It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Touch screens, for example, were a science fiction invention. Everyone who saw Minority Report suddenly wanted to be able to move computer files by touching them. The movie simultaneously showed an idea and produced a market for it and now it exists. That’s great sci-fi. I’m still waiting for one of the airline companies to see the market value in teleportation and throw more money at that.

Science fiction also predicts less positive scenarios, most notably total human annihilation by machines with artificial intelligence. But I think the Terminator movies are misguided. The war with machines will not start with military weapons systems. It will start with smart TVs and it has already begun. My smart TV can now speak to my smart phone and I’m sure they’re plotting against me. While not technically smart, my fridge is of the same brand and will probably supply the muscle for the smart electronics takeover bid.

Now to invent a Dr Who-based time machine to travel back to before the first Terminator movie and tell James Cameron about the smart-TV-world-domination plot. It could be our only hope.