When considering my top five science fiction inventions I have tried to leave out the obvious that form the backbone of science fiction. Those are of course space travel and in particular faster than light space travel, strange worlds and the alien species that inhabit them. So apart from those here are my top 5:
1) The intelligent computer
I first came across this idea, as I suspect many did in the late 1960’s with HAL in ‘2001 A Space Odyssey ’. It has the most memorable line in the whole film, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Dave.’ Although it seems a natural thing for sci-fi now, at that time computers were in their infancy. If you go back a bit further to books such as Asimov’s ‘Foundation and Empire’ series computers don’t feature at all. Although, there had been robots in sci-fi this is the first appearance of what we now might recognise as a computer. So perhaps we forget what a great leap that was by Arthur C Clarke, to extrapolate to HAL. Coming forward I think one of the great exponents of the intelligent machine concept is Iain M Banks in his culture series, with huge eccentric intelligent star ships and football sized hovering companions. I love the personalities he gives them.
The intelligent machine a concept I find endlessly fascinating as any regular reader to my blog will know. There is almost endless potential for the science fiction writer in how as humans our relationships with them might develop. (See last week’s blog ‘Robots, androids and intelligent machines – what next?‘, and others.
2) The artificially enhanced human brain
We already use artificial spare parts in modern medicine and I can only see that use expanding. It can’t be long before artificial hearts and perhaps other organs are a reality. But taking it a stage further what about artificial ‘inclusions’ that enhance our performance either physically or mentally? The enhancement of mental abilities through ‘neural nets’ and other additions to our biological brain is a real ‘where will that end’ topic, perhaps taking us into to that grey area of what is human and what is machine (see ‘Men and machines, what does it mean to be human’). If you’ve read Alistair Reynolds you will have come across this idea and the conflicts that may arise between those who accept this concept and those that don’t. Some of his people even have to have crests on their heads to dissipate the extra heat generated by those ‘super’ brains.
3) The improbability drive
OK not so serious, if we can think of science fiction as having it’s serious side. I just like the idea of the Douglas Adams space drive where anything is possible. Where a bowl of petunias or a whale can materialise out of thin air. The sad thing, of course for the whale is that whilst it’s asking fundamental questions about who or what it is and where it is, it is plummeting to its death. Tragic but none the less funny, at least in the hands of Adams
4) Time travel and the TARDIS
I know time travel is an old science fiction concept, including of course the famous H.G. Wells story. But the TARDIS idea, where it is bigger on the inside than on the outside is great. I assume this is a Dr Who invention? I’ve not come across it anywhere else. But how good would that be. All our housing needs met at a stroke. All we’d need was the door, the rest would be down to our imagination, although I’m sure they would find a way to tax it.
5) The Instant Transport Device
Yes, it’s ‘beam me up Scottie’ time. OK, very unlikely to happen, perhaps only just ahead of the improbability drive (but who knows?). For Star Trek it was a stroke of genius, getting rid of all that flying down to those ‘strange new worlds’ and the effort of trying a create a believable shuttle landing on a planet, no fireworks for rockets etc. But why it gets into my list is that age old frustration I suspect most people have concerning holidays. We all love the outward journey, the airport and buying those last minute magazines or sunglasses, the excitement of somewhere new and ‘what will it be like?’ But the return trip, we just want to get home. Oh, what I’d give then for a ‘beam me up Scottie’ device.
Well that’s my top five. I’m sure I’ve missed some great ones, so let me know what your favourites would be and why.