Our Sci-Fi Future Has Arrived

As a fan of science fiction, I’m enamored with the tropes. None comes to mind more than the image, Jetsons-style, of happy families playing against some garish art-deco background, accoutred in shiny outlandish fashions capped off, of course, by a goldfish-bowl style space helmet. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I had always wondered if such a future would ever come to pass in my lifetime.

Fast-forward to 2020, which is about as futuristic a year as you can imagine: at least one part of the prophecy seems to have come true, but not in the way I expected. I refer to the now-ubiquitous face shield, whose effectiveness is dubious, but which the powers-that-be have declared to be mandatory nonetheless. Whence comes demand follows supply — so from the flimsy taped-on plastic folder covers lined with creases, we now have stylish acrylic fog-resistant semi-bubbles. I confess, I also bought one.

As far as imagination becoming reality, I feel somewhat shortchanged. Face shields are just so tawdry, barely offering any real protection other than if you’re wearing it with a face mask. Face masks are as low-tech as you can get, at least as old as, say, 1918, but probably more effective. Still, with a face shield, I can at least pretend to be a spaceman.

The present future is not entirely a wash, though. Aside from all the mundanities that were once wonders — cellphones, tablets, global communications network, artificial intelligence, video calling, etc. — there have been a few other pleasant surprises.

Beside my work table, for instance, I have a 3D printer, a neat little gadget that can turn a spool of plastic cable into any other solid thing that we can imagine and and design. I’ve justified its cost to my wife by printing out useful trinkets like cookie cutters, bag hooks, toilet washers, and washbasin drains (not that it cost a lot, just a little over P10,000, actually.) But really, its raison d’etre is to satisfy the eight-year old inside of me. Now I can print all those miniature Dungeons and Dragons figures I missed out on when I was younger.

And on a more substantial note, RNA treatments. Terrible as COVID-19 may have been, it at least has the side effect of speeding up vaccine research. Can you imagine if this pandemic had struck a decade ago, how truly unprepared we would have been? But now we have at least five vaccines already released. The most promising of these seems to be the one from Moderna, which pioneered the aforementioned approach. Imagine synthesizing a molecule that can then teach our bodies to produce antibodies. Imagine being able to bring its cost down so that almost everyone on the planet can be treated. Imagine the possibilities beyond COVID — perhaps curing cancers is next.

All told, that’s pretty cool — sci-fi cool — and I’m glad to be able to see it in my lifetime (face shields notwithstanding.)