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Space Science

Science Fact From Fiction 191

Embedded Geek writes "The European Space Agency maintains an ongoing project called Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction for Space Applications (ITSF) (Cliquetez ici pour la version française). Its goal is "to review past and present SF literature, artwork and films in order to identify and assess innovative technologies and concepts described which could be possibly developed further for space applications." While I had known about Clarke first envisioning the geostationary satellite, the site also lists some other interesting ideas first pitched in SF: planetary landers, rocket fins, and space stations assembled in orbit. Visitors to the site are encouraged to submit technologies from SF works, although they should look at the master keyword list to avoid duplication first. Also of interest is a spiffy little brochure and a writing contest. Even if it never results in any new technology actually being developed, the site is a nice resource for science educators and science fiction fans."
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Science Fact From Fiction

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  • Nasa (Score:2, Interesting)

    by D4Vr4nt ( 615027 )
    I wonder if Nasa's budget getting larger is part of the science-fiction to be tracked and logged. heh.

    Are we ever gonna get to Mars or what? I remember reading back in "Science et Vie" about populating and building an atmosphere by 2020 or something silly. Seemed believable then..
  • Does this mean that we could finally end up with a guy named dark helmet flying commuter routes to Duran Duran? "Today's inflight meal provided by Pizza the Hut"
  • Spaceballs (Score:3, Funny)

    by craigtay ( 638170 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @06:27AM (#5005050) Journal
    Remember the giant maid in spaceballs? That could be reality in a few years.
  • by GothChip ( 123005 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @06:33AM (#5005066) Homepage
    This is a great idea. I always thought that other fields should pay more attention to turning science fiction ideas into reality.

    The two inventions I'm looking forward to are credsticks to replace cash (like in Shadowrun) and reactalight contact lenses to reduce glare from the sun.
    • by IncarnationTwo ( 457191 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @06:46AM (#5005087)
      Credit cards.
      Cash (debit?) cards.

      Both of these are widely aivailable in europe, though it is fairly hard to pay with EC("electronic cash"), as not so many shops have needed readers for EC cards.

      Why is that?
      Because there is no market for "credstics" or EC
      in consumer markets. People like to see how much money they have.

      Maybe when you can get visa electron 2.0 that has lcd-on-creditcard that shows your current balance... or maybe not even then.

      And you should remember that whern you use EC, all you transactions are _tracable_.

      And what about Scifi view of EC-on-skin... I find that a horrible idea. An electronic tracing instrument planted on your skin.
      • Well, here (in France) people routinely use their CB/Visa cards (it's mostly direct or monthly debit, though credit cards proper are also widely available. People call both kinds "cartes de crédit" anyway). It's simple, safe, "secure" (well, there is an encryption chip which more or less works; I need to rely on magstrip+signature+insurance scheme only abroad), and just everyone uses it. It costs ~30 a year, and then there is zero transaction cost, Euroland-wide (some banks only recently and very cautiously started to charge 1/withdrawal done outside of their ATM network if this happens more than a half dozen times a month, but that's pretty much all you have to pay besides foreign exchange rates).

        In Belgium (and the Netherlands IIRC), they have Proton cards (in addition to Visa || EC), which claim to be equivalent to pocket change cash (if they don't do like the French supposedly equivalent scheme, Moneo, this is both electronic and privacy preserving. Moneo is expensive and 1984ish as hell). It seems to be very hot there.

        Don't assume that just because some elderly people in the Bayern area of Germany are still using cash even for large (10K+ reportedly) transactions that the whole of Europe is arrierated(sp).

      • Why is that? Because there is no market for "credstics" or EC in consumer markets. People like to see how much money they have.

        IBM trialled something like this a few years ago (in Swindon I believe, but I could be mistaken). You had a card, which you would "charge up" with credit, which would be transferred from your account to the card. The basic problems were
        • If you have to charge up the card anyway, why not just stop at an ATM and withdraw cash?
        • If the value is on the card and you lose the card, you've lost the value, but a credit/debit card can easily be replaced without you actually losing any money.

        Needless to say, IBM and its partner banks didn't introduce the scheme to the general public.

        And you should remember that whern you use EC, all you transactions are _tracable_.

        That's not necessarily true. It could be implemented that way, but there's no technological reason for it. You just need a way to ensure that one value token can only be decrypted by one owner at a time, and we can do that easily with key-pairs and signatures, so long as there's a TTP to actually issue the cash.
        • Yes, it was called the mondo card. Infact i still have one somewhere. You had athe card itself, and a little reader that was pocket sized that you could use to move "cash" between cards.

          It failed miserably, mainly because the cards were corruptable, and non resilient. Credit/Debit cards are the way ahead.
        • That's not necessarily true. It could be implemented that way, but there's no technological reason for it. You just need a way to ensure that one value token can only be decrypted by one owner at a time, and we can do that easily with key-pairs and signatures, so long as there's a TTP to actually issue the cash.

          Yes and no.

          In theory, perfectly anonymous digital cash that can flow from person to person is feasible. Many cryptographers have proposed schemes that have various strengths and weaknesses, but most of them are pretty solid, theoretically.

          In practice, we run into the fact that there really isn't any place we can store private keys with adequate security and mobility. The obvious answer is auditability: if the technology can make counterfeiting moderately difficult and we can establish a solid audit trail that tracks every penny, then anyone who does crack the technological barriers wil have to risk exposing themselves in order to spend their counterfeit cash.

          Of course, auditability is pretty much the opposite of anonymity, although there are various compromise positions that can offer a reasonable solution.

          Mondex goes the route of complete anonymity, and even allows person-to-person exchange of value, through an arbitrarily long chain, with no records. The result is that Mondex is highly vulnerable to counterfeiting, since it depends almost entirely on the security of the electronic tokens (smart cards) carried by the end-user. I say "almost entirely" because the Mondex scheme also includes some mathematical models of cashflow which theoretically allow the scheme operators to obtain an estimate of the amount of electronic cash which is in circulation. If this estimate turns out to be significantly larger then the amount that has been issued, then the system may need to be shut down.

          Visa Cash goes the route of complete auditability at a device level, as opposed to a user level. Every transaction that loads value onto a device is archived and most transactions that spend value from a device are also reported back. If the value spent by a given card ever exceeds the value placed onto that card, then that card has been compromised, and actions can be taken to (a) disable that card and (b) attempt to aprehend the criminal. To allow users to divorce their own identity from that of the card, Visa got the idea of providing vending machines that would sell preloaded cards, unassociated with any particular user. Unfortunately, you must use some form of payment to buy the anonymized card and most payment mechanisms require you to identify yourself, thus re-establishing the identity link. The exception, of course, is cash. But why would you want to use paper cash to buy electronic cash?

          Also, Visa permits member banks to choose whether or not they will reimburse cardholders for lost card value. Since transactions are fully auditable, the bank can know how much money is on a given card. So, if you have an identity-tagged card, the value can be replaced if you lose it. Convenience, but no anonymity.

          Many other approaches have been recommended that take a middle path, and achieve security by moving the keys out of the public's hands and into bank vaults where they can be protected. Perhaps the most promising of these a few years back was David Chaum's "DigiCash", which had a number of appealing properties. First, it was truly and completely anonymous if and only if you never tried to "double spend" a digital coin. If you did spend the same money twice, there was a very high probability (Chaum suggested (2^32 -1)/(2^32), but it could be made arbitrarily high) that your identity would be revealed. Second, it was partially auditable, in that after you received an electronic payment, you could not use that money to pay someone else, you had to deposit the "coins" you received in the bank. You could then withdraw spendable "coins" from the bank. The result is that while it's not possible to know where or how you spend money, or who you receive money from, the bank does know exactly how much money flows through your hands. Governments like this feature.

          Other approaches address some of the "limitations" (the scare quotes are because some don't see them as limitations) of DigiCash, allowing respending, and deferring auditing while retaining the essential "anonymous unless you double spend" character. Most of these proposals are horrendously complex, so much so that it's hard to verify their properties analytically, much less build a secure implementation. Every one that I've looked at is impractical as well, although advances in hardware may change that, eventually.

          So, no, I don't think we can "easily" implement a secure and untraceable electronic cash system. The answer depends heavily upon your definitions of "secure" and "untraceable", of course.

      • Warning: rant approaching...

        One of the most frustrating things I about my move to England has been banking. It takes forever to open an account, and they send you this debit card that is really just a credit card with a strange name because you still have to sign slips rather than use a PI number.

        In Canada, nearly every store you walk into has Interac, be it a clothing store, convenience store or gas station. I like carrying around money, but it is much more convenient and safe to use debit cards. I cannot use my NatWest (stupid Switch card) debit card in anything but the biggest department stores (but not Debenhams!), and I live in London. You would think that a city of this size that is constantly warning it's citizens about muggings and fraud would start to implement some of these safer "new" technologies.

        Opponents to debit card readers in stores say that it costs a lot to use them, but I suspect that has a little bit to do with supply-demand. Once all the big stores start carrying them it trickles down to the smaller stores, and pretty soon everyone uses the (more) secure debit purchases. If you still think it is too expensive, institute a minimum purchase limit (hell, they still do it with credit cards!)

        A PI number is much harder to break than a signature is to forge. Some people don't even carry credit cards; they just set up the credit account on the debit card and use it with a separate PIN.
      • Here in the US, it is fairly uncommon for a shop to *not* take cards, and many of the local stores now have "self check-out" lines where you can scan the items you want to purchase and then pay with cash or card. The situation is similar in Canada - my former brother in law owns a pharmacy and most of his sales are now done via cards (and thus he sometimes has trouble making change for cash sales now...)

        So, just because you don't have a market for cards right now, I would be surprised if over the next 10 years or so you don't see more stores taking cards and using new technologies for automatic payment/checkout. It's not necessarily progress, but consumers like convenience...
      • I live near Washington, D.C., USA, and I rarely use cash... I have a "check card" that is basically a Mastercard that deducts directly from my checking account. Since I've started using it (about 3 years ago), I've found that carrying cash is more and more a pain in the ass. The only time I carry more than $20 cash is when I know I'm going somewhere that doesn't take Visa/MC... and the only place I can think of off the top of my head is a nightclub that I go to see shows (930 Club in D.C.). The crappy little deli in my office building takes credit, and now several local fast-food places (McD's and BK) take credit. Some of the other small restaurants I go to have an ATM on-location, and the check card is my ATM card as well.

        Some people probably complain that using credit to pay for stuff takes longer than paying with cash, but many times recently, I've done unscientific timings. Basically, when the person in front of me in line is paying cash, and I plan to use my check card, I time how long it takes for the person to "move along" after the ringing-up of the purchase is finished. I've found that unless the cashier is quick with counting out change (or has an automatic coin-change-dispenser), paying with credit only takes about 5 seconds longer. Of course, some credit-payers are slow, probably from inexperience... I know I was when I first got the check card.
        • I've found that unless the cashier is quick with counting out change (or has an automatic coin-change-dispenser), paying with credit only takes about 5 seconds longer.

          What's even quicker is ATM-style debit, because even your checking card requires that you hand-sign a receipt which is not presented to you until after the the purchase is rung up.

          With ATM-style debit, you can swipe your card and enter your PIN while the cashier is still totaling up your purchases. Then, as soon as the total is available, your just have to approve or deny the payment. Assuming you approve (the typical case, obviously), you're on your way out the door essentially as soon as the cashier is done scanning and bagging.

          In the future, credit cards may move to PIN-based authentication rather than hand-written signatures, and that will speed up checkout lines as well.

          • In the future, credit cards may move to PIN-based authentication rather than hand-written signatures, and that will speed up checkout lines as well.

            That would be awesome, since using my check card for debits costs me between $0.5 and $1 per transaction. Even faster than all that is my SpeedPass from Mobil... no PIN required (but don't let go of that sucker!). I'd love to see more than Exxon/Mobil gas station + food mart locations accepting SpeedPass, like, say, Arby's :)
    • Frankly, that opens up a huge can of worms. Once you get to consumer products, you also allows all sorts of unpleasant ways to violate the rights of individuals.

      For instance, those of you who have read Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash remember a particular virus that restructured an individual's brain to allow an individual to control those individuals through particular language programs (nam-shub). Can you imagine what this could do if ANYONE created such a virus? Especially considering that they effectively found a way to crash the brains of potential opponents.

      Or how about the cut-out chips used in the House of Blue Lights in William Gibson's Sprawl stories? Kidnap a woman and put her under the chip. It's like rape drugs, but worse, because she isn't even aware of ANYTHING. Or hell, just let the government use it for shutting up dissidents or prisoners.

      And what ABOUT replacing cash? Frankly, I like cash. Not all the time, mind you, but sometimes it's good to have some cash on hand. It's anonymous. It's easily spent. It's easily transferrable. It's very difficult to track. In a world where electronic interactions are easy to trace and are being watched by people like John Poindexter, the anonymity of cash is definitely a plus.

      Black ICE from Gibson's Sprawl trilogy would be loved greatly by the try to decode a disk of theirs and the file you decode kills you. no lawsuit because you yourself were breaking the law by trying to break their encryption.

      The neural restructuring found in Sterling's Schismatrix stories uis also disturbing, allowing organizations to "reshape" people who acted differently than they wanted, either by making them more adept at a certain skill, or by putting blocks on other skills. Do we really need gene-tampered and mentally-reshaped assassins walking around the streets? I think not.

      Or if we go the way of hard scifi, do we want the "Drouds" of Larry Niven's Known Space books? Direct stimulation of one's pleasure center may be a boon for addicts of other drugs, but is much more likely to turn humanity into a pile of vegetables.

      And I refuse to touch the whole Big Brother, Soylent Green, and other similar things with a ten foot pole.

      The fact is, Sci-fi gives plenty of warnings about fact, at least as many as it gives potntial "good" technologies. But once you get governments trying to develop said technologies, they'll adapt other technologies that are really warned against rather than hoped for because it's there and it *could* be beneficial to them for one reason or another.

      Just something to think about.
  • Maybe.. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Ribert ( 638188 )
    Maybe they will invent those communicaters from ST!!!
    • Maybe they will invent those communicaters from ST!!!

      Why? They have considerably less functionality than a present day mobile phone. Apart from the voice activation and (I presume) the battery life, they're WW2-era walkie-talkies.

      Just think, Picard can travel faster than light but he has to rely on an audio-only channel to find out what's going on down on the surface. Hell, Nokia could be the Federation's secret weapon, the ability to send lame low-resolution pictures back to a ship in orbit! Revolutionary!
      • They're the size of (old ST) or smaller than (Next Gen) current mobile phones. They require no towers, and are never "out of the service area". They can communicate with each other and with orbiting spacecraft in all but the most extreme weather or radiation conditions and also serve as precise homing signals for the transporter etc. Definitely still a science fiction technology.
      • the Nextel phones are basically ST communicators.
  • Bluetooth is on the list, since when has this been science fiction?
    • Re:Bluetooth? (Score:2, Insightful)

      Obviously not now, but I imagine that some SF writer in the 80s (or earlier) proposed computers talking to each other and other devices wirelessly, a vision that has now become reality.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Haven't you paid attention to Star Trek? Whenever Kirk and crew got their hands onto some alien technology they would immediately be able to control it, often using their tricorders. You'll notice that these have nearly 100% inter-operability with any tech out there (alien or not), and it is wireless.

      Bluetooth is much the same. The reason you don't see many UFO reports these days is because the aliens are now afraid some madman with a bluetooth-enabled mobile phone will hijack their ride. That's how good those phones are.

      Bluetooth: yesterday's SF, today's reality! ;-)

      • by Longjmp ( 632577 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @07:12AM (#5005126)
        You don't need UFOs. This [] is even more scary.

        Translation of screen display:

        New hardware detected.
        (spoiler omitted)
        Start auto-configuration now?
        [Start] [Cancel]
        • To the best of my recollection, feel free to correct me (you anal retentive #&%s!)

          Wally: "Remember to turn your laptop on during the flight!"
          PHB: "I thought I was supposed to turn it off."
          Wally: "That's rediculous, then how would they transfer control to you if the plane was about to crash?"

          In flight:
          Crew: "For god's sake, turn it off!!"
          PHB: "Don't worry, I'll land this baby. I can do that from Excel, right?"

        • I'm currently working on an in flight entertainment system for corporate jets that will allow laptops and PDAs to join the LAN on the aircraft (so, say, they could do a presentation on the same screen normally used for movies). In honor of my new project, I posted this cartoon [] outside my cube.

          Somehow, management didn't find it funny.

      • Hey, you don't need Bluetooth.

        Remember in Independence Day, the Jeff Goldblum character could upload nasty viruses into alien technology with any laptop. Not sure the interface, but maybe you just have to have the laptop close to the alien tech.

      • You'll notice that these have nearly 100% inter-operability with any tech out there (alien or not), and it is wireless.

        As R2D2 has showed us [] the most high-tech, interoperable interface is not radio, electrical or even optical, it is mechanical []. He's got to be able to push at least 5 bps through that thing.

  • "Cliquetez." Bless their illiterate hearts.
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @06:37AM (#5005075) Journal
    Has anyone actually read this report? While the concept was quite clever, it was clearly written long before anyone had got into space.

    His proposal was to build no more than 3 comsats. These were huge beasts that would be constructed in space, and manned permanently. Each comsat would deal with communication over 120 degrees across the earth.

    This is a far cry from dozens of highly specialised and semi disposable comsats that we actually use. I don;t mean to be too hard on Arthur C. Clarke, but people really ought to remember how wrong he was with a few gems of being right.
    • by anonymous cupboard ( 446159 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @07:57AM (#5005205)
      I read his original report, he was showing how a minimum system could be built for full earth coverage. He wrote this at a time when space flight was still very much fiction (about ten years before Sputnik) and there were vacuum tubes rather than semiconductors. Tubes need regular replacement, hence the need for a manned presence.
    • by alistair ( 31390 ) <> on Friday January 03, 2003 @08:57AM (#5005333)
      For people who wish to read the report itself, the London Science Museum has images of the entire Wireless World article available here [].

      Personally, I think he got the most important points correct in anticipating the advantages of a Geostationary orbit. I suspect he suggested only three of them due to the huge cost of building them and he does show (correctly) that these three satellites would cover the major regions of "Africa and Europe", "China and Oceana" and "The Americas" (page three) while allowing point to point communication between the three satellites.

      True, he did predict huge manned stations powered by valves with people to replace the valves but it seems harsh to critisise him for not inventing Moores Law 20 years early. Much of the rest of the text is both valid and visionary. For some other examples of his work the site has a short information page here [].

      While browsing the site you may also want to look at the Quicktime VR movie of the inside of Apollo 10 []. The Science Museums Space Gallery has always been one of my favourites and this is a nice attept to put some of it online (plus I helped in the making of this a few years back :-) ).

    • Yes but he wrote it before they developed micro-electronics. His proposal was supposed to be "do-able" using tech they could then develop. (Getting stuff into space wouldn't be easy, but it was at least possible to do something about that.)

      If he had used "micro electronics" it would just have been fiction. That was about as easy to predict before it happened as the development of current airplanes and cars. (For someone living when airplanes and cars didn't exist.)
    • Also, it should be noted that the referenced article is talking about harvesting ideas from science fiction, while Clarke's article proposing geosync radio relays was a factual (if speculative) work for a radio technology magazine. Clarke worked on British radar systems during WWII, so he had a very good practical grounding in radio technology.
  • ...of my old "Tom Swift" books I guess -- didn't this kid "invent everything" in the pursuit of "the bad guys"?

    OTOH, "The Venus Equatorial" [or was that "equalateral"?] presents an interesting social impact study once things like "perfect copies" are perfected [as in a startrek "replicator"] People simply won't stand still for the desctruction of the concept of currency [ok, it IS early in the morning -- read the book to understand what I'm talking about]

  • /. french is wrong (Score:2, Informative)

    by liberteus ( 566864 )
    "cliquetez ici pour la version française" is almost good, at least it is understandable.

    Correct french is: "cliquez ici pour la version française".
    • Isn't that "cliquetez" some kind of bullshit politically correct Canadian suggestion for Cliquer -> Cliqueter as being synonymous? Google returns over 21,000 pages with cliquetez in them, mostly French pages saying "Cliquetez ici"

      Check the mouse button name: Enfoncer et relâcher le bouton-poussoir (ou cliquet) from here: []

    • Truth is, I don't know the slightest bit of French (and my Spanish is miserable). 'Just used Google language tools []. I had a hunch it would at least miss some nuances. Machine translation is incredible, but still has a long way to go.

      Again, thanks for the correction. I'm relieved it was good enough to be deciphered.

  • That's a really cool site. When I looked up hyperspace, it says:

    The Hyperspace is described as the 5th dimension; ships which jump through it can travel to they targets immediately (i. e. without loss of any time). However, the jump causes pain to the crew and very much energy is needed to do it. Later mankind learns to travel within a special forcefield that allows them to get between our 4 dimensions and the 5th. This allows no longer instant travel but "only" speeds of million times of light. The advantage is they now can navigate and have no longer to suffer the pains of the former "Hyperjump".

    It gives that description from a title with the name "Hyperspace". The site also has some great pictures!

    • Ok, you got me curious about the hyperspace thing so I went a took a look at the article. It all sounded pretty cool and interesting until I got to the bottom:

      Feasibility: Requires New Technology

      Damn, I thought by then NT would be killed off by MS but it looks like it has a promising future in getting us to Hyperspace.

      Oh, the humanity!

      • Well, Windows is a two-dimensional interface masquerading as a three-dimensional UI.

        The logical next step is three/four-dimensional interfaces masquerading as four/five-dimensional UIs.

        In the future, we'll all be scrambling to upgrade to Microsoft HyperspaceNT SP6 to avoid being haxored by all the superstring-kiddies, or else face the prospect of losing our data forever in the 8th dimension (which which will be accessible via a quantum buffer paradox overflow exploit).
  • by froh ( 553491 )
    I hope they don't try to make a impropability drive.
    It's just too dangerous.
  • Two I saw just by glancing at the page...

    Soon we will have revolutionary waste receptacles for the combustion byproducts of another of my inventions, Coolness Extrapolation Tubes (or "cigarettes")

    (Yes, I realize the actual item is something completely different)

    The next was "Crash Landing"

    This came from the film "Destruction (sic) Man" where the car crashes through the glass sign and lands in the fountain, but the passengers are saved due to the car filling with foam. The poster then envisions saving the Space Shuttle from crash landings with this stuff.

    Someone get this guy a Physics book, stat!
  • Death Star (Score:5, Funny)

    by rde ( 17364 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @07:05AM (#5005117)
    Under normal circumstances, I'd suggest a Death Star. In these heady days when we're considering technologies that might, in our lifetimes, get us to other star systems, it's important to have something that'll enable us to blow the shit out of anything that looks at us funny.

    Of course, there would be problems. Remember the arguments about the status of Pluto? That'd be nothing compared to something like the death star.

    "That's no moon."
    "Yes it bloody is"
    • OK, this might be a bit offtopic, but I started thinking, "Hell yes! Of course in order to journey into space we'd need big fat guns. There are aliens out there."

      But then I thought about the technologies and laws of physics that would need to be discovered/manipulated in order to build such awesome technologies, stuff that would make the discovery that mass is equal to velocity times the speed of light squared look like high school algebra.

      Then I thought about those benevolent alien cultures that are so far advanced because they really get it (whereas we hairless apes are still stuck on blowing up everything that doesn't look like us, including us!) and how they keep close tabs on threshold civilizations, cultures that may be on the verge of actually achieving extra-solar travel that might bring them into contact with other mathematically-capable species.

      Wouldn't those aliens have entire philosophical and cultural systems to undermine the researches of such potentially dangerous cultures (e.g. homo sapiens)? They'd be watching us not too attentively until we, say, got to orbiting our own moon, automating travel to nearby planets, and at that point would determine that humans suck, wanting as we do to build Death Stars. So they'd simply inbuild viral memes and technologies to make our culture dumb.

      To wit: Star Wars (as a military policy), Grand Theft Auto 3, undercutting of Clean Air Act, defunding NASA, squabbling over nuclear weapons technologies, polluting our gene pool (e.g. premature human cloning, recombinant DNA eugenics), heck, even Slashdot (fearsome productivity killer).

      Granted, the above might just be Pynchon updated for the space age, but if I were on the other end of the human race's attempts to get into outer space, I sure as hell wouldn't let us get there. We're dangerous, hateful, and cancerous. We are not mature enough as a species to come into contact with other species capable of understanding abstract symbol systems, including our very own selves.

      • This type of self hate I find most disturbing.
      • Someone once said in response to a similar argument, "I always envision a bunch of Indians standing on the beach watching Columbus' ships coming in and saying to each other, 'Surely any race advanced enough to build ships that can cross the ocean has progressed beyond war and conquest!'" Technological superiority is, IMO, in general a useful tool of moral advancement (Star Wars and GTA3 notwithstanding, people now generally are more moral than they were then, in large part because technology allows them to be) but it's no guarantee.
  • by idletask ( 588926 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @07:05AM (#5005118)

    Jules Vernes has led the way to modern submarines with its "twenty thousands leagues under the sea" [] novel. Remember Captain Nemo? :)

  • ... how obnoxious the USA is going to be when one of these Death Star things finally gets built.
  • I'd be curious to see if they extend the study outside of just Sci-Fi, and see how many of the things that have appeared in Sci-Fi end up, or have ended up, in real life.

    Some examples I know of are the Sick Bay beds and displays from Star Trek, which appeared in hospitals shortly thereafter. On those same lines, a hypospry always looked like it would beat a shot or pills.

    My personal thing I'd like to see is a holodeck, though I'd assume that that's just a tad bit off. But Quake in one of those would rule. Or be messy and dangerous. Or all above! It'd just give politions and parents something more to whine about.

    And I'd just love a hoverboard, compliments Back to the Future. Or a self-drying jacket, autolace shoes, flat-tvs that play the scenery channel, and pizzas the size of my palm that come out fresh. It had to be Sci-Fi, pizza hut pizza is far greasier than that.
    • ...a self-drying jacket, autolace shoes, flat-tvs that play the scenery channel, and pizzas the size of my palm that come out fresh.

      Autolace shoes, huh? You, my friend, are a prime candidate for a fastening technology called "velcro". It looks terribly fashionable on a pair of runners too ;-)
  • by Anonvmous Coward ( 589068 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @07:26AM (#5005155)
    ...reclassify Animaniacs as Scifi. Remember that garage door opener that Yakko had that could turn women upside down?
  • IP. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaBj ( 168491 ) <> on Friday January 03, 2003 @07:40AM (#5005173) Homepage Journal
    The site is also a nice resource for finding prior art.

    Hope that doesn't make companies avoid inventing the stuff, since they can't really patent it, and we all know that it's the patent that creates a profit, not the invention...
    • The site is also a nice resource for finding prior art.

      Well, I wouldn't say that. All one would have to do is come up with a specific implementation of one of these ideas to make it patentable. You can't actually patent raw ideas (or shouldn't be able to, anyway).

  • Hard sci-fi (Score:3, Informative)

    by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @07:50AM (#5005196)
    Its goal is "to review past and present SF literature, artwork and films in order to identify and assess innovative technologies and concepts described which could be possibly developed further for space applications."

    Anything that is "space fantasy" (like Star Trek) can probably be dismissed out of hand, since it all relies on an inconsistent physics model. The physics of the Star Trek universe are mutable to suit the story, they are functionally indistinguisable from magic spells in traditional fantasy genres. Babylon 5, Farscape et al are no better. - altho' to be fair, both of those place far less emphasis on technobabble than Star Trek.

    But there is a lot of good stuff in hard sci fi. My favourite author at the moment is Alastair Reynolds. In his books, humans have colonized other worlds relying on cryogenic suspension (theoretically possible, actively being researched now) and relativistic time compression (a known fact), rather than an FTL drive. If a ship is in orbit it's internal "down" is outwards as a section of the hull rotates to simulate gravity, but while its underway, down is backwards because of drive thrust, and you have to reconfigure somewhat before switching modes - no "artificial gravity". There are no "deflector screens" - if you want to protect your ship, find some cometary ice and wrap yourself in it. Other technologies he uses, like nanotech manufacturing are all extrapolations from current research.

    Of course, it is fiction, so there are a few things that are made up (the Conjoiner's power source, for example). But if fiction is to drive research, it could do a lot better than what passes for mainstream sci-fi.
    • To be fair, Babylon 5 did get the Starfuries right.
      Rather than flying like aeroplanes (I'm talking to you, X-Wing) they had thrusters along each axis, so a burst from the rear thrusters would accelerate the ship forwards, and then it would coast along, until a burst from the forward thrusters stopped it.
      So someone had a grasp of elementary physics...
      • To be fair, Babylon 5 did get the Starfuries right.

        There's something I never got about the station. You would want to do most of your work close to the outside, to maximize area, and keep the rotation speed as low as possible to avoid mechanical wear. The area of the station at 1G is going to be the most valuable (for humanoids at least), and gravity goes up the further from the axis you are. The station must have a contrarotating counterweight somewhere, because part of it doesn't rotate. So where is "down below"? It wouldn't be further out than the main commercial and residential districts, because all you'd want between them and the outside would be shielding/life support, and it couldn't be closer to the core, because there would be lower gravity, and that area seems to be mostly docks anyway.
    • But really, wouldn't it be nice if everything from earthquakes and pollution to cancer and bad hair days could be solved simply by shooting a "modified photon topedo" at it?
    • yeah, they'll never be communicators...

  • Open to: - space and science fiction enthusiasts from all nations between 15 and 30 years of age

    Whoever it was that said " old Tom Swift books..." can forget it.

    • I noticed that too when I first saw the site last month. I actually considered not submitting this to /. to better my chances in the contest, but since I'm a dottering 34 I decided "a bird in the hand..." and submitted it here.

      As is, I still intend to dust off a few old stories and try to ship one of them. Heck, the worst they'll do is disqualify me.

      (Hmmm... must fight urge to post again and make a lame joke about hexidecial... must resist... Aw, Hell. I'll do it!)

    • 0x15 to 0x30 would be 21 to 48 (dec). That lets a dottering geezer like me at 34 just slip in...
  • Visitors to the site are encouraged to submit technologies from SF works, although they should look at the master keyword list to avoid duplication first.

    Heh, maybe Slashdot should adopt something similar to prevent duplicate stories :)
  • They seem to have a working demo on their site....
  • This is, simply, something I find very cool. However, what we need is a counterpart:

    Predictions that went WRONG in SF. We don't do our space-travel math by hand, I'm still waiting on my personal helecopter, etc.

    I'm not being sarcastic - such a work would be very informative, and would contrast well with this one.
  • been done before (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Both the CIA and KGB used to send agents to watch each new James Bond movie. Notes would be taken of the device ideas, and some of them would be produced for actual spying. (Someone from the CIA admitted this.)
  • I recall reading of someone who tried to patent the water bed, but couldn't because of the description in RAH's Stranger in a Strange Land.

    What about lifiting "Ginger"s/Segway patents based on the very similar transport devices described in "The Roads Must Roll"? (when they go down under, they talk about the little zippy personal transporters used to move around the tunnels)
    • What about lifiting "Ginger"s/Segway patents based on the very similar transport devices described in "The Roads Must Roll"? (when they go down under, they talk about the little zippy personal transporters used to move around the tunnels)

      You can't patent an idea, only a specific implementation of an idea. I doubt the Segway HT itself is covered by a patent, but its individual components that solve specific problems will be. The point is that unless you do your own R&D from scratch and solve those problems for yourself you won't be able to build one, and even if you did, there's no guarantee that they didn't beat you to the optimal solution. In reality, I'm sure that if you wanted to use some of their technology in a way that didn't compete directly with them, they would be happy to license it to you. That's a win-win scenario: cheaper than you doing the research for yourself, more profitable for them than keeping the patent to themselves.

      An example of this is Gillette - you obviously can't patent a razor, but they could patent the specific spring mechanism they use to let the blades adjust their height.
  • by The Fun Guy ( 21791 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @09:39AM (#5005477) Homepage Journal
    Disclaimer: I love science fiction, always have, always will, however...

    Science fiction did indeed predict (in some form, anyway) communications satellites, cell phones, rocket fins, particle weapons, the floppy drive, etc. However, it also predicted antigravity, rolling roads, matter converters, mind control rays, time machines and stasis fields. The trouble with looking back at science fiction and picking out the accurate predictions is that you ignore the 99.9% that was inaccurate, and distort the perceived value of the source material. It's like finding one potato out of a thousand that's shaped kind of like Elvis... you would not seriously conclude that potato fields are a good place to look for new sculptures, would you?
    • Oh, and we have all those things today (antigravity, rolling roads, matter converters, etc.) but they're supressed by the "Big Corporations" because they would absolutely kill their profitable businesses, which are essentially a way of enslaving mankind.

      And think man, if they had mind control rays, would you necessarily know about it?
    • Science fiction did indeed predict (in some form, anyway) communications satellites, cell phones, rocket fins...

      Man, I gots to go to Finland!
      : )

    • you mean, those predictions haven't come true, yet.
    • [...] rolling roads [...]
      These exist, although not like Heinlein envisioned. Just visit any large airport, there are "slidewalks" to help move people more efficiently.

      The matter converters are several years away; once we perfect nanotechnology, they'll start popping up all over the place.

      Aside on nanotech: I really like the Foresight Institute's Feynman Grand Prize [] . In order to win the $250,000, you (or your team) needs to achieve two things:

      Specifications for the Feynman Grand Prize require the winning entrant to:

      * design, construct, and demonstrate the performance of a robotic arm that initially fits into a cube no larger than 100 nanometers in any dimension, meeting certain performance specifications including means of input. The intent of this prize requirement is a device demonstrating the controlled motions needed to manipulate and assemble individual atoms or molecules into larger structures, with atomic precision; and
      * design, construct, and demonstrate the performance of a computing device that fits into a cube no larger than 50 nanometers in any dimension. It must be capable of correctly adding any pair of 8-bit binary numbers, discarding overflow. The device must meet specified input and output requirements.

      Once these two "parts" exist, many nanotechnology devices will be able to be built. We truly live in interesting times!
  • When did they start using an apostrophe as a replacement for the confusing comma and period variations of the three-zero demarcation point?
  • Make with the lightsabers. And midichlorian implants. Now.

    "This isn't the post you want to mod down."

  • In Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, one of the characters that pops up is an alien from a race that is breeding human beings to be nice fat delicious food purely through advanced sociological manipulation on a large scale. One of his quotes is something along the lines of "A society which does not comprehend sociology cannot be considered truly intelligent."

    I say we devote more resources towards truly understand the nature of our behavior and social interactions.

I have ways of making money that you know nothing of. -- John D. Rockefeller