I was minded to write about some of the great inventions we may yet see, and to look at the rich imaginations of some of our great sci-fi writers.
1. The diamond flechette gun in Alistair Reynold’s “Chasm City”. A small and easily concealed hand weapon, made out of diamond and exotic forms of Carbon – because there is no metal in it, of course, it can be carried with impunity through airport scanners and other such devices. It is clockwork and as well as being made of diamond, fires bits of diamond as projectiles. It might be clockwork but I don’t think the users wind it up. It is, as characters describe, a thing of ‘intense, evil beauty’. “Chasm City” is set in the 27th century.
2. The Turing Gate in Paul MacAuley’s “Cowboy Angels”. In an alternative reality, Alan Turing is not hounded to death by the state for being gay, but emigrates to America where he goes onto invent a strange gate or means to move between dimensions and alternate realities. The Americans of that reality (not ours) take it upon themselves to visit their particular brand of democracy on all other Americas in existence. All well and good until they visit the reality where President Nixon was elected.
3. The cortical stack, allowing Digital Human Storage, in Richard Morgan’s “Altered Carbon” and it’s two sequels. This memory device is about the size of a cigarette butt. The device is implanted in the spinal column soon after birth and records everything – sensations, memories, feelings. All can be backed up, everything can be uploaded into a computer as digital data. Humanity is reduced to big data – both freed from death and enslaved by eternal life.
4. Douglas-Martin sun-power screens in R.A Heinlein’s “Let there be light”. Two inventors in the 1960’s perfect bioluminescent screens that can be used to convert electricity into light, or, if stuck in the sunshine, act as an effective solar panel, generating electricity.
5. The Bobble, in Vernor Vinge’s “Across realtime“. A spherical and perfectly reflective indestructable minature cosmos, which can be created in any size from tiny up to tens of kilometres across. They can last for moments – or for tens of millions of years. Anything trapped inside endures NO duration at all, no matter how long they or it are stuck inside. They are effective one-way time machines. Vinge has his characters use them as perfect (if someone inconveniently shaped) fridges, as remarkable air bags to protect aircraftmen in crashes, as restraints for madmen, as time machines, and as a means to contain political prisoners. Oddly he misses using micrometre sized bobbles as a building material.
6. The piece of paper as a computer in Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age”. In the Diamond Age – late in this century – nanotech is all. An everyday piece of paper is many tens of thousands of molecules thick. It’s a small matter to design the inside of it so that those many molecules can act as a kind of electro-mechanical microprocessor, churning through sums, doing calculations – doing computer stuff, in fact.
7. The genetically modified millipede used as sutures, in William Gibson’s “Count Zero“, set in the early 21st century but written in the 1980’s. Our young hero is slashed across the back in a knife attack whilst on the run. The surgeon places a length of this millipede over the wound, ensures all the many legs are properly lined up on each side, and with a flourish, rips the spine from the brainless bio-artifact. It’s death spasm causes the legs to contract, neatly sewing a huge wound together in a split second.
8. Windows running on your clothes, and displaying in contact lenses, in Vernor Vinge’s “Rainbow’s End”. Vinge can’t call it Windows of course, but calls it “Symphony”. Your clothes are embedded with threads acting as powerful microprocessors, and they are able to send information to contact lenses. Augmented reality – you want the low-down on this neighbourhood? Just google it and the info scrolls across the top right of your field of vision. Communicate with your computer by sub-vocalising or just thinking what want to say,
9. The means to broadcast sound direct to your aural nerve – the “friend” device as seen in Stephen Baxter’s “Ark”. Developed before 2020, the device renders earphones obsolete. A small instrument in your pocket, or your mobile phone, broadcasts sound in perfect hi-fi direct to your brain. It’s a side issue in Baxter’s story which is about rising waters flooding the whole earth.
10. The monomolecular spray-on hosiery in Iain M Banks’ “Against a dark background”. Others have said there are more ideas on one page of an Iain M. Banks novel than in whole books by other others. Here, he proposes a monomolecular covering for the female leg that looks great and feels great – spray on tights, in effect.