Is sci-fi a predictor of today’s world?
When immersed in a captivating story, it is hard not to think about parallels in our daily lives. In many science fiction stories, big data can be seen supporting the main plot themes. Today, these science fiction realities may be coming true as we see big data capturing headlines about its ability to change the way we interact with technology. As data consumption has grown and changed over time, do popular culture themes about big data align with the real-world evolution of this technology?
“2001: A Space Odyssey”
In the film, HAL 9000 is a sentient computer capable of autonomous operation, spaceflight, speech recognition, conversational discourse, facial recognition, natural language processing, lip reading and chess – functions that together require the processing of vast amounts of data at high speeds.
IBM’s Watson supercomputer employs a cluster of ninety servers that analyze data at astounding speeds. One practical application of Watson today is in aviation. Korean Air has used Watson to address more than 200,000 maintenance cases per year allowing the airline to improve operational efficiency and on-time performance by 90 percent.
In this HBO series, tourists interact with humanoid robots during intricate scenarios in an artificial wild west landscape. The AI-enabled robots are capable of complex thoughts and emotions, and are indistinguishable from humans. But the real driver behind why this western “theme park” exists is to copy and archive the personality data of its guests – a nefarious big data plot best reserved for Hollywood.
In 2014, Disney rolled out the MyMagic+ trip planning and guest-experience enhancing program for its Disney World theme parks in Orlando. At the heart of MyMagic+ were MagicBands, wearable wristbands with RFID chips that could store guests’ personal data and track their movements throughout the theme parks to provide tailor-made experiences.
An untitled new Terminator film in the works for 2019 will feature the eponymous cyborg, best known for its ability to drive 20th century internal combustion vehicles while engaging in small arms fire. Instead of being built by humans to support humans, these robots were built by an artificially intelligent computer called Skynet to snuff out humankind.
Robots today are being used for a variety public safety purposes, from shopping malls to outdoor parks. The startup Knightscope has created a number of these security robots referred to as Autonomous Data Machines, some even spotted in Time Square. These robots use an array of sensors and cameras to monitor the environment and report any unusual activity to human security guards.
When measuring the predictive nature of science fiction versus science fact, there may be some truth in the parallels. However, what is undoubtedly clear is that big data in our modern lives is used for the benefit of people and society, not murderous machines.