The Tiny CDs From ‘Men In Black’
Intended Use: “This is a fascinating little gadget,” Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) tells newly minted Agent J (Will Smith) during a tour of the Men in Black facilities. “These are going to replace CDs soon. I guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again.”
Actual Use: Yes, MiniDiscs were a thing in real life, but they went out of vogue as quickly as they came. If tiny discs had been the true successor to CDs, they would be even more fragile than their larger counterparts, and not to mention easy to lose.
Better Technology: We can stream music nearly anywhere and everywhere. Even when not connected, some devices, like the 128 GB iPhone, can hold roughly 32,000 songs.
The Elaborate Virtual Reality File-Storing Corridor From ‘Disclosure’
Intended Use: Tech company Digicom stores all of its data in a virtual reality system called the Corridor. Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas) attempts to break into the company’s Corridor after a former lover (and current boss) attempts to ruin his life.
Actual Use: This brand of virtual reality makes the user feel like they are somewhere else – somewhere else with a bunch of 2D documents projected in front of them. At best, the Corridor is a high-tech overhead projector.
Better Technology: Virtual reality today is growing exponentially. From video games to escape rooms to medical use, VR is already centuries past the sad VR technology of Disclosure.
The Search Engine Dr. Know In ‘A.I. Artificial Intelligence’
Intended Use: This snarky search engine is meant to be like Google but with personality – and lots of it. Dr. Know (Robin Williams) is meant to answer the user’s questions, and he does so… sometimes.
Actual Use: For whatever reason, scientists in the future love to make their artificial intelligence snarky and unmanageable. If someone truly had important questions to ask an A.I. hub like Dr. Know, they would probably not be as patient as David (Haley Joel Osment).
Better Technology: Alexa might unexpectedly laugh every once in a while, but at least she can answer most questions someone presents her.
The Hand Phones From ‘Total Recall’ (2012)
Intended Use: In the world of the Total Recall remake, a company called Rekall implants false memories into people’s minds as a means of escape. When Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) pays for a secret agent memory in the Rekall system, he discovers that he was already an agent of sorts – and mysterious people want to take him out. Doug uses his hand phone to make easy video and audio calls.
Actual Use: It feels a bit anachronistic for a 2084 bio-phone to still have a 10-digit keypad. Also, if the technology exists to implant phones underneath the skin, why not just do it close to the ear and make it hands-free?
Better Technology: Microchip implants are on the rise, at least in Sweden. The implants are commercially available and allow access to social media, banking information, and a host of other information in a chip under the thumb skin. Also, our smartphones already have much more sophisticated cameras and video-calling capabilities than Total Recall, which for some reason still has interlaced video.
Ziggy’s Handlink From ‘Quantum Leap’
Intended Use: The Handlink allows the user to open and close the Imaging Chamber. Here, the Observer can watch the Leaper and their surroundings – and vice versa.
Actual Use: The remote, which inexplicably looks like it’s made of Legos, always needs a good thwack before it works. Shouldn’t such sophisticated technology be more reliable than a Nintendo cartridge?
Better Technology: We might not be able to see other people’s surroundings at different points in time like in Quantum Leap, but we do have discreet camera and tracking systems. Any operative trying to tape undetected can even buy spy-grade camera equipment off Amazon.
The Brain-Implanted Storage Device In ‘Johnny Mnemonic’
Intended Use: It’s the year 2021, and Johnny Mnemonic (Keanu Reeves) is a freelance data courier who holds sensitive information in his brain’s cyberkinetic implant.
Actual Use: In order to store data in his brain, Johnny has to dump all his childhood memories to clear out enough space. So how much data can he store? A whopping 80 gigabytes, or about as much memory as a modern-day smartphone. Now Johnny does end up pushing that to 320 GB – which is about as much RAM as can be found in an upgraded Playstation 3. However, the movie claims this much data can destroy a courier’s mind.
Better Technology: Elon Musk has been developing his Neuralink for quite some time now. Initial plans are to have paralyzed people use the Neuralink to control computers and tablets. And if we discover a way to hack our brains, we may have the capacity to store roughly a petabyte of data. That would be enough data to store the internet in its entirety.
The Jaegers From ‘Pacific Rim’
Intended Use: Designed to fight the Kaiju that emerge from another dimension, Jaegers require two co-pilots to connect their neural pathways. Together, the pilots must work together to coordinate the movements of these massive machines.
Actual Use: Three-legged races are annoying for a reason: moving perfectly in sync with someone is a challenge. Now imagine the stakes are not just losing to your co-workers, but letting a giant sea monster destroy an entire city. Even the most well-trained and calm co-pilots might have a split instance where they think differently, which would leave the Jaeger vulnerable to a mighty blow from a Kaiju.
Better Technology: According to Robin Murphy, a professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M University, humans have been making robots more advanced than Jaegers for quite some time. Most are smaller (think Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit) and designed to help instead of be used in conflict. For example, Japan is using nurse robots to care for its aging population, and the Massachusetts police department is already making use of a four-legged robot named Spot.
The Hand-Swipe Interface From ‘Minority Report’
Intended Use: Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report had us all excited for floating computer screens that could be effortlessly manipulated with the flick of the wrist. Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise), a member of the PreCrime police force, uses this sleek interface to interpret the data from the Precogs, AKA the psychics who help predict wrongdoings in this dystopian thriller.
Actual Use: While we can now use gestures to control technology like phones and speech-generating devices, we aren’t standing and swiping at air. Imagine holding up your arms for eight hours a day. It doesn’t sound hard, but it would take a good amount of muscular endurance just to get through your slew of morning emails.
Better Current Technology: The small computers we all carry around in our pockets have screens that can be swiped, pinched, and screenshotted. Microsoft’s Kinect uses Time-of-Flight (ToF) depth-sensing technology to sense a user’s movements to control video games and other devices.
The Flying Cars From ‘The Fifth Element’
Intended Use: Like flying cars in every other sci-fi movie, these levitating vehicles are meant to help people get around quickly and without traffic. They also serve as the catalyst for The Fifth Element when a bizarre woman (Milla Jovovich) falls into Korben Dallas’s (Bruce Willis) flying cab.
Actual Use: There are so many flying cars in The Fifth Element, but apparently no laws. People can fly any which way they please at whatever speed they like and magically not collide into each other.
Better Technology: In 2017, German company Lilium released the Lilium Jet, which is fairly close to the idea of a flying car. The Japanese Maglev, AKA the Bullet Train, also hovers – thanks to magnetic repulsion. Its tracks also prevent it from colliding with other machines, unlike what would really happen with The Fifth Element’s flying cars.
The Floating Screens From ‘Avatar’
Intended Use: These clear computer displays are used by the military as they attempt to mine the valuable unobtanium from the alien planet Pandora. The idea is that you can see vast amounts of data from different angles.
Actual Use: Even though Avatar art director Neil Huxley said he gained inspiration from real military interfaces, he wasn’t basing it off any actual 3D system already in existence. If this were to go to market, folks would have a fit when they wouldn’t be able to make out anything on the screen – which would be often.
Better Technology: Projected interface is speculated to make a big impact in our kitchens. Brands like Ikea and Whirlpool have created mockups of interactive cooktops and kitchens that project instructions and placement for you. Also, we already have efficient touchscreens that we can see perfectly well backlit – no need to go clear.
The Nuclear Wristband From ‘Predator’
Intended Use: The Self-Destruct Device is nestled in the Wrist Gauntlet worn by the Yautja, AKA the Predators, and used as a last resort. Instead of facing defeat, the Yautja can use this to eradicate the evidence of their presence and end their life with honor.
Actual Use: The destruction created by the Wrist Gauntlet does not seem to follow any laws of physics. How can a nuclear explosion stay so contained? The gauntlet has a slew of gadgets and add-ons, like blades, which all require different button combinations. What happens if the wrong one is pressed and the self-destruct option is selected?
Better Technology: While we don’t have nuclear wristwatches, there are blades designed just like that of the Predators.
The Self-Drying, Self-Fitting Jacket From ‘Back To The Future Part II’
Intended Use: This smart jacket is designed to auto-dry whenever it gets wet. It also has some sort of advanced wiring technology that allows it to adjust perfectly to the size of the wearer. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) gets it from Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) when he visits the far out future of 2015.
Actual Use: How heavy is this jacket? Doc Brown tells Marty that there are fans inside the jacket meant to help dry it. There also has to be a slew of heavy wires that contrast and extend all of the material in the jacket.
Better Technology: Smart clothes exist, and it is a growing industry. For example, Under Armour makes an Athlete Recovery Sleepwear that wicks heat away from the body and releases infrared light meant to help the user sleep better. It also aids in muscle recovery. Sounds a lot better than something that can be done by a tailor.
The Interactive Hologram Message From ‘I, Robot’
Intended Use: After prominent robotics scientist Dr. Alfred Lanning mysteriously falls out of his window and perishes, Del Spooner (Will Smith), a Chicago police detective, investigates. He runs into a hologram of Lanning, who is unable to provide him with any information unless he “asks the right question.”
Actual Use: This piece of technology is already infuriating in its film use. Instead of simply telling Spooner what to do or where to go, the hologram makes him continuously guess what the heck is going on.
Better Technology: The hologram industry is taking off, and anyone can now see the likes of Buddy Holly or Tupac live and in the holo-flesh. And these holograms don’t present infuriating riddles like Dr. Lanning – just ethical ones.
The Holodeck From ‘Star Trek’
Intended Use: The Holodeck’s first appearance in the Star Trek franchise occurs in the 1974 episode of the animated series, “The Practical Joker.” This is a virtual reality device that lets the crew relax in an artificial environment, exercise, or just test out certain scenarios. All Captain Kirk and co. have to do is input a few parameters and voila! You can interact in what feels like a physically real reality.
Actual Use: The Holodeck – when it’s not breaking down in comical or lethal fashion – seems to have a design feature that allows it to become completely sentient (see: Professor Moriarty in “Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle”). It also allows users with the correct code to simply “turn off” the safety protocols that keep users protected from potentially life-ending situations inside the simulator (see: Star Trek: First Contact).
Better Technology: Nowadays we have virtual reality (VR) everything, from VR horror video games to psychological tools to combat PTSD with exposure therapy. Fortunately, no one can perish or become stuck in these simulated realities, as is frequently the case with the Holodeck.