#Asia Time travel: Looking back at 10 ‘stuff of science fiction’ stories in 2016


Clarke’s third law: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’

Looking back at 10 'stuff of science fiction' stories in 2016

I love science fiction (and like other Star Wars fans, today I am mourning the death of Carrie Fisher. Rest in peace, Princess Leia), and I am always fascinated to see how the stuff of science fiction is becoming science fact in our ever changing modern world.

The latest developments in science and technology might have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Heck, in a different historical period you might have been locked up in the looney bin or burned at the stake for claiming these things are possible. To quote the popular third law of science fiction writer, science writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

So while going through the different articles e27 published in 2016, here are 10 stories that I feel show just how much science fiction is turning into science fact.

Let’s celebrate the magic, shall we?


India’s Hyperloop experiment is a victory for moonshots across Asia

Elon Musk is the real-life Tony Stark, and one of his many crazy ideas is the Hyperloop. Touted as the future of passenger and freight transportation, Hyperloop technology proposes shooting passengers sitting an enclosed capsule at speeds topping 1,100 kph. Now if that doesn’t sound like science fiction, I don’t know what does.

You know what’s even crazier? Hyperloop is moving from theory to reality, with India vowing to build a technically feasible Hyperloop model by 2020. Like the article’s author, I had my doubts, but this is exciting and scary at the same time, like all potential turning points in history. Whatever happens, this is truly a victory for moonshots across Asia.


NASA is developing an Alexa-enabled robot for its Mars mission

I bet Matt Damon wishes he had this when he was stranded on Mars.

At the AWS re:Invent 2016 conference in Las Vegas in November, NASA announced that ROV-E, the prototype for the new explorer for its Mars mission in 2020, can be operated by both a joystick and Amazon’s voice-enabled virtual assistant Alexa. If you had any doubts that virtual assistants will play an increasingly important role in our future, this development should lay those to rest.

Wonder if Master Chief and Cortana will be pleased?


AI-assisted shopping: A chatbot is now available in major Singapore shopping malls

Sometimes science fiction takes us to space, but one of the most compelling ways to show how much it has become intertwined with our lives is with the most down-to-earth activities. Like shopping.

Artificial intelligence is changing and will continue to change different industries and aspects of our lives. I chose this article because it is a harbinger of things to come, when AI will become so ubiquitous that we will simply take it for granted as we go about our daily activities. Don’t be surprised if AI-assisted shopping in different countries in just a few years. Maybe they could nag us so we would stop buying junk food.


This startup can bring you on-demand meteor showers –and it just raised funding

Meteor, Showers. On. Demand.

We are truly living in the future, when you have a startup that aims to use micro-satellites packed with pellets to bring meteor showers to life. And why am I not surprised that this startup is from Tokyo, Japan? Tokyo is one of my favourite cities in the world, and it’s a science fiction city come to life, that manages to blend past and future, tradition and technology, nostalgia and utopia.

The good news is that this Japanese space entertainment startup ALE has raised a JPY700 million (US$6 million) funding, which it will use for its Sky Canvas Project set to launch in 2018. I can’t wait for 2018!


This Indian scientist grows solar panels on trees

I think many of us will agree that the world needs to focus on solar power and other sources of renewable energy. In fact, Elon Musk — there’s that real-life Tony Stark again! — grabbed headlines all over the world for making the solar roof sexy.

One of the challenges for solar energy, however, is the large land area required to build solar panels for industrial and agricultural purposes. This is particularly the case for people in developing economies, who would benefit the most from access to solar energy. Which is why I was so happy to read about this Indian scientist who has hit upon the solution of a “solar power tree”. This takes up only four square feet of land space, and can produce about 3 KW of power — enough to power five households. How inspiring is that? I hope to see more examples of the stuff of science fiction making a real difference in the lives of people by providing sustainable energy.


This finger-shaped Chinese robot wants to be your family’s friendly guardian

I have always been fascinated by robots, from the droids of Star Wars, to Isaac Asimov’s positronic robots, to my favourite Japanese mechas (super robots) Voltes V and Mazinger Z. So I am looking forward to the day when robots will become commonplace in our society.

I love how this article starts off by pointing out: “The best gifts sometimes come in the humblest packages.” Just as the author noted, this robot from Chinese-based startup NXROBO doesn’t really look that great. But this finger-shaped home robot, BIG-i, makes up for this with a host of great functionality that could make it an indispensable household companion. The design is deliberate. Its creator, Dr Lam Tin Lun, a veteran in the robotics industry, wanted a robot that would integrate into the family and not look outrageous. He believes that everyone should have the right to enjoy the benefits of robotic technology. I truly believe that, too!


This Kickstarter project lets you talk to your plants

How many of you talk to your plants? Well, with this Kickstarter project, your plant may be able to talk to you.

It sounds like crazy science fiction or New Age stuff, right? But Seeed Studio’s ReSpeaker is supposed to allow you to interact with your plants and other objects with your voice. Now, you might be able to take care of a plant the way you take care of your dog, cat, or other pet. For instance, your plant can let you know when it’s thirsty and when it doesn’t need water, according to ReSpeaker product manager Xiaobo Ye.

But will your plant love you like your pet does? Well, as a cat lover, I know cats only pretend to love us — and sometimes they don’t even bother pretend haha!


This Indonesian novel can also be enjoyed as VR content

I have been a bookworm for most of my life, but I have to admit that for the past years I haven’t been reading books as much, and even if I am, it will usually be a digital book on my Kindle app or on Scribd. But lately I’ve been waxing nostalgic and occasionally buying physical books and graphical novels again, which is why I’m happy to see physical books making a comeback. In fact, as someone who started out as a print journalist before pushing online journalism, it’s gratifying to see that print still lives.

Having said that, I welcome developments like this Indonesian novel that can also be enjoyed using virtual reality. The world has changed, and authors and publishers should be happy to use technology to reach out to a new audience and speak the same language as younger readers. I hope to see more experiments like this, and see the day when VR and AR won’t be just gimmicks but mature platforms for enriching the reading experience. And on that note, I promise to read more books in 2017. How about you?


You won’t believe this: Singapore developing plans to 3D print homes

What was your reaction when you first found out that 3D printing was now a reality? To me, this was one of the most awesome moments in modern technology — the idea that you can take any idea, any digital image, and literally print it out as a real-life object. Maybe in the near future we can finally create Calvin’s Transmogrifier

Ahem. Anyway, what’s even more mind-boggling is that Singapore is developing plans to 3D print houses. This plan is to combine 3D printing with a “Lego-like” strategy for assembly to build public housing for the city-state. That’s it — Singapore is definitely a science fiction city! Not that I had any doubts.


Japanese Astroscale aspires to be the first outer space cleaning company

Of course, there is also one thing we can always count on about the human race: we’re messy.

As we continue exploring more of space and perhaps even colonise Mars one day (there’s that Elon Musk dude again!), we are also creating a lot of space junk. In the fifty-plus years of space exploration, the human race has left thousands of trackable objects — and probably more we can’t pick out — in space. Now Japan’s Astroscale wants to become the first outer space cleaning company. For real!

As you can see, we live in exciting times. With all the bad news and tough times we have endured in 2016, it might be hard for us to stay positive. But that makes it even more important for us to remain optimistic and stand in awe of the scientific discoveries and technology breakthroughs that could help improve human lives and make our world a better place.

I love science fiction, and I believe that magic is everywhere. May the Force be with you in 2017 and beyond!


Featured Image Credit: Gratisography

The post Time travel: Looking back at 10 ‘stuff of science fiction’ stories in 2016 appeared first on e27.

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