July 1, 2014
Ideas Forged In Fantasy
My roommate and I went to go see Transformers: Age of Extinction the other day. I do not really recommend it. I have not been a fan of Michael Bay’s work, and what he has done to Transformers is not something I enjoy. Given, I do not know of anyone who could have done much better. I mean, while a bit of nostalgia trip for me, the Transformers cartoons were never anything more than a cheep gimmick to sell toys to kids, and yes I know I am far from the first person to point out that specific, groundbreaking revelation. To me, the movie suffers from the exact opposite of what most sci-fi action movies struggle with. Most seem to forget the ever-important human element, while the Transformers movies seem to have too much. I can never bring myself to care about the human characters, or really any of the characters, save for Optimus Prime, who is really the only interesting character as the only other returning castmember is Bumblebee, who still cannot talk for some unexplained reason.
Even so, one thing did strike me as rather interesting. The first of a couple MacGuffins of the film was something called “Transformium,” I believe they called it — contender for the most ridiculously named thing ever award — the metal that the Transformers themselves were made of. What was so remarkable about this metal? Well, it was programmable. You could make it take any shape you want by programming it into its design.
“Wait a minute,” I thought. “That sounds awfully familiar.” Sure enough, after going back through my own archives, I remembered the work being done by Empa and ETH Zurich with their Programmable Materials. “This is not science fiction,” I laughed. “We have this, or at least are on our way too it.” Sure, this stuff is not quite as variable and precise as being able to transform from a My Little Pony Rainbow Dash doll into an assault rifle, and yes that is something that it does in the movie… and I honestly wish I was joking, but it does follow the same concept.
That got me thinking about what other technology we have, or are working on, that not too long ago was stuff we thought of as pure fantasy. Things like warp drives, the ethical ramifications of combat drones, cybernetic limbs, and even being able to create matter from light like the Green Lantern with his power ring. While not quite to the extent that we are able to imagine them and make come to life on the big screen or in comic books, these are all things that we have made great strides towards.
I had a friend tell me once how she hated living in this age. A student of history, she wished she could have been born during the so-called “Greatest Generation,” as she felt that was truly a time of innovation and discovery. I could not disagree with her more. As human beings, I do not think we have ever really stopped innovating or discovering new things. We continue to build upon what has been done before us, laying the groundwork for those that follow in our footsteps to continue on. We walk on and endless road of advancement. Sure, we might not see all of these innovations in our daily lives, but how long was it after the Wright brothers’ first flight that commercial airplanes first took to the skies?
Every once in a while, I find that it is nice to just stop and admire all we have managed to achieve as a species. Humans are incredible creatures with seemingly boundless curiosity and imagination, and these are things I will always find endlessly inspiring.
Image Credit: Thinkstock