For those of a certain age, the phrase “the year 2000” still sounds futuristic even though it was nine whole years ago (as usual, Conan O’Brien knows what he’s talking about). But now that we’ve lived through almost an entire decade of the “Oughts,” one can’t help but wonder, “Where the fuck is the future?!” Certain technological developments should have occurred by this point in history and we are still waiting. Cars are still miserably earthbound. Fashion has not been whittled down to the one-piece jumpsuit. And rednecks and drifters still seem to be the only ones who are able to make extraterrestrial contact. Even though we live in an era of unprecedented gadget geekery, from iPods and iPhones to Xboxes and Fleshlights, today’s so-called cutting edge devices don’t come close to the promised innovations of science fiction’s recent past. The “not too distant future” is now and these are the 7 inventions we should have had already.
7) Exo-Suits, due 2005 from Transformers: The Movie
Putting aside for a second the fact that we were supposed to be acquainted with an entire civilization of sentient robots by now, the one thing that would really come in handy at this point is that transforming exo-suit. A thought-controlled mechanical outfit that not only converts into an armed mini car, it also allows you to breathe in space while enhancing your strength and agility. For scores of 80’s kids, the very sight of this contraption instantly made the idea of riding around in Bumblebee a lot less exciting. Merely hanging out with a Transformer isn’t nearly as good as actually being a Transformer.
6) Time Travel, due 2004 from Timecop
Before he was getting all weepy and sensitive in JCVD, the Muscles from Brussels was doing all kinds of Van damage throughout the space-time continuum, all while resident villain Ron Silver taught us that touching “yourself” is never a good idea, no matter what year it is. From The Time Machine to the Back to the Future series, movies about time travel usually tread the thin line between fascination and exasperation, with plot lines (and timelines) that would make your head implode if you thought about them too hard. But the underlying allure of these stories is always the same: the ever-tempting ability to go back and change things for the better. Although set in the groundbreaking year that gave birth to such miraculous events as The Passion of the Christ, the Red Sox championship and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, Timecop‘s technology could not be replicated in the real 2004. Someday, somebody should go back and change that.
5) 360 Degree Running Tracks, due 2001 from 2001
One of the main reasons why most people don’t workout (aside from the fact that it’s strenuous, painful and often inconvenient) is because it’s boring. Example 1A: running on a treadmill. Has there ever been a more brutally monotonous activity known to man? Now imagine if you could soup up this outdated torture device with the verve of an upside-down rollercoaster and the action of a giant gyroscope. Way more interesting, right? Although it probably still wouldn’t get your lazy ass off the couch, one has to admit that a spinning 360 degree track would be a lot more enticing than the ground model ever could be. Then again, it still wouldn’t be as much fun as getting the little exercise you do get from playing the Wii.
4) Full-Blown Virtual Reality, due 1999 from Strange Days
Although the technological events of Y2K seem as quaint and archaic as the Salem witch trials in hindsight, the realm of virtual reality hasn’t changed all that much since then. To this day, it is still pretty much defined by videogame role-playing and that Star Wars attraction at Disneyland. Psychedelic drugs have not evolved much either. LSD and ecstasy are the same as they ever were, just strong enough to give you a ride, but too weak to leave any sort of lasting, otherworldly impressions. Honest to goodness head trips haven’t made any real progress since The Monkees were getting Head. If Ralph Fiennes’ Lenny Nero, the “Santa Claus of the subconscious,” had his way, the symbiosis of biology and technology would have been a reality ten years ago. Using tricked-out hairnets called SQUIDs (Super Conducting Quantum Interference Devices) which allow “wireheads” to jack into and experience full sensory moments of other peoples’ lives, Fiennes slings prerecorded mini-DVDs packing pure vicarious entertainment taken straight from the cerebral cortex. Until somebody actually comes up with this bit of biotech, kicks will just keep getting harder to find.
3) Walled-Off Cities as Prisons, due 1997 from Escape from New York
New York Maximum Security Penitentiary has it all: total isolation from society, a fully equipped surveillance station, paramilitary guards armed to the teeth and a badass warden who doesn’t take crap from anyone, be it Kurt Russell or Clint Eastwood. If they had this kind of lockdown security in Oz or on Prison Break, none of that horseshit would have gone down. With more than one in 100 American adults behind bars and the average cost of keeping someone incarcerated surpassing the amount of most college tuitions, it might be high time to take a page out of John Carpenter’s playbook and give this idea a whirl. Build a wall around North Dakota, ship every last criminal over there and let God sort ’em out. It just might be crazy enough to work.
2) Self-Aware Machinery, due 1997 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Let’s forget all this post-Cameron nonsense for a moment and get back to basics, shall we? Skynet, the program in charge of the country’s military computers, was supposed to remove all human decisions from strategic defense and become self-aware on August 29, 1997. That was almost 12 years ago. What’s the fucking hold up? With cell phones that malfunction at the slightest hint of rain, laptops possessing fruit fly life spans and misbehaving Blackberries that make emails disappear faster than mob informants, we could all use some of that super advanced Cyberdyne technology right about now. Damn the consequences, we’ll cross the whole “end of the human race” bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, just make our artificially unintelligent computers work.
1) Telescreens, due 1984 from 1984
This year was meant to be more than just the title of Van Halen’s greatest album. This was supposed to be the year of complete governmental control, the year of the thoughtcrime, the year of the telescreen. It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, yet in spite of our nation’s recent flirtation with Big Brother-style tactics, the need for round-the-clock surveillance televisions that simultaneously receive and transmit information from within every home has not arisen. Although Kiana’s Flex Appeal would definitely be more titillating if it was totally interactive, it’s probably better for society at large that the Orwellian telescreen hasn’t come to fruition. Let’s hope that it never does.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.