I love great science fiction, especially when it takes the scientific truths of today and cranks them up a notch. That's probably why I'm hooked on the SyFy channel's newest drama, Caprica. It is a prequel series to the immensely popular Battlestar Galactica (BSG) reboot which concluded in 2009. The new series is set sixty years before BSG and features a society filled with advanced technology and angst. What kind of technology, you ask? Basically all the cool gadgets we've ever discussed here on Singularity Hub, taken to the next level. Augmented reality, robots, personal projectors, Caprica likes to throw these in to round out their vision of a futuristic world. However, the importance of these technologies in society definitely takes center stage. The central plot of the show revolves around how humanity will change as synthetic life comes into existence. We in the real world are going to be facing that issue ourselves, much sooner than people think. Don't believe me? Take a look below to see how each technology of Caprica is already being explored today.
Birth of Cylons
So the big bad guys from BSG were all Cylons (Cybernetic Life Form Nodes) bent on eradicating humanity. Caprica features the precursor to this "species" of machines; the first Cylon is a humanoid robot built for the military. Well guess what, we have humanoid robots, and we have robots with guns. No one's combined the two yet (lucky for us) but it's easy to see how Asimo and a Talon robot could team up to form the basis for a rudimentary Cylon killer.
That's just the hardware. For the software...Caprica's Cylon uses a mixture of AI and the memories of a human. Now, we don't have artificial general intelligence yet, but people are working on it. As for downloading memories, would you be satisfied with the possibility of a brain-computer interface? There's likely to be an Xprize for that soon. Once you get the interface going, it's not that hard to record brain activity. The Blue Brain Project is already working on creating accurate models of the human brain which would also help in the memory uploading process.
Caprica proposes that you could piece together a personality using stored information and public records. That's something Ray Kurzweil dicussed in Transcendent Man; he wants to bring his dead father back to life. The technology that may enable such personality construction is being built today: Project Indect. Surveillance programs, along with data miners and advanced search engine protocols, can sift through and find important information stored online. That sort of collection process (evolved over time) may be what eventually allows us to find the data we need to recreate our dead loved ones as Cylons.
Augmented Reality/Flexible Screens
When a character in Caprica wants to access the web, or exchange information, they do so through a piece of paper. Graphics are seen to overlap with that paper so it becomes a digital interface. This is classic augmented reality. Think of Pranav Mistry's Sixth Sense device, or Light Blue Optics' projector system either of which turns any surface into a touchscreen. Of all the advanced tech we've seen in Caprica, this may be the closest to reality. All it would take for it to become real is a steady improvement in AR.
Of course, the paper may not be AR at all. Maybe we're looking at a tiny flexible screen with built in wireless communications. Something like a combination of the LG e-paper and Apple's iPad. It's pretty easy to look at tablet computers and flexible thin video screens and realize that it won't take long to combine these two technologies into a single product that will work just like the science fiction we see in Caprica.
Virtual Reality Realms
Another big theme in Caprica, is virtual reality worlds you can access through "holo-bands" - devices that let you see and feel the digital environment. Clearly VR is still in its infancy, but we've been getting better at building digital worlds that behave more like the real one. As for the bands themselves...I think these are sort of a combination of two technologies we've seen: Braingate and video goggles. Braingate takes your motor neuron activity and translates it into computer commands - sounds like VR controls in the making. Video goggles aren't in your retinas yet, but they will be.
The Greystone family on Caprica has a robot that helps around the house, sort of like a butler. Serge, as it is called, was even given its own Twitter feed in order to promote the show. Having Rosie from the Jetsons in your own home may seem like a far off possibility, but the groundwork has already been prepared. We've got a personal assistant on your iPhone (Siri) and plenty of domestic robots are on the market. The Neato XV-11 robot vacuum can navigate a room with people in it no problem, something Serge is equally adept at. If that wasn't enough to convince you, we've also seen an increase in the capabilities and availability of telepresence robots. These machines let people provide a physical presence far from where they're standing. That's something to think about whenever you see Serge answer the door.
Transportation and Automation
Surprisingly, the people in the futuristic world of Caprica get around much like we do today. Electric cars and magnetic levitation trains provide the majority of transportation in the TV show. These technologies are already here on Earth to some degree and given the concerns with energy efficiency and renewable resources, I can only suspect they'll become more important.
Ditto with automation. Though we're not shown it directly, Caprica is supposed to have an advanced system of fabrication based around robotic factories. We've got those, too. Automation is becoming an increasingly important part of the global economy, reaching from manufacturing to journalism.
See for yourself
Surprisingly, there is very little biological technology in the Caprica series. No stem cells, no synthetic organisms, no genetic manipulation. At least not yet, the series is still fairly young. The absence of biotech is probably a conscious thematic choice by the writers. The series is exploring the consequences of machine-human interaction. Letting bacteria in the mix would muddle the plot lines.
After watching a few episodes, you'll start to see how Caprica is practically falling over itself trying to replicate the real world in a new setting. It goes far beyond technology. Most of the major global issues of the day are played out in the TV series. Terrorism, religious extremism, same sex marriages, group marriages, teen promiscuity, racial tension - if you've seen it in a headline in the past ten years, you'll see it on Caprica. There's even a Jon Stewart type character. That's part of what makes the show fun for me. Every episode I get to see what the writers have dreamed up and think "oh, yeah, that makes sense, that's just like what we have now, only a little more advanced, or a little more extreme". Watch Caprica when you get a chance and you might be surprised; this world of tomorrow is almost here today.
[image and video credits: ScyFy, Singularity Hub (various sources)]