Friday, 17 September 2010

The future has a name

What will the first hand-held laser weapon be called? How about the first handheld that provides medical or environmental scans?

Virtually everyone (not just nerds) knows the answer. Phasers and tricorders ... and warp drives, transporters, and tractor beams. The future isn't determined, but if certain technologies come into existence, we already know what names they will have. Part of it is that engineers are actively seeking to build the devices imagined in science fiction. And part of it is that there's no better marketing than to evoke childhood memories.

Of course, it can go too far. Here's a recent headline, plus a bit of the article itself:

Their new technique can move objects one hundred times that size over a distance of a meter or more.
The device works by shining a hollow laser beam around tiny glass particles. The air surrounding the particle heats up, while the dark center of the beam stays cool. When the particle starts to drift out of the middle and into the bright laser beam, the force of heated air molecules bouncing around and hitting the particle’s surface is enough to nudge it back to the center.
That's really clever. But it isn't a tractor beam;
it can’t work in the vacuum of outer space.
I think the future is going to face the problem of meaning dilution for sci-fi words.

(Swans on Tea was there first.)

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