How soon could Ghost In The Shell’s fantasy technology become a reality?

ELLEN E JONES

In Ghost In The Shell, director Rupert Sanders has laid out his vision for a world which is at once mind-bendingly futuristic and utterly foreseeable.

But how close are we to seeing this society realised by science? And how scared should we be when that day comes?

Thermoptic camouflage

Harry Potter’s cloak is pure fantasy. If we’re ever to achieve invisibility in the real world, it will be via a much more practical means known as “active” or “thermoptic” camouflage. This technology uses heat and light inputs to quickly and continuously adapt to changing surroundings. If this happens quickly enough, the camouflaged object is effectively rendered invisible. The phenomenon already occurs in nature; think of a chameleon, only sexier and with more martial art skills.

ETA: 15-20 years. Some conspiracy theorists will tell you the US military has been utilising active camouflage technology for years, but you don’t need top-level security clearance to see this tech in action. Susumu Tachi, Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo, has already pioneered the design of fabrics made using “retroreflective projection” technology.

Networked brains

Deep-brain implants, known as “brain pacemakers”, already alleviate the symptoms of 30,000 Parkinson’s sufferers worldwide, while in the UK, neurobridge technology has allowed paraplegics to move their limbs again. What’s to stop scientists connecting one of these brain chips to the internet? Well, more knowledge of how the brain works for a start, although it seems at least possible in theory.

ETA: “Decades from now” according to neurobridge inventor Chad Bouton.

Body enhancements

Some might consider any form of prosthetics a “body enhancement”, but it is the activities of modern-day bio-hackers which most resemble the enhancement culture depicted in the film. Bio-hackers believe that DIY technology implants represent the next stage of human evolution. For instance, American Amal Graafstra has implanted chips into the flesh of his hand, which allow him to gain entry to his property without keys.

ETA: Here and growing more advanced every day.

Holograms in advertising and entertainment

Watch Ghost In The Shell at an IMAX or 3D cinema and you’ll get pretty close to the kind of holographic entertainment experience depicted in the film itself. See also the kickstarter-funded Holovect, which draws 3D images in the air with light. Not much use for the kind of entertainment and advertising purposes depicted in the film, but great for architects who want to conceptualise design changes in real time.

ETA: Five years. Augmented reality is already increasingly popular.

Robot waiters

The cyborg geisha is one of the most striking images from the film, but how long must we wait until something similar is waiting on us every lunchtime? There are already supermarket shelf-stacking robots and cow-milking robots, not to mention plenty of robots in the sex industry but, curiously, restaurant service is one area of employment that AI is yet to fully master. Carrying soup and pouring hot water appear to be the biggest hurdles.

ETA: About 50 years from now, according to a recent survey of technology experts.

Roads on top of roads

Driverless cars are conspicuously absent from Ghost In The Shell — which makes for some pretty epic car chases — but there are plenty of other novel vehicles. Commercial jetpack and various models of flying car are already on the market, but as Ghost In The Shell shows, the prospect of unregulated air space crowded with vehicles isn’t entirely appealing.

ETA: Anywhere from six months to 100 years. It’s not the technology that’s lacking in this area, it’s the safety legislation.

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