Maybe it was the success of The Matrix, or maybe it was the age of the Internet that did it, but in the last 10 years, it’s no longer flying cars or fast-talking robots that symbolize the world of the future. No, these days it’s the ability to almost touch piles of data that has become the sine qua non of quality futuristic imaginings. Case in point, Minority Report. The high point of that film (for me, anyway) had to be when Tom Cruise dons his info gloves and commences a magnificent danse du data, shuffling through the visions of the precogs accompanied by the strains of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Down here in small screen land, Knight Rider‘s writers make data manipulation a staple of the show.
In Episode 2 we saw mechanic/scientist/romantic lead Sarah Graiman yoink an image off her laptop and display it on the lab’s giant monitor. Echoing her maneuver in last night’s episode, we watched Mike Traceur read his mission brief outside in the night air. KITT has projected a keypad onto his hood and projected two holographs and some other data on the windscreen. While we’re not quite technologically able to handle the holographs (no doubt the subject of a future post), the technology gurus have been working hard to find new ways to help us manipulate the electronic moutnains of data we accumulate.
Of all people, the one pushing us harder to the Knight Rider/Minority Report future might be Bill Gates. While Apple’s Steve Jobs focuses on merging functions into a single über-device (the glory that is the iPhone), Gates has set aside his ambition to take over the world for a minute to create The Surface. Imagine a table with a screen, kind of like one of those old Ms. Pacman tables that used to be common in pizza joints throughout the land. Now imagine that the screen is a touch screen, that it’s hooked up to the Internet, and that it’s possible to guide Ms. Pacman through the maze by touching her and draging her through the maze. That’s the idea: The Surface enables call up data from the Internet, from a camera, from their music device or cell phone, and then do things to it with their hands, rather than a mouse or keyboard. The videos on the Surface website show folks poring over street maps (which can be zoomed or adjusted by hand), flipping through “piles” of electronic pictures, choosing music, and so on and so forth. The Surface isn’t really available yet, and when they do, they’ll be too expensive for regular people. Right now they are crazy expensive right now, and they’re only available to commerical purchasers (like, say, Disney Land, or Sheraton Hotels).
I find it easy to imagine getting away from having to locate photos by screen name or date taken, and just flipping through a pile of electronic pictures, almost as if they were paper snapshots. And if that’s possible, why not a music library that looked like a record collection? (Apple offers something similar today with OS X’s “Cover Flow” technology) Or a bunch of documents that appear as if in a filing cabinet, with the same ability to flip through tabs . (Well, maybe not like my filing cabinet. I struggle with the concept of “filing”).
Anyway, I should also point out that KITT’s projected keypad is totally a thing of the present, and not the future. Think Geek will happily sell anyone with $160 a cigarette lighter-sized, Bluetooth-enabled, laser keypad. It’s pretty straight forward: the device connects to your computer or phone by Bluetooth and projects the keybad onto a hard surface. Users complain that it’s a little hard on the fingers to type onto a table, but I could easily see using the laser keyboad to type into a BlackBerry in space confined places, like the always too small airplane folding table. If only the keyboard spoke iPhone. Apparently they’re not compatible yet.
A couple of other notes from the episode:
• At one point Traceur uses a rubber-and-plastic pistol that is undetectable to metal detectors. Even though no one has ever successfully made a stealth pistol, Congress got so freaked by the possibility that it banned the possession of non-metal guns in 1988.
• Also, the poison used on Traceur in this episode, Hyoscine, has a long history in movies and books as a truth serum, often working under the noms de film of Scopalomine or Hyoscine-Pentathol. Though it’s totally fictional, Wikipedia has an excellent list of the drug’s Hollywood appearances.