Young Adam (Walker Scobell) meets his future self (Ryan Reynolds) from 2052 in new Netflix movie, The Adam Project and with him comes along a whole set of future tech, including lightsaber-type weapons, and hoverboards, not to mention the knowledge of actual time travel itself!
At SciFiNow we always dive into ‘what could happen?’ with our science fiction, but what about science fact? What could actually happen 30 years from now? Could we actually ever really meet our future self?
We spoke to futurist Dr Ian Pearson about tech from the movie that could actually happen (yes folks, lightsabers are on that list) and whether time travel could actually be possible…
Hi Dr Ian! You’re a futurist, could you tell us a bit about your background?
I’ve been an engineer since I graduated. I went straight into engineering and started off working in very far future systems. I’ve always been in that space but around about 1990 I discovered that if you’re constantly designing stuff that’s going to exist 25-30 years in the future, you have to spend a fair bit of time thinking about what the world’s going to look like when that’s coming onto the market. So you get the design right.
That bit of the job was actually more fun than just doing the engineering. So I started doing more and more of that and less and less of the engineering. So I’m still an engineer, still a scientist but I just spend all my time thinking about the far future of it. I’m quite often working around about the 2050 timeframe…
Why the 2050 timeframe?
I have a personal theory that the future is about 30 years away. If something’s just starting to happen in engineering and science today, it takes about 30 years for that to get in the shops.
So if you’re planning stuff today, looking at the latest R&D going on, the latest GM, the latest AI, those sorts of things will be appearing in 2050, 2052, 2054 – kind of the time period of this film.
What about beyond 2050?
It’s very hard to go further in the future because at around 2050 we start getting the [technology] that we already know about. Like connecting to a machine, which results in far higher IQs due to having your brain extended into the cloud. It’s easy to think what someone as smart as yourself will come up with, but it’s not easy to imagine what somebody with an extra couple of digits on their IQ will do!
So it’s very hard to see beyond that. You can come up with science fiction-y stuff, but there’s no real credibility if we go into 2070, 2080. It’s just guesswork because we’ve got no idea what that future civilization will do.
One of the things which has always been on the books in science fiction is the idea of time travel. Will we discover how to do it? And if we do, what sort of things will we do with it? What will happen if you come back and meet your former self or how would you react if your future self came back and met you?
We’ve been playing with those ideas since I was a kid and it’s good fun seeing it done well in the movies. We’re always faced with the ‘don’t damage the timeline’. We see it in every single science fiction film from Back to the Future right through to Family Guy. It’s always explored. The Adam Project does it too but it does it in a very joyful sort of way.
So… the big question… is time travel possible?
It’s possible to do virtual time travel. Virtual is the big word of today. If you imagine starting roundabout 2050, when you’ve got links to your brain, recording your thoughts and you can extend your mind into the cloud, then in theory, you could make a complete backup of that, and you could make a backup of it every day, just like you might with your computer.
So if you keep all those backups, your future self could come back to 2050 and talk to your 2050 record of what your mind was. So, virtual time travel is entirely feasible.
However, as a physicist, we’ve got no idea whether or not you could survive going through a black hole or a wormhole, like in this film, and come out the other end in a different time. It’s theoretically possible that you might be able to do time travel that way, but nobody really knows for sure, and certainly nobody knows whether you’d be able to survive it or not. You might be able to go backwards or forwards in time, but you might get torn into individual protons and neutrons while you’re doing it!
We don’t know how to do it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make good science fiction! There are films like Gravity or The Martian, which are fairly good, firm science fiction, but you’re really restricted to basic stuff and it’s very hard to make an exciting film narrative if you just stick to real physics! So it’s always a good idea to bend it and use some artistic licence…
What technology can we expect in the near future?
In my own area, looking at what we could do with future technology, I’ve been looking at how could you make a Star Wars-type landspeeder, or the hoverboards that you see on The Adam Project.
We’ve worked out more or less how you might do it by generating plasma underneath the board, and pushing that plasma down using magnetic fields. You could make a hoverbord like Marty McFly’s hoverboard. We already have the ones way up in the air just using air jets and so on. So those are today’s front edge technology.
The lightsaber… well it’s not really a lightsaber that we’re using on The Adam Project (but it looks like one) and you could make a lightsaber too. It uses a combination of lasers and floating nanoparticles of graphene and so on, suspended in the magnetic field and it just bounces the laser beams off that. You could make a lightsaber. We know more or less how you can do that. In 2050-something, you should be able to actually make one.
What other tech in The Adam Project is feasible?
The invisibility technology for the jets, the masking technologies. We know how to do that. We can do it on very small surfaces really well and we can do it on bigger surfaces to a point. So we do already have some front edge R&D ideas on how you can do a lot of the things in the film.
The time travel, and the anti-gravity, we don’t really know how to do those, but the rest of the stuff, the lightsabers, the weapons systems and the masking. We know how to do some of those things in principle.
If we were to meet ourselves from 30 years’ time like Adam does in The Adam Project, what would they be like? What would their day-to-day lives be like?
The everyday equipment you might be using could include active skin – you might have electronics printed straight onto your skin surface which links to your nervous system, so you’d be able to record and replay your sensations. So if you’re trying to link to an external kit, like your guns and so on, you’d be able to do that without having any physical contact. You can just do it with any sensation instead of having the haptic control of something vibrating in a keypad, you would just feel those sensations directly injected into your nervous system.
In terms of the weapon systems, we’re already starting to see the Chinese claiming that they’ve got these future laser weapons, and in the West we’re developing energy beam weapons as well. So that might replace bullets in the future.
The robots that the company uses in the movie for doing the simple work… We wouldn’t all have those robots walking around defending us or even we wouldn’t all have drones that we could control, but a lot of us would. We would have little families of drones. Even things like selfies, people doing sport, skiing down a slope, you’d have drones coming down the slope with you photographing you and videoing you from every angle, straight onto your future Instagram account. So those sort of things would be quite routine.
In terms of visual interface, active contact lenses can give you a full high-resolution, 3d, immersive virtual reality or augmented reality interface. And you’re going to be constantly linked to the cloud using thought recognition too. So without seeing anything, you’ve got an amazingly high-tech future with completely invisible technology that makes you into a Superman/Superwoman! So that kind of thing is quite credible for 2050.
Personal time travel jets and the wormhole generators in that time frame is very doubtful. You might have that in 2250 or something but not 2052. It’s just too early to generate that. It would take several decades even once you’ve got the basic theories to get them working. So it would be difficult to produce all of that.
In terms of masking your aeroplane or hiding your car even, you could do that in the future. Or you could change what your car looks like, change the appearance of the panels, change its colour, have video effects playing. You could do that with makeup as well – in 2052 we might have video makeup, active tattoos, all of those sorts of things. Instead of static tattoos you could just have one which is a video is playing on your skin. We already know how to do that. It’s quite realistic to have that technology in 2050, 2052!
So we should expect some of those things to be fairly routine parts of everyday life in 30 years time…