Real-Life Technology Will Continue to Lag in Movies and Television

There is a long delay in properly representing real-life technology in movies and television.

The internet burst into popularity in the mid-1990s but the movies and television shows featuring the internet have been pretty consistently lame.

It even took many years for movies to adapt to the fact that everyone has cellphones and smartphones.

The Tesla Roadster was introduced in 2008 and there are now over a million electric cars. Electric cars are rarely featured in television and movies.

Space technology featured in movies is either Apollo-era technology, Space Shuttles or faster than light travel. The rare exception is the Expanse with travel around the solar system at millions of miles per hour.

The reality of SpaceX domination of commercial space launch has existed for a few years. SpaceX is rapidly developing fully reusable rockets. This has not been shown in movies.

The one exception is of the National Geographic Mars series.

Drama writers generally have a poor understanding of technology and the world. If they have some understanding of it then it can be needlessly time-consuming to check a story for consistency with current technology.

Trying to make historical fiction consistent with a past or current technology state is only done for certain mystery or spy stories or actual historical dramas.

Long-running science fiction series have difficulty representing education, learning and progress. Star Trek has made some efforts to represent learning and technological progress.

Star Wars is actually the dystopian story of about 100,000 years of decline for a galactic civilization. It is a Mad Max galaxy. Most of the galaxy is desert planets where people are trying to hack leftover junk. There were massive battles between thousands of Sith and Jedi in the days of the Old Republic. Now it is a handful that are still fighting. The miracle is that they still maintain interstellar travel and intergalactic communication. There is an unseen hyper-efficient communication system where all characters get updated on galactic events. You may be one of millions of trillions of people in the Empire but you will get the police report for theft on another planet.

The first Republic would have been amazing with scientists and engineers creating planet-sized shuttles.

There are no engineering schools in Star Wars. There were religious temples and there was military training. Military training failed to teach marksmanship. The soldiers declined to the point where they defeated by feral, low technology teddy bears.

The best example of internal story universe consistency with a non-static story world was the Stargate SG-1 series of television shows.

There will need to be a revolution in writing and simulations to have both stories that are compelling combined with the depiction of technology, economics and technological progress.

54 thoughts on “Real-Life Technology Will Continue to Lag in Movies and Television”

  1. Part of the problem is that technology isn’t just evolving it is also exploding (in the Cambrian explosion sense of the word). Isn’t part of the definition of a technological singularity the inability to get a handle on what the hell is going on? Multiple (technology, demographic and political) trends are converging and the next few years are going to be awesomely weird and weirdly awesome. For some it will be awesomely awful.

  2. If you live an unlimited amount of time there is no urgency and no drama. You can expect life extension to be ignored unless the movie/tv show is actually about that topic.

  3. We do exist. I’m a former aerospace engineer and life long science geek and I’m trying to build a career as a sci-fi/horror filmmaker/screenwriter. I made “Universal Dead” a few years ago (zombie short starring Doug Jones and DB Sweeney) to explain how zombies work in a completely science-based sci-fi way (*not* a virus).

  4. Remove the ‘Science’ from Science Fiction, and you’re left with ‘Fiction’ — which to all of us means, “made up situations, made-up plot-line basis, made-up geography, made-up timelines and made-up forces, futures, limitations, powers”.  

    Now, put the “Science” back in there, and what do we get?

    Same thing, but now with the patina of ‘science’ (small S) coloring the scenery in any-and-every-way that the screenwriters, producers and ultimate, the public embraces watching. 

    I’ven’t read or seen a SciFi film in the last 20 years that didn’t “invent whatever would make it kind of work”. SciFi with almost no exceptions, demands “suspense of reality” and if one’s a scientist, “suspending one’s beliefs”.  

    MY MAIN CRITICISM of almost-everything SciFi (esp. film) is that the worlds are so small. The acting space, small. There are no 20 month sojourns. There is precious little in the Minutiae department to make more memorable the nominally tired dialog.  

    Seriously though… is it even possible that a SciFi plotline doesn’t just veer toward complete make-believe within the first couple of minutes of the show?

    I think not. 

    -= GoatGuy ✓ =-

  5. As I said, “Three to conquer” by Eric Frank Russell. Don’t know why
    you couldn’t read my previous comment. You could dismiss it
    as a booklet, but you find the absolute masterpiece, far superior
    to anything else Russell ever wrote.

  6. I disagree.

    How technology, and technological development, is depicted in popular media has a real effect on how voters and political pressure groups expect tech development to go. How people will finance things. How rules and regulations will be written.

    Robot cars are affected right now by terminator movies and the fact that we haven’t (yet) had a Knight Rider movie set in 2020.

    Nuclear power is crippled legally, in part because of a fantasy SF movie called “The China Syndrome”.

    People are probably dying because they’ve seen too many movies with comic book level Genetic Engineering convincing them that scientists are able to make up genetically engineered diseases that only kill black people, or convert people into shambling zombies. So they avoid vaccines or rice that has extra vitamin A.

  7. I think I’ve seen one movie/TV romance that made sense to me. And both people were intended to be emotionally crippled and incapable of normal romance.

    This was Dexter and Rita in the Dexter TV show. We get to see them slowly get closer over months of time.
    Every other on film romance is X walks past Y, they lock eyes, next second they are tearing each other’s clothes off. I’m left going “Wait, what, how did that happen? Wasn’t she happily married 2 minutes ago?”

  8. On the other hand, I note that ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ featured a desk model of Project Constellation’s Ares V launcher, though the film was produced well after Constellation was cancelled…

  9. Dunno, the wife was watching some show called “Casual” and sometime in the last season it suddenly jumped several years into the future. Looked a lot like now, but at one point the main character wanted to check a site on the web and was told, “That site’s not on your plan.”

    Only thing I’ve ever seen amusing about the end of Net Neutrality.

    You can tell at a glance that Star Wars is primitive. Just look at the complete lack of advertising everywhere.

    The Martian would have died due to all the toxic waste in Martian soil he was using to grow potatoes, and that wouldn’t have made a good story, but for the most part it tried (despite the inside of the interplanetary ship looking more like a health club than an attack submarine).

    And the recent Ad Astra, billed as being “like” the Martian was flipping terrible. I’d barely know where to start.

    Let’s not look too closely at Interstellar, either, not least of which was the fact that the planet orbiting the black hole could never (or at least no longer) have existed were it close enough to experience that level of time dilation.

  10. Exactly. Look at the mine site. Machines are not built or designed there. Routine maintenance, yes, but only because that is feasible. Routine maintenance lost feasibility for many things, which either do not need it until they are spent, or which are disposable by design. There used to be shoes repair shops, now there may be a few in London, for custom shoes with four-digit price (in pounds). Space machinery would be designed in comfy places on Terra by very good engineers. Small things or parts would be made on Terra, large ones would be made in space, from space sourced material (another story, but essentially a branch of the same). Let’s say that is a mining machine that can convert a small asteroid into containers with valuable materials. It has to be delivered there, and to the next site – that is unmanned task; or it can be used, spent and left there (as modern TBMs); or it can be partially reused (hybrid model). In any case, no on site labour is involved – autonomous, automated or remote control only. And ferrying is a trivial task. Construction is non-trivial, but also less “spendful”, as construction machines’ lifecycle is much longer than mining or digging machines’. Every single man may, should and will stay on Terra.

  11. The 1st is “Three to conquer” by Eric Frank Russell . If 3 people
    who read both disagree, I will add “in my humble opinion”.

  12. I prefer my hard scifi with realistic orbital mechanics, trip times, rocket’s Isp and space radiation levels!

    If Robert Heinlein had any fault, was due to lack of knowledge about some things on his time, but the rest is spot on realistic.

  13. Indeed. The level of knowledge and maintenance of facilities required for living/working in space would make spacers way more educated and capable than the average Earthling.

    Sorry, but no space gypsies nor space shanty towns.

    The only way around that is if such risky maintenance and industrial growth can be off-loaded into machines.

    And even then they would need to be very good engineers and mechanics, to build the AI& robots and fix them.

    Any self replicating industrial capability in space we setup will need some amount of human intervention for the foreseeable future (unless you believe in hard AI and humans becoming irrelevant), but those workers won’t be poor and destitute, but over-qualified people with expensive diplomas and their rich patrons.

    People no longer required to be there will be promptly shipped back to Earth.

  14. I also thank my grand parents for showing me what eating a nice pork chop or chicken means.

    I didn’t like it at the moment, but it left a long lasting impression about what it means to be alive and what we should really be worried about.

    With the current evidenced fragility of some people, I think they would have been left scarred for life if they ever had to kill something for dinner.

  15. Mmmm… Bambi meat, yum.

    I’m evil and taught my children to call venison dead Bambi. – They loved dead Bambi meat.

  16. I like the show, but they get it way wrong in many areas. Like most SciFi cinema, they dress up the set with some cool looking stuff, but they miss some of the really big stuff. They simply take today’s roles that people play and stick them into the future not addressing the fact that most of those roles will not exist.

    By the year the show is set in, the singularity will have occured, Transhumanism will be well along its path. Mining, transport, most all jobs will be automated. The show totally misses the future. Also, I thought it interesting that they depicted “future Mormons” yet failed there as well in there depiction. The conflict based on shortages like water… seriously. There is enough water in our solar system to drown Mars 100s of times over let only keep an asteroid like Ceres well supplied. – What are they doing, flushing their toilets into space? – Warfare, as someone noted, is not going to be meatbags in power armor or sitting on the bridge looking cool as you issue commands.

    The closest show I have seen getting what I see as getting future tech right is Ghost in the Shell.

  17. So faking pervasive internet with 5g would be to expensive for movie makers? Or faking self driving cars? Come on… In Elysium the had humanoid robots so it seems it *can* be done. Mind you, I don’t know what kind of budget it required…

  18. You know why in the sci-fi series Caprica people living in the far
    future on an extra solar planet have 20th century cars? Because
    they are all retro enthusiasts? No, because it cost little to production.
    Follow the money, and you’ll understand the settings (and the actors).

  19. Robert Heinlein “The moon is a harsh mistress” got it as perfect
    as it could be possible at the time (1965), without a trace of fantasy.
    And it is a great read, 2nd best science fiction novel ever written.

  20. Drones are irrelevant. The only example of robots in Expanse worthy of mentioning are missiles, PDCs and martian warships (no stupid “fighters” with meatbag inside, like in every other sci-fi story). Today, literally as I am writing this, mining companies use robots in open pit mining: trucks, trains, soon drill rigs and explosives machines. In expanse, unwashed lowlives crawl inside asteroids with a bomb in hand, then tow it in a net by a manned ship for many days. Even dumber is the notion of a martian warship flying around policing rockhoppers. Border guard robots do such things today in Israel, Korea, etc.
    What is hard to imagine is the cost of 250 million people “supporting” anything by floating in space. The cost of such support is truly astronomical, and robots would totally kill such competition on price, performance and productivity. That is why mining companies today want them: they cut costs and win competition. Also robots would not become or breed OPA terrorists.
    In order to escape overpopulated Terra, and join the ranks of rockhoppers, one needs a fusion ship, which is made abundantly clear by Expanse story with “little shit” spaced by his uncle. Also, to be a rockhopper, one needs skills, and that is a priviledge on Terra. With skills, people go to Mars and get a good job, or escape into outer system like Holden, Amos, Alex, Peaches and others. That is also shown in Expanse, and no robots even in such dumb jobs as picking chunks of ice. That is just wrong.

  21. They actually use a lot of robots, maybe not full AI type that can reproduce themselves, but they have plenty of drones and robots, just not the humanoid type.

    Is it really that hard to imagine that the asteroid belt in a full scale resource extraction model might need 250 million human support staff to maintain and provide support services for workers? Then that they might slowly populate on their own over a few hundred years?

    Especially, when the series makes it abundantly clear that Earth is way overpopulated and Mars has a strict hierarchy due to the transforming efforts.

  22. BTW It’s an allegory for the colonization of N. America and war for Independence of the USA, you think the 1300 worlds was a random number?

    Earth is Great Britain, Mars is France at the end of the monarchy and the belt is the colonies. Think 1750-1800 era.

    I respect the series because at least with the way they have set up the story and the technology, it has a more realistic feel than most in terms of a human colonization effort. It applies gravity correctly, uses plausible tech advancement and also pays respect to the medical problems of long term low gravity habitation oh humans.

    Hardcore Science Fiction is not about getting it prefect, but combining plausible advancement and realistic scientific scenarios with real human problems.

  23. In Expanse’s defense, the reasons why the Belters don’t just live on Basic are:

    1. That is an Earth-based system of welfare, not a OPA-based one,
    2. Belters, because of having lived so long in near zero-G, can’t physically live on Earth. Even physically fit and enhanced (in season 4) Naomi couldn’t shake her Belter cardio-vascular system to adapt to the new Terra world through the ring system and had to return to the zero-G Rici spaceship (whether humans could EVER adapt to permanent zero G living is very questionable, but we do know that even short durations in space are hard to readjust to back on Earth).
    3. Belters don’t WANT to be replaced by robots. This ought to be a source of tension between the Inners and Belters, but since Earth is over-populated with unemployed people, perhaps people are more expendable than hi-tech robots, in the same way that you’ll see India’s poor working by hand to build roads that Caterpillar tractors and excavators do here, where there’s a shortage of construction workers. India has some pretty rich folks now to, but it’s barely made a dent in their poor population. Earth has 30 billion people in the Expanse; it’s hard to even imagine what high level automation would do to that many people, let alone runaway climate change as depicted (Full disclosure: I sent into the producers my idea of an over the East River building: but they may not use it due to policy against unsolicited ideas and or it’s too late in the show.)
  24. You are correct about the histrionics of movies, of course, but couldn’t we ask of the movie makers to envision our future having at least the technology that is already here and perhaps the technology that is imminently around the corner?

    The lack of realistic technology in sci-fi does detract from the immersiveness of the genre. Take retro sci-fi. I can’t really get exited for the original “war of the worlds”. Yes, it’s cute and it’s quaint, but immersive…? So Brian has a very good point. There should be pervasive 5g in all sci-fi, there should be AI and there should be robots abound. And then they should add whatever to make their world and add their plotline..

  25. Marco Inaros is actually a brilliant depiction of the ever present element in human history: a terminally degenerate murderous lunatic creature that is a man in appearance only. Its inclusion into a sci-fi story makes the “hard” part harder, but at the cost of being depressing to watch. The whole “belter” business should never happen – robots, robots, and more robots. Every single “belter” would never leave basic assistance, if it is available – that is a huge plot hole in Expanse novels. All that business of “feeding our families” by flying into space on fusion rockets to nuke asteroids and bunch up into hellhole slums without achieving basic utilities like a proper shower (Ceres, Eros and any place with more than one belter) has been revolting from season 1, episode 1.

  26. The social part of Expanse are not sci-fi at all. It is a projection of unchanging human nature into a scene of underperforming technological progress. Yes, Epstein drive, what else? Where are all the robots? For sanity sake, who came up with an idiotic idea of humans mining asteroids by hand, ferrying the rocks on manned ships to manned refineries, while present time mining companies are all-in on automation, with driverless ore trucks currently operating, driverless ore trains tested, and everything is being made unmanned when it becomes possible. A typical mining camp requires about 5 support personnel for each miner, it costs a lot more than in populated areas, and there are issues with altitude, temperature, remoteness, etc. Those are the drivers of automation in mining. The same drivers would be orders of magnitude greater in space. And yet, unwashed degenerates on fusion-powered ships pulling a hard life nuking asteroids “to feed their families”. In reality they would have never leave basic, as their life is the same, but worse. That is nonsense, which must be a simple projection of reality into a sci-fi picture. Also the nonsense of resource shortage in the system. Digging Luna would be (and is!) sufficient for any and all expansion. The only advantages of asteroids are slightly lower delta-v, which is nothing given fusion rockets for all; and a small share of asteroids with high content of free metal, which is also nothing given fusion reactors for all.

  27. The primary job of dramatic writers is to write compelling stories about people, not technologically/scientifically accurate stories. I love hard sci-fi and I know enough science to know that love is not the fourth dimension and quantum entanglement doesn’t link your brain with that of your cat. Certain ideas and devices in science and tech are appealing to writers and some are not. Cellphones are a mundane example. Cellphones reduce the possibilities of drama because a cellphone is a tool that too easily solves problems and without a person on screen to interact with. How many horror movie plots could be easily solved by calling 911? That’s why cellphones, when used in such situations, often loose cell reception or are lost down a storm drain or the battery dies. Dramatically its a useless and tedious device. There are exceptions of course, but generally the cell phone is a nuisance for writers. How interesting is it to watch someone on screen looking at or talking into a cellphone? About as interesting it is to watch someone do that in real life. Quantum physics and multiple universes are useful and universally abused because mystical stupid ideas about them are pervasive and they allow for endless sloppy woo dramatic possibilities. as others have pointed out Star Wars is not science fiction, its pure fantasy with science fictional set pieces and trappings. Black Mirror IMHO does sci-fi best these days.

  28. Jesus Brian, have one too many martinis at lunch today? Whether or not tech is correctly chronologically displayed in film isn’t going to change the fact that I need to file by taxes by April 15th or any other aspect of daily life.

  29. They have compact fusion plants that burn He3 at a rate of tons per week and are looting the whole solar system for resources but scarcity is widespread.

    The Belters have 1/400th the Inners’ population but are still a viable 5th column.

    It’s as if they copied the Mobile Suit Gundam setting, then had the main conflict be premptively resolved bloodlessly in the space colonies’ favor long before the story even begins, then had the same war happen anyway for no real reason, then implausibly resolved the war with minimal bloodshed, and now Char Azn- I mean Marco Inaros is going to proceed to slaughter the better part of the population of Earth anyway for no real reason.

  30. Trying to make historical fiction consistent with a past or current technology state is only done for certain mystery or spy stories or actual historical dramas.

    Try asking an actual historian of the period being depicted. They go on for HOURS about how just about everything is wrong. How even characters that are actually wearing historical clothes are like having people wearing 2019 lycra bike gear, a 1950s Zoot suit, a 1900 Morning coat and a western cowboy outfit all in the same disco.

  31. They show some dedication to subverting a few recognizable tropes of sci/fi (like the way gravity and acceleration would work on ships capable of constant thrust, or the depiction of dealing with vacuum and space fights).

    But the rest of it is pretty speculative and represents mostly the state of modern, liberal fears about the future.

    For example, the Earthers living in UBI because there are not enough jobs for an over populated Earth, much of Earth being a post-climate apocalypse wasteland, or what to say about those poor oppressed Belters (LOL, as if you could live in space being poor) and a long etc.

    It’s a show that wants to be hard sci/fi, but also space opera-ish and appropriately dystopic for the modern angst-ridden audiences.

    And of course, there’s also the magic Blue Goo and its gates into interstellar wonderland.

  32. To say nothing of movie depictions of actual programming. Or movie gunfights where everyone goes full auto and shoots from the hip. Or movie car chase scenes.

    come to think of it movies are kinda detached from the real world…

  33. Yeah, there is a very small intersection between the sets of Hollywood/TV writers and legit scientists & technologists.

    But this also corresponds with the level of technical savvy of the audiences.

    That’s why hacking in movies only has to look passably right to an uninformed audience, not be an accurate depictions of what happens.

  34. Star Wars isn’t science fiction. Star Wars is fantasy. It has wizards and knights but they use space ships and technology and the force “magic”.

    As to why technology sucks in movies … they are written by liberal arts majors, a.k.a, the “creatives”.

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