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Tech Talk

Today’s tech lies become fact tomorrow

11/26/2014

For anyone with the slightest inkling of technological know-how, one word sends a shiver down the spine: “enhance.” In the fictitious worlds of television shows and movies, no image or security footage is so far gone that it can’t be enhanced to near crystal-clear clarity. Sure, there are image restoration tools that can be used to upgrade minor flaws in slightly-degraded images, but nothing like what “NCIS,” “Law & Order,” or “24” would like you to believe. Making matters worse, “enhance” is only one example of science fiction that has permeated nearly every supposedly realistic spy, military and procedural cop show.

Never mind the superhero and space adventure media that basically make up new wonder-tech every week to save the hero from certain death. If your story relies entirely on the fictitiously fantastic, your audience has pretty much tacitly agreed to absurdity. The real issue comes in shows that portend to be happening in today’s society, however utilizing secret technologies only available to the government and military. One of the more popular shows that is rife with techno-hooey is CBS’ “Person of Interest.” Never mind the sentient computer that can basically see the future and think on its own (otherwise known as “artificial intelligence,” something that is at least a decade away), the most basic of crimes the show commits is the super-computer’s ability to track individuals across multiple cameras.

Anyone who has had as little as a glancing experience with the show knows this plot device as it is used in all of the show’s marketing material. A box outline traces someone’s likeness in security footage and follows them via the ubiquitous security and traffic cameras in New York City. The problem is the technology does not exist. The most recent example of a real world event that would have greatly benefited from this technology is the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

When terrorists set off explosives at the marathon finish line, more than 400 cellphone, security and news crew cameras were rolling, meaning every angle of the ensuing melee was captured. In the following days, dozens of FBI and law enforcement agents combed through the footage searching for clues and cross angle corroboration in attempts to find a suspect. Ultimately the footage hunt delivered a suspect, but it took days of video watching, not minutes, as “Person of Interest” would like you to believe.

Still, the problem with getting indignant with fictitious gadgetry and technology is that, in many cases, whatever can be imagined for entertainment, could possibly one day actually come to fruition. Decades before the tablet or cell phone existed, “Star Trek” actors walked around the USS Enterprise carrying computer pads and two-way communicators. The Internet — which didn’t exist in the way we know it today until 1991 — was predicted in the science fiction writing of the 1940s. Even antidepressant medication, which wasn’t experimented with until the 1950s, was imagined via science fiction in Aldous Huxley’s prophetic 1931 science fiction novel “Brave New World.”

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And now “Person of Interest” is becoming less of a falsehood as researchers at University of Washington have developed a piece of software that can track likenesses across multiple video streams. What seemed like an abhorrent tech lie only three years ago when “Person of Interest” debuted has quickly become a possibility.

Easily the best part of any piece of science fiction is predicting what ridiculously false entertainment technologies of today could one day become reality. Transporters? Likely. Artificial intelligence? Certainly. Garbage-to-pristine image enhancement? It would be a tough pill for tech heads to swallow, but for the sake of Hollywood, I certainly hope so. CV

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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