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Fictional technology is proposed or described in many different contexts for many different reasons:
- Exploratory engineering seeks to identify if a prospective technology can be designed in detail, and simulated, even if it cannot be built yet - this is often a prerequisite to venture capital funding, or investigation in weapons research.
- Propaganda often emphasizes a speculative potential of a specific technology in order to stimulate investment in it, or a counter-technology. This is a common motivation in any society dominated by a military-industrial complex. See also militarism, technological escalation, arms race.
- Advertising which emphasizes some amazing potential of some technology that is "under development" (usually without any specific timelines) by a company that is seeking simply to present itself as being competent with technology. See also vaporware, persuasion technology.
- Science fiction which explores the social or political or personal impact of some technology through storytelling.
- List of emerging technologies a more serious field.
Examples of such fictional technologies are:
- Reversible cryonics
- Simulated reality
- Mind uploading
- Molecular assembler, Universal constructor
- Faster-than-light Travel, Warp drive
- Tachyonic antitelephone
- Time travel
- Space elevator or Skyhook, although Google was revealed to be working on plans for a space elevator at its secretive Google X Lab location.
- Dyson Sphere, Matrioshka brain
- Star lifting
Many technologies were fictional for a long time before they became real, such as:
- hypertext, e.g. the World Wide Web
- rocket pack
- atomic bomb
- expert system
- genetic engineering
- radiological weapon
- mobile phones
- Quantum computer
- Artificial intelligence
There are also technologies that have been proven to work beyond question, but currently are not practical given the alternatives, i.e. there is a more appropriate technology for that purpose:
- General purpose robots (only economically feasible with rather drastic energy and material subsidy, or in extremely hazardous applications that, arguably, no one should really be doing at all). However, note that specialized robots are widely used in industrial production.
- death ray (there are easier methods of execution)
- jet pack (as yet impractical)
- antimatter weapon (with current technology, antimatter cannot be produced in sufficient quantities to be used as weapons)
Proposals for further development of these are thus more and more likely to be seen as fictional, misleading or amusing. Robot toys for instance have become popular. One could argue that the atomic bomb, given the consequences of its use, also belongs in this category.
- "At Google X, a Top-Secret Lab Dreaming Up the Future". The New York Times. 2011-11-13.