Monday, November 14, 2016

blurring the line between real life and science fiction

Back in the day, Jurassic Park was one of the most fascinating films I've seen because it said that the reel-life scientists were capable of getting DNA from extinct dinosaurs, of inserting them in frog DNA, and, in so doing, resurrect dinosaurs. Yes, it was science fiction; but a few years later, real-life scientists presented Dolly, the sheep. She's the first cloned mammal.Dolly had repercussions in various sectors because the possibilities stemming from developments in DNA technologies suddenly became not so fiction anymore.

This was my sentiment during the JST 20th anniversary forum and the 2016 Science Agora, which were held in Tokyo recently. Scientists and artists collaborate to make technology-based artworks, musicians "collaborating" with computer-generated anime characters... things I thought were far-fetched and made very real to me in the presentations. 

Rochie, you're not in a third world country anymore. Indeed.

But the most compelling presentation I had seen during my brief stay in Tokyo was by Dr Chieko Asakawa. She's an IBM Fellow based in Carnegie Mellon, I think. And she's blind. Yes, blind! But she never made her disability limit her; she has used it to make innovations that someone like me would have considered as science fiction many years ago... before the Internet era.

See, she contributed in the development of mobile apps that allow text-to-audio... these technologies are crucial to the improvement of the quality of life of the blind. Now, they can "read" books, learn new recipes, and not be limited to Braille. Blind seeing people? There's an app for that too. It uses facial recognition and then it tells the blind user who the face is and what the person's facial expression is. Blind walking through a maze? Possible too, because scientists have further upgraded navigation tools to include audible instructions and accuracy is now good enough that it can tell you exactly where you are and how far you are from obstacles and your destination.

But here's the most amazing technology I've seen: scientists have developed a technology that will, one day, allow the blind to drive! That's so science-fiction-like until I saw the demonstration video. It was so cool!

If only Helen Keller can sense what the world is like right now. She'd be raring to explore the world in ways that she couldn't have imagined possible! And it's all in real life!