Scifi fail

I’ve enjoyed watching the BBC science fiction TV series “Torchwood” (a Dr. Who spin-off). I watch it on NetFlix, which means that I tend to see episodes long after they were originally broadcast. Last night I saw an episode from season three, originally aired in 2009. This wonderful season consisted of a single very long narrative spread over five gripping and well made episodes. But there was a technical detail that threw me completely for a loop.

It’s a given that most scifi will introduce some sort of scientific element that does not actually exist in today’s world. This might be contact with an alien race, or a future technological advancement, or some as-yet-undiscovered human capability. Such premises are a fundamental part of the fun and interest of the genre. But it’s quite another thing if a work of science fiction violates its own premises. And that’s just what happens in the otherwise excellent third season of Torchwood.

In particular, our intrepid Torchwood team employ a really nifty technology: Contact lens cameras. These handy little gadgets look exactly like ordinary contact lenses, but when you put them on, a remotely positioned colleague with a laptop computer can see everything you see.

It turns out that there is a limitation: the lenses can see, but they cannot hear. The only way the remote operator can understand what a person is saying is if the cyber-contact lenses are looking at the person’s face. Then sophisticated image processing software can analyze the speaker’s lip movements, printing the now recognized speech as text on the laptop screen.

Am I the only person who thinks there is something deeply wrong with this technology scenario?

2 Responses to “Scifi fail”

  1. Sharon says:

    Are you objecting to the premise that they are clever enough to develop the contact lens cameras but not clever enough to develop audio devices to go with them? Or that the recognize speech prints as text? Or something else?

  2. admin says:

    The first. I suppose I should have mentioned that it is a big dramatic plot point that these brilliant people can watch everything that’s going on, but can’t hear anything.

    I know enough about “smart contact lens” technology to know that if they can make contact lenses that can function as cameras (with power supply and powerful transmitter all built in to the same little transparent lens), then it would be trivial to also make the lens function as an audio microphone.

    Considering the fact that the fate of the entire world hangs on whether they can hear what is spoken in that room (these are the usual stakes in this kind of show), it’s impossible to believe the designers of the contact lenses (who, after all, would have designed it specifically for the purpose of spying) did not consider this kind of basic use-case scenario.

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