Will Technology Create Real Superheroes and Supervillains?
The Making of Real Life Superheroes and Villains
Some superheroes are created through radioactive accidents which cause mutations. Others are from another world, or have supernatural powers. But there is another group, one that includes some of the most popular comic book and movie characters of all time, who made themselves into superheroes using technology.
Batman is a classic example - a rich man who uses his resources to create all of the gadgets he needs to become a superhero. Iron man is another excellent example. But could a wealthy and driven person really become a superhero?
Just a decade ago the idea that somebody could harness technology to become a real life superhero or super villain would have been laughable. Superhuman powers were pure fiction and nothing more. But today things have changed. Already most of the superpowers which you will find in comics books have been recreated in some way in the real world. Even superpowers which were originally imagined as being created through some mysterious radioactive accident, supernatural or alien agency can today be replicated through technology.
Not only that, but advanced technology is becoming increasingly available and accessible for ordinary people to use and tinker with themselves. As distributed manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing and electronics hacking continue to grow in popularity and evolve in capability dangerous technologies will also be much harder to suppress in the future. Already the world's first 3D printed weapons have been produced. In the future the trade in illegal arms and dangerous technologies may not require real world connections and risky face-to-face deals - just a computer and with an internet connection will suffice.
So are the conditions now in place for real world superheroes and supervillains to emerge? In this article I will look at some of the most notable real life technologies and innovations which could contribute to the creation of a real life superhero.
Super Strength with The Power Assist Suit / Exoskeleton
It is well known that the military is very interested in the development of power assist exoskeletons. These are wearable suits which will give soldiers superhuman strength, speed and endurance. But they are not the only ones developing such technology. There are plenty of jobs where a a bit of extra strength would come in handy, from agricultural workers to care assistants. That means that there are plenty of commercial companies working on the development of wearable suits that give you superhuman strength.
Once this technology beings to mature it is easy to imagine that the next step will be to cover the suit in armoured plating - the kind which would be too heavy for a person to wear normally, the kind, perhaps, that is currently used on armoured vehicles...
It is also worth noting that this is one of the technologies which you could easily imagine making its way into criminal circles. A power assist arm for example, giving a person superhuman punching power, would not only be a great weapon for criminals but would also be a powerful way to build a reputation and intimidate enemies. It seems inevitable to me that this kind of technology will eventually find its way into the hands of criminals, and could provide the first step down the road to the creation of a supervillain.
The Power of Flight
Being able to fly is one of the most common super powers. It is also amongst the easiest to recreate using technology. Already a man called Yves Rossy has created a Jet Pack - a piece of kit small enough to wear and walk around - which lets him fly alongside jet aircraft, as you can see in the video to the right.
It is not hard to imagine that at some point in the future such technology could be integrated into a larger armoured power-assist suit of the kind described above. This would allow someone to wear the jet pack without affecting their strength, speed and ordinary agility on the ground.
Invisibility Cloaks - Metamaterials
Although a completely effective invisibility cloak has yet to be made, the science behind it is perfectly sound and reasonably well understood - meaning that it is almost certainly only a matter of time. There have been a few contenders over the years in the field of invisibility technology, most of which have had only limited successes - making static objects look almost invisible from a distance, but failing on anything more impressive. But the recent development of 'metamaterials' is set to change this. Metamaterials are effectively able to bend light around themselves, rendering themselves (and anything within them) invisible.
Stanford Prof Jennifer Dionne on Metamaterials
The Right Place at the Right Time
One of the key parts of being a superhero is being in the right place at the right time to solve crimes. Spiderman has his tingling 'spider sense' to alert him when a crime is taking place, while batman is summoned by the police chief when he is needed.
A future superhero may just have a piece of computer software to tell him when and where crimes are taking place. Police forces in several countries are already using 'pre-crime' software which analyses huge amounts of information to generate crime maps telling them where crimes are likely to occur. Police in London, for example, are using a program called PredPol, which you can read about in this article.
With technology like that available our future superheroes will have no trouble knowing which areas to patrol.
X-Ray Vision: MIT Invention Lets Users See Through Walls
Superheroes have to be masters of every martial art imaginable. Learning all of that stuff is a pretty difficult task, but technology can help here too. If Google's Ray Kurzweil is right then in the future we will be able to download things directly to our minds, learning new skills as we sleep.
But even before then there is a massive potential for accelerated learning. Microsofts Kinnect already has a fighting game which claims to teach you real martial arts moves - so in the future perhaps will all be able to access what amounts to one-on-one tuition from the world's top masters, with beady eyes watching every part of our movements to ensure that we execute each technique perfectly.
Scuba diving gear can only take you so far and for so long. You can't go too deep, and you need to come back up before your oxygen runs out. But an Israeli company called LikeAFish is aiming to change all that. The artificial gills which this firm is developing can harvest oxygen from the water in the same way that a fish does, potentially offering us all the power of Aquaman.
Spiderman Climbing Suit
Scientists have already created a material which could potentially enable anyone to climb walls like Spiderman. The carbon nanotube material was invented by scientists trying to mimic the way that geckos are able to effortlessly climb walls.
As far back as 2007 an Italian engineer calculated that an average weight person wearing gloves and boots made from carbon nanotubes and shaped like gecko feet would be easily able to scale sheer vertical walls. According to Pungo we are now 'not very far' from the creation of a 'Spider-man suit'.