Newitz said MIT's MediaLab is taking that kind of innovation even further with an experimental "invisible" computer mouse. "Mouseless" lets a user control a cursor on a computer screen by moving her empty hand across a table the way she would move a real mouse.
The MediaLab's Sixth Sense project goes beyond even that. With a wearable projector and camera, it lets users turn any surface (even a hand or arm) into a touchscreen control panel.
An essential sci-fi staple, robots are increasingly finding their way into real-life scenarios, both at home and at work.
In May, researchers in Germany presented an "autonomous robot car" with sensors, scanners and camera systems that could potentially help avoid military fatalities from bombings. In Japan, a 4-foot-tall robot called I-Fairy led a wedding ceremony.
"I can go to Costco and buy a robot to clean the floor… in Japan, they're beginning to expand with medical robot," said Cooper.
While Asian countries are friendlier to robots that Western countries, she said, we'll continue to see more and more innovation in robotics.
Frankenstein may seem like a far cry from reality but, in truth, scientists have already learned how to create an organism from man-made DNA.
In a small but important step in synthetic biology, in May, scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute created the very first cell totally derived from DNA synthesized in a lab.
"Synthetic biology is really making a lot of strides," said Newitz. "It goes all the way back to Frankenstein – the original synthetic creature."
Scientists aren't going to turn out a whole human being anytime soon, but Newitz said that they have "grown" organs – such as lungs and a heart – for living lab rats. Those techniques could potentially lead to the reconstruction of organs for human patients.
Tablets and E-Books
From the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" to "Star Trek" to "Minority Report," the sci-fi genre has long promised an iPad-like computer that can be held in your hands.
But Bill Christensen, a Web application developer and owner of Technovelgy.com, a website on science fiction innovations, said electronic books were written about by a science fiction writer decades ago.
In the 1961 novel, "Return from the Stars," he said Stanislaw Lem predicted the end of the physical book.
"No longer was it possible to browse among shelves, to weigh volumes in hand, to feel their heft, the promise of ponderous reading. The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystals with recorded contents. They can be read the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it," Lem writes.
"That sounds pretty much like a Kindle to me and that's fifty years ago," said Christensen.
This week, he said, the reference was even more striking: For the first time ever, Amazon said it sold more electronic books in the last quarter than hardcovers.