-- Due out Aug. 3, Total Recall starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel tells the story of an everyman named Doug Quaid (Farrell) who tries to spice up his boring life by having a memory of a secret agent adventure implanted in his brain. The only problem: He's already a secret agent, and the procedure actually unlocks some memories his former handlers wanted suppressed. If that sounds familiar, it's probably because the same plot was used in 1990 for the first Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
While the technology of making someone recall false memories might seem far-fetched, it — and several others featured in the film — isn't as fictional as you might think. Researchers around the world are already working to make many of the following technologies a reality.
1. Memory implantation
The central plot device of Total Recall (and the Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale that inspired it) is that of implanting (very realistic) false memories into the mind. In the real world, scientists are already developing a myriad of ways to do this, starting with mice.
In one experiment, mice have had functions of their hippocampus, an area of the brain believed to be key in short- and long-term memory, successfully replaced with a microprocessor, allowing them to remember how to perform actions they've forgotten. In other mice who weren't having these memories suppressed, the chip enhanced their memories. In another experiment, mice have had memories recalled on command through the administration of a special drug causing them to believe things were happening that actually weren't.
Outside of microchips and pharmaceuticals, psychologists have been studying the phenomenon of false memories for decades, and some believe that certain types of subliminal suggestion could actually lead to the ability to implant them at will.
2. Recording dreams
Another (albeit less central) technology present in Total Recall is that of memory recording. This is used by the fictional Rekall company to preserve the experiences of its customers, in case there's a problem with the memory implant and it needs to be "reinstalled."
Back here in the real world, scientists showed in 2011 that they are now able to record and play back mental images. By using an MRI machine to record the flow of blood through the visual cortex of someone's brain, UC Berkeley researchers have been able to reconstruct video shown to test subjects as it's being interpreted by their minds. More intriguingly, the process can be used to record images inside your mind that you're merely thinking of and display them on a screen.
3. Magnetically levitating cars
Unlike the fully flight-capable cars commonly seen in science fiction, the personal transportation of Total Recall is a car that hovers above (and below) an elevated roadway by means of superconducting magnets. This isn't entirely unlike a demonstration of quantum levitation presented last year by researchers at Tel Aviv University.
Their method of levitation uses a super-cooled puck made from a compound called yttrium barium copper oxide that not only stays lined up with a track while traveling but can be locked in place at any angle while doing so. This video shows it in action.
The original Total Recall movie had its own idea of future cars: ones that drive themselves. Researchers aren't giving up on that idea; in fact, none other than Google is already testing self-driving cars in Nevada.
Still more fiction than science
Some of the other technology in Total Recall is also in its infancy today. For instance, its future populace uses mobile phones that are embedded beneath the skin of their palms. The closest thing we have today is a cell phone you can wear like a glove. The movie's police officers are independent robots, yet while a number of robots exist or are in development today— some of which are even poised to start guarding prisons— most are about as smart as insects.
Also, while it's yet to be revealed if Quaid goes shopping for memories of travel to Mars in the new film, the red planet was featured prominently in the 1990 original and the story that inspired them both. Based on recent happenings, manned journeys there — even for tourists— may not be science fiction much longer.
Regardless, it's looking like Total Recall will continue a great tradition of sci-fi films that inspire audiences the world over to think about what life could be like in 10, 50, or even 500 years.
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