Sci-Fi Ideation Movie Night #3: Tomorrowland

Last week I hosted the third Sci-Fi Movie Ideation night at Lemnos. We watched “Tomorrowland,” our first live action movie selection. In terms of future technology speculation, it did not disappoint. Disney put a great deal of thought into their world building and it shined through.

As a reminder, the rules of Sci-Fi Movie Ideation Night are:

  • Get eight people in a room, pick a sci-fi movie, and watch the first 45 minutes.
  • During that time, write on individual Post-it notes each technology in the movie that doesn’t exist yet.
  • At the end of the 45 minutes, put all the notes on a whiteboard.
  • Then ask, “Which of these could happen in the next five years?”

After we posted our notes, four themes came to the fore:

  1. Construction Robots — In the first scene in which a main character makes it to Tomorrowland, a series of robots build the platform in front of him. There are several different robots and each of them is engineered for a specific construction task. We felt this was the one technology that was most likely to develop in the next five years. Already there are demos of “3D printed” houses, which utilize application specific robots for construction. At Lemnos, more and more startups are pitching us construction-related robotics technology.
    Our “Tomorrowland” discussion focused on how to identify high-value tasks that a robot could consistently do. The biggest problem with construction sites is that they are dynamic, unstructured environments in which robots often perform poorly. As a result, we speculated that, at least in the immediate future, construction robots will need to be tailored for very specific tasks to be most effective.  
  2. Low-cost DNA sequencer — In the movie, there are several scenes in which a low-cost, quick-turn DNA sequencer is used. We had a lively discussion about the probability of seeing this kind of technology in the near future. In the end, we decided that this was increasingly likely, in particular if you were trying to use it to identify a single person out of a group of 100 or less. In the movie, the sequencer is used to definitively ID someone for a secure message.
    Part of the discussion veered into the ethical and security concerns that come with this type of technology. If you can sequence people without their knowledge or consent (as happens in the film to one character), what ill effects can that have? And how easily it would be to take someone’s DNA (from a hair sample, for instance) and use that to identify yourself as that other person? As a result, even beyond the sequencer itself, we discussed the need for tight data security around individual’s sequenced DNA.
  3. Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality — There were several examples of AR that we found interesting. In one scene, there were projection screens that characters could interact with for train schedules. In another, there was a dynamic newspaper that changes daily. With the right technology, one might be able to make these screens daylight-readable, as we see in the movie. However, we found it unlikely that outdoor interactive daylight-readable screens would be available in the near-term. That said, for indoor and industrial uses, the ability to be free of a physical screen seems much more likely. We felt the most likely path to accomplish this would be some sort of laser projection system. In addition, the film showed gesture recognition with no controller as a primary input for the Tomorrowland AR, which we felt was a viable technology in the near future.
    As a side note, there were some funny scenes involving untethered immersive VR, in which a character clearly displays the possibility of running into things that aren’t rendered in VR.
  4. Personal Narrator — This is one that came up in jest, but ended up being a serious discussion topic. Specifically, “Tomorrowland” uses an omniscient narrator in some scenes and an attendee wrote a joke Post-It note about wanting a personal narrator for their own life. When we started talking about it, we realized that with real-time voice recognition and cameras you could actually have some form of it. Moreover, we felt that there was a strong possibility that auto-narration of photo sequences from a trip or a night out will soon become available.

And in case you were wondering, the giant 17776 on the board in the picture refers to this great sports science fiction novel I recently read. Not sure if you’ll find many startup ideas in it, but it’s a fun read and I’ve seen so little in sports sci-fi that it’s breaking new ground.

As always, if you are inspired by any of the above or working on something related to it, I would love to hear from you. Find me on twitter @nomadicnerd or at