Classic Science Fiction Stories Accurately Perceived Computer Vision

Sci-fi stories from the past have impressively hinted at robotics and AI, but not always explained their methods.
Fabienne Lang
Westworld (1973)Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Classic science fiction books, stories, and movies have had an impressive tendency to somewhat accurately predict computer vision systems. That being said, they've missed out on worthy applications, and as per author, Robin R. Murphy deduces in her article "Computer Vision and Machine Learning in Science Fiction," in Science Robotics, do not mention the analytical methods in play.


As per Murphy's research, mention of computer vision in science fiction stories has been a part of sci-fi as early as 1931. The first story using computer vision to note is "The Doom from Planet 4," written by Jack Williamson, where cameras replace aggressive robots' eyes. 

Robots with cameras for eyes

Williamson happily mentions computer vision and even goes so far as to touch upon present-day cloud computing. However, he fails to explain how his robots' cameras for eyes interpret and convert information for their android bodies to compute.

Murphy, affiliated with the Texas A&M University in College Station, also mentions an internationally renown sci-fi story from 1987: "Star Trek: The Next Generation" where the character Data was brought on stage. Data is an artificially intelligent persona who uses neural networks to learn, which touches upon vision systems of today.

Moving further back in science fiction times, in 1953 in "A Bad Day for Sales" by Fritz Leiber, and twenty years later in 1973, "Westworld" written and directed by Michael Crichton, robots use blob analysis, an image processing function, in order to differentiate between characters in a scene. A rather uninspiring yet effective method. 

Have robots' purposes changed?

Murphy claims that robots were more commercially used in the past and that only in recent times have stories switched their plots to incorporate vision technologies. Mostly for surveillance reasons. 

Adding on to these shifts, Murphy suggests that science fiction has in fact missed out on certain benefits of computer vision, in exchange for 'less thrilling, but profoundly valuable' applications such as driverless cars, robotic surgery, and robots in eldercare.

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