From Techfiction To Techfact With Iron Man
By Mordechai Osdoby. May 3, 2013, 12:40 PM CDT
Techcitement touched upon some of Tony Stark’s wardrobe the other day, but we didn’t deal with one of the coolest aspects of the armor — the predictive nature. A lot of what was far-out science fiction in 1962 is science fact today.
The first thing you need to be aware of is that in the 1990s, the idea of real-world applications of Iron Man armor went to the ultimate level with this detailed handbook.
Marvel did indeed make an operations manual for the Iron Man armor. In fact, it’s one that straight-up treated the Iron Man armor like a real thing. Multiple models were featured. Vague descriptions like “the War Machine armor has guns” became more specific, like listing it as having a shoulder-mounted railgun.
In the previous article, I mocked a panel where Iron Man fools the Crimson Dynamo by recording himself pretending to be the Premier of Russia.
This seems like minor stuff, but at the time, the idea of a tape deck that you could fit in something the size of Iron Man’s armor was absolutely science fiction. Additionally, the voice changing thing? They’re called vocoders, and they’re so cheap to make that we put them in children’s toys.
This early version of the Iron Man armor would predict many real-world technologies. For one thing, this was the first armor to be made via “3D knitting”, as it’s described in the comic books, which is something that sounds a lot like the idea of 3D printing. Considering people are 3D printing cars, a suit of armor isn’t so far off. The Iron Man comics went so far as to predict brain-computer interfaces. Remember, this was the 60s, so the idea of ubiquitous computing didn’t even exist yet. Stan Lee was suggesting that we’d eventually be able to run things via our minds, and he’s now proven to not be far off.
Other technologies sprinkled into early Iron Man comics include bulletproof fabrics, the concept of electronic counter-measures for radar, heads up displays, motion controls, smart metals, and one personal favorite, carbon composite construction. Don’t forget that the Iron Man armor was solar powered. Sure, it’s not anymore (I guess solar isn’t exotic enough nowadays), but the idea of solar charging a high-tech device was totally ridiculous once upon a time.
In 1993, Tony Stark was paralyzed and had to not just control the armor with his mind, but do so via remote control. In some situations he would be continents apart from his alter ego. This is a concept that’s repeated in Extremis, the storyline reported to have inspired much of Iron Man 3. The difference is that in 1993, the idea of telepresence was a gleam in the eye. Today, it’s so common that most don’t know the term. Aside from the idea of Skype and everything like it, there’s the fact that we actually use telepresence to control robots, including weaponized ones.
The 21st century hasn’t been as predictive for Iron Man comics. One element that has recently taken center stage in the comics is one that reflects the world around us — voice control. Stark has apparently ditched direct brain-computer hookups and instead has borrowed the idea of the virtual assistant. The movies have J.A.R.V.I.S., meant as an in-joke for fans of the classic comics to the butler of the same name who worked at Avengers Mansion. While not revealed in the movies, it’s supposed to stand for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System. J.A.R.V.I.S. eventually made it’s way to the comics as well in the form of the AI running Pepper Pots’s rescue armor.
In the current comics, Stark travels through space with a new AI dubbed P.E.P.P.E.R. snarking at him. It has yet to be revealed what this acronym stands for, but hey, synergy.
While a vocal AI is actually several steps back from a cybernetic interface, from a storytelling element, it gives your lead someone to talk to. Coupled with the heads-up displays that the Iron Man armor has used since at least 1999, a Siri-infused Google Glass experience comes to mind.
Could it be that Iron Man is now less predictive of tech than it is reactive? Perhaps; or maybe we’re too close to the period that generated the source material to appreciate the future hidden within.
About Mordechai Osdoby
One of the co-founders of Techcitement, Mordechai is a man whose obsession with tech once led his wife to refer to a laptop as "the other woman".