Pessimistic or Just Plain Preposterous?

The UK’s Prime Minister delivered a thought-provoking speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019 on modern advances in technology. While the speech featured some important themes and delivered an ultimately powerful message on humanity’s increasing reliance on machines, Boris Johnson also made some rather bizarre comments on the future of modern technology. Here, we fact check the highlights from Johnson’s speech and provide an insight into how technology may actually impact our futures.

“Your mattress will monitor your nightmares, your fridge will beep for more cheese, your front door will sweep wide the moment you approach like some silent Butler.”

One of the first of many horrifying statements made in his speech came when Johnson told us the very bed we lie on will start monitoring our dreams. Unless the Government has struck some freaky deal with Bensons for Beds, a future involving robotic mind-reading mattresses is thankfully a long, long way off. The cutting edge of bedtime technology currently ends at memory foam mattresses and heated blankets.

That said, Johnson wasn’t actually too far off when he made that odd comment about beeping fridges, although the reality is slightly less intrusive. British firm ‘Smarter’ unveiled a series of new devices in 2016 which included the Smarter Mat which measures the weight of the food or drink placed on top of it and lets you know how much is left, and a Fridge Cam which relates live footage from inside the fridge to a smartphone app. There’s also a webpage entitled ‘Stop Notifications from a Samsung Fridge’. Those exist?

“Nanotechnology revolutionising medicine by designing robots the size of a red blood cell capable of swimming through our bodies dispensing medicine and attacking malignant cells like some Star Wars armada.”

In May 2018, scientists from the University of California San Diego published promising developments for modern medicine in which they had managed to design tiny robots encased in natural cell membranes which could be capable of combating rogue pathogens and ridding the body of toxins. Meanwhile, researchers at China’s National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology in cooperation with Arizona State University have developed similar robots which are capable of shrinking cancerous tumours in the body. While this doesn’t resemble some lightsaber-fuelled Death Star duel, the future for nanorobots in medicine is looking at a more positive fate than Anakin Skywalker’s.

“Pink-eyed terminators sent back from the future to cull the human race.”

In this glorious demonstration of the English language, Johnson demonises some of the most exceptional advances in modern technology by suggesting they may in fact be leading us towards our sci-fi influenced downfall. He also juxtaposes the image of arguably the most famous fictional mercenaries with the idea of robots becoming household Samaritans by prefacing this comment with the concept that robots could be “washing and caring for an aging population”. This is probably more likely than Earth becoming over-run with walking tanks, as aforementioned advances in healthcare technology mean that robots could one day be at the forefront of modern medicine.

“What will synthetic biology stand for? Restoring our livers in our eyes with miracle regeneration of the tissues like some fantastic hangover cure or will it bring terrifying limbless chickens to our tables?”

First of all, restoring our livers in our eyes? It sounds like Johnson might have mixed up his speech notes with the script for next season’s Black Mirror here. The liver was an interesting choice of organ to comment on as the liver is actually the only organ that is able to naturally regenerate damaged or lost tissue, as long as at least 25% of the original mass is still available.

However, if we take out the completely unnecessary reference to growing body parts in our eyes, future technological advances may mean scientists could actually grow organs in laboratories within the next 10 years.  A team of medical scientists at the University of Texas have been able to grow and implant pig organs such as lungs which have been accepted by the body and function normally. Could Johnson have predicted the future or is he just capable of using a search engine?

The bizarre mention of terrifying limbless chickens has been widely featured as one of the highlights from the speech. Whether Johnson was referencing the standard Sunday roast where many British families dig in to a store-bought chicken breast, or whether this was a weird depiction of chicken limbs growing out of our eyes, we may never know.

image source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images