Extreme Vision: Science Fiction or Truth
Science fiction is deeply linked to the evolution of both science and technology. It adds invented scenarios to real world developments, creating settings and characters that are both utterly fantastic and believable. It is this combination that gives us the sense that modern advances in medicine have been predicted by books, television or movies. What is the real relationship between ophthalmology and science fiction? Let's find out.
Medicine and SciFi
Medicine was first introduced to science fiction by Mary Shelley in 1818. Her character, Victor Frankenstein, was written as a scientist, but was re-invented in 1935 as a medical doctor and has remained so in most modern portrayals. Although its estimated that only 4% of all science fiction has a medical theme, the majority of physician characters are like Dr. Frankenstein - untrustworthy, "mad scientists." An extremely unflattering archetype.
Star Trek Goes to Medical School
In 1992 Johns Hopkins University reported that it used episodes from the science fiction television show "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in their curriculum. Instructors of first year medical students have found that teaching ethical issues and the doctor-patient relationship is easier when the patients in question are aliens or otherwise not tied to a student's personal bias.
A common science fiction trope is to provide a character with devices that give them the ability to see more than the average person. In 1894, author John Jacob Astor IV was the first to provide his characters with a device that could see through solid objects. His novel, "A Journey in Other Worlds," appears to predict x-rays one year before their invention by Wilhelm Roentgen (1845-1923). Although x-ray vision goggles may not exist, augmented vision is possible through such devices as night vision and virtual reality goggles.
In science fiction, replacing a character's eyes or vision completely is decribed as either "bionic" or "cyborg." Retinal implants appear for the first time in science fiction in the 1952 novel "The Space Merchants," by Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth. The first real implant into the visual cortex was accomplished in 1978 by William Dobelle. Today, several groups are working to create retinal implants, like those pictured, to provide vision to the blind.
Biometrics is any system that measures a person's unique physical traits in order to verify their identity. M. Alphonse Bertillon first suggested in 1886 that irises were unique enough to be used to identify criminals. Since then, eye biometrics could be found in science fiction. The first use of a retinal scanner in a movie was in 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" which was released approximately one year after commercial retinal scanners became available on the market.