The Hacksmith speaks at TEDxKC!
I recently had the opportunity to give a TEDx talk in Kansas City, completing a life goal of mine in the process!
TEDxKC is one of the largest TEDx events in the world, and the biggest in the USA — it’s almost as large as most full TED events!
Below is the transcript of my speech if you’re interested in reading instead of watching:
Fiction, Reality, or Both?
It’s a common observation that the biggest challenge for fantasy and science fiction writers is to create worlds more fantastic than this one – to stay ahead of reality, keeping things larger than life.
Writers can dream up entire cities, worlds, universes, filled with amazing characters, thrilling events, and new technologies. There really is no limit to their imagination. They don’t have to explain, or even know how something works – just that it does. As an engineer I wish technological invention was that simple! But it’s not.
That being said, what if we could take some of those ideas, and actually make them work in real life? If you’re a speculative fiction writer or filmmaker, I’m trying to make your work outdated. Because what I do — though sometimes impractical — is turn fiction into reality.
It’s a YouTube channel called the Hacksmith — and we have a video series called Make it Real. We take ideas from comic books, video games, movies, or even TV shows — and then make real working prototypes. In fact, I quit my job as a Product Developer for a tech company almost a year ago to pursue these zany inventions — and my YouTube channel full-time.
Anyway, before I show you that work, I’d like to talk briefly about Arthur C. Clarke, a British science fiction writer. You may know him from 2001: A Space Odyssey. He formulated three prediction-related adages that are known as Clarke’s Three Laws:
Clarke’s first law
When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
This suggests that the advance of science increases possibility and decreases impossibility. We all know this. Many things we believed were impossible just a few decades ago are now not only possible, but commonly accepted realities that we all depend on. To sum it up, don’t write stuff off as impossible at first glance.
Clarke’s second law
The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
The technologies available to us today are just asking to be combined in new ways not thought of before — this is a time for innovators to thrive. I love making crazy stuff, just to see if I can get it to work. And I’m not alone. I’m sure many of you are the same way. The beauty is, you don’t have to have a reason to do this. Attracting VC funding or building a business may not be your goal at all.
Clarke’s third law
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Think about television. Imagine you’d gone into a coma 100 years ago and awakened today to find people watching videos on a screen, you’d surely think it was some kind of magic. Even if someone explained how it works, clearly and accurately, the engineering marvel that we all take for granted, you might still believe there must be magic involved. Who could blame you? It’s nuts.
Television content has often seemed indistinguishable from magic, too. “Beam me up” might as well be “abra-cadabra” – and while a TV may just be “teleporting” electrical signals to create an image — how far off are we from teleporting physical things, or even, living things? Do you really believe that teleportation is absolutely impossible? If so, are you an elderly scientist?
How many ideas have been written as fiction, only to become reality years later? Star Trek is a precursor to many consumer electronics that we all know. So much so, you could even call it… Star Treknology.
Bad puns aside, the most ubiquitous example is the Communicator – or, as we like to call it – the cell phone. From Star Trek Command Tablets to iPads. We might not have spaceship tractor beams, but there’s a technology called Acoustic Levitation that uses soundwaves to suspend and move objects in air. They even invented the bluetooth earbud… sadly 30 years later and it still looks silly. From a universal translation wand, to Google Translate — available on any phone or computer. Heck, I used to work at a company that made Holodecks! And Virtual Reality tech is soon to revolutionize the entire market. Honestly, I’m kind of jealous of today’s youth, because they are going to see more technological advancement than any other generation before.
Now, all of those examples are genuinely useful products. But what about all the other outlandish inventions dreamt up that really have no commercial viability? This is a real shame for those of us who grew up wishing, hoping and dreaming for the things we saw on TV, in movies and in comics to be real.
Fortunately, I and many other people don’t care about commercial viability. We just want to build cool science fiction inventions. We are working hard every day to turn science fiction into reality, just for the hell of it.
And funny enough, we’ve found our home on the internet, where we can document our projects for the world to see. We’re not concerned with people copying our ideas and trying to make a quick buck – we encourage it. Creating these inventions is not for capital gain, it’s for the pursuit of innovation, inspiration and entertainment – pushing the envelope to see just how far it can stretch. How can we know what’s impossible, if we don’t at least try? We’ve received countless messages, emails, and comments from youth around the world telling us how we’ve inspired them to look into technology and engineering related careers — which is reward itself for what we’re doing.
I personally run a series on YouTube called Make it Real, where we take fictional ideas from comics, movies, and video games, and make real working prototypes.
I started with Wolverine claws, built a pneumatic exoskeleton based off the movie Elysium, that evolved into an exoskeleton based off of the game Call of Duty, made a Batman-style grappling hook and rappelling device, an electromagnetic Captain America shield, and I’m even crazy enough to strap solid fuel rockets to my wrists in order to try flying like Iron Man – if only for a few seconds.
And if you think I’m crazy, well, I’m not alone. There are many inventors and innovators out there doing just the same thing. Allen Pan, a friend of mine, made a working Mjolnir – uh, Thor’s Hammer. In Norse mythology, it was said only those who possessed the power of Thor could lift said hammer. Allen took this literally, and added an electronic fingerprint scanner to the device. Most importantly, a high-powered electromagnet ensures that not even the world’s strongest man can wield the power of Thor.
Oh, and remember the third law? Allen’s YouTube channel is called “Sufficiently Advanced”.
We can’t forget about the most unconventional inventor of us all, a British ex-plumber by the name of Colin Furze. Colin puts Engineers to shame with his self taught design and fabrication skills that are second to none. One of his latest inventions includes designing and building a hoverbike — in just a few short weeks. Now granted, it’s not the safest hoverbike ever dreamed up… but at least he is wearing his safety tie.
Now Colin was able to build this because he is an absolute master fabricator, expert welder and all around… mad genius. But what he’s not, is someone with experience in aerodynamics. And I think this is a testament to today’s advancing technology. He was able to create a vehicle capable of flight in a matter of weeks — versus the years it took the Wright Brothers. All he needed was the crazy idea to build it — and the technology to power it.
Humanity has never had as much technology readily available as we do today. Allowing anyone to innovate and create their wildest dreams — just by ordering a few components online and putting them together in a new way.
If that’s not inspiring — I don’t know what is. So what are you waiting for?
Follow your most out-there creative impulses. Help us blur the line between fiction and reality. Most of the people in your life are not going to get it. They won’t understand how you could possibly spend so much time making things for no other reason than that you want to see if they can actually be made. Those people will not help you. But for every out-there idea, you may also find co-conspirators out there. These are really your people.
They’re after the same thing you are: a future that seems like magic.