Hanna-Barbera's 1960s cartoon The Jetsons had Americans imagining life with flying cars and robot servants, while the later Stanley Kubrick flick 2001: A Space Odyssey portrayed possible dangers of creating artificial intelligence. While sentient computers and floating cities aren’t part of our everyday 21st-century experiences (yet?), the myriad real and fictitious technologies seen in Arizona Science Center’s POPnology™ hint at future possibilities.
The 9,000-square-foot world premiere exhibition from Stage Nine explores the impact of real-world technologies, as well as the ways technology has been portrayed in film, TV and literature. It’s an immersive, hands-on experience that starts with a walk-through of quotes by such visionaries as Albert Einstein, novelist H.G. Wells and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, a.k.a. The Black Science Guy.
“Adults will recognize the influence that art (books, movies etc.) has had on the shaping of technology and will be able to relive many of the great stories of the past,” says David Rock, Arizona Science Center’s Director of Exhibits and Collections. “Kids love seeing R2D2 and Baxter, a smart robot who does a special show every 10 minutes.” Little ones can place shaped cutouts of the Death Star or an engineered dinosaur under a special computer screen for fun factoids, while teens take selfies at the social media booth.
Film and TV memorabilia is scattered throughout the exhibit, from Marty McFly’s hoverboard to 2001’s HAL 9000 supercomputer, E.T., and life-size R2D2 and Terminator droids. For Disnerds – the somewhat self-deprecating nickname used by avid Disneyland fanatics – there’s an autographed Autopia car and porthole from Captain Nemo’s submarine ride, plus designer Edward Eyth’s jetpack as seen in The Rocketeer.
Some of POPnology’s more impressive displays include the world’s first 3D-printed car and a NVIDIA computer that powers self-driving vehicles. “These concepts, and the history that has preceded them, are perfect examples of how imagination can turn to reality,” says Rock. Another example of fictional technology brought to life is the Oculus Rift virtual reality gaming system. POPnology’s live demo originally included an earthquake-like simulation where buildings began to crumble beneath the gamer’s feet, but its visuals were so intense that participants literally fell over.
POPnology continues through May 15 at Arizona Science Center (600 E. Washington St., Phoenix). Special exhibition tickets are $12 for adults; $10 ages 3-17; children 2 and younger free (not including general admission costs).
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