Sunday, May 21, 2017

Indistinguishable from Magic

Harry Potter is a story about friendship, courage, and doing the right thing no matter what. But Harry Potter is, of course, also about magic: the flying brooms, the wands, the magical creatures, the talking pictures and moving staircases.

Fans of the Harry Potter universe eagerly await their Hogwarts acceptances, not for plot, but for the impossibilities offered by magic.

But what if I told you that the magic from Harry Potter exists today in the muggle world?

Well, you wouldn't believe me of course, and that is why I must offer evidence. Here are seven magical devices from Harry Potter that exist, or soon will exist, in the real world:

  • The Flying Broom/ Arthur's Flying Car/ Sirius's Flying Motorcycle
I am speaking, of course, of the drones and flying cars made possible by science today. Kittyhawk offers the potential for personal flight, no different from a flying broom, except in that you cannot also use it for cleaning up a mess. The Hover-Bike, although not quite as cool as Sirius's actual flying motorcycle, gets the job done.

Better still, we actually have self-driving cars, which, in my opinion, is more magical than merely cars that fly. After all, muggles conquered flight all the way back in 1903.

  • Firecalls/ Floo network
While we haven't yet figured out how to use a fireplace to teleport - and really, no one has fireplaces where I come from, so this would be a rather useless invention for me - we have far better solutions for long-distance communication than sticking your head in the fireplace. We have Skype and Facetime and numerous other options that let us communicate with others over long distances via video, without the unpleasant side-effect of nausea.

  • Libraries / Information
Do you realize that most of book 1 was spent doing a manual Google search through a library to find out who Nicholas Flamer was? That Hermione spent much of book 2 figuring out that the monster was a basilisk? That book 4 was spent searching for ways to defeat dragons and breathe underwater?

Do you realize that a muggle would have spent less than 0.54 seconds figuring most of this out? In fact, success in the wizarding world seems to be determined largely by how well you memorize information: spells, potions, clever ways to treat or defeat a magical creature. Hermione could have been replaced by a Mac and WiFi.

  • Invisibility cloak
Okay, so maybe we're not quite there yet. But scientists are working on it. They plan on using materials that bend light, thereby giving the illusion of invisibility, which, come to think of it, actually sounds closer to the science described in Wells's The Invisible Man. Pretty cool.

  • Molly's Magical Clock
Do you remember the ingenious clock with 9 hands that Molly used to keep tabs on her family's whereabouts? Knowing where your child is at all times and whether he/she is in danger was a dream of concerned mothers everywhere.  My own mother would pay a handsome sum for such a device.

And like teenagers everywhere, I sure was glad this device existed solely in the magical realm. Not anymore. We now have apps that let us locate our family members using GPS. Thankfully, it is opt-in.

  • Magic Spells / Wand
Now I should warn you, my inner computer geek is about to shine through. So, what is so magical about a magic spell? Well, you can change things in the real world by the power of your words alone.

This is also something we computer programmers do. After all, what is code but a magic spell converted by a compiler into binary commands which a computer follows. With a mere spell, you can control a robot, a self-driving car, a video game or a phone.

What then is a wand? Well, it's a combined speech to text converter/compiler of course! Which makes me, a compiler engineer, essentially a wandmaker, like Ollivander :)

  • The Sorting Hat/ Legilimency
Brain computer interface technology, such as neuralink, could give us insight into a person's mind. I must confess, I did not realize this myself, and therefore, let me redirect you to an interesting article that will wrinkle your brain.

Honorable mentions:

  • Howlers / Letters
Honestly, the magical world has been left behind when it comes to communication. Think about it. They still use letters! Delivered by birds! Compare that to how long it takes to send an email. Or an instant message. Oh, and a howler is just an angry voice mail of course.

  • Quick-quotes quill
A less accurate speech to text converter. And I'm sure we will someday be able to generate sensationalist headlines using machine learning.

  • Skele-Gro

  • Impervius charm
Hermione used this to help make Harry's glasses waterproof. Muggles use hydrophobic glass coating.

  • Talking paintings
  • Moving images
Aka GIFs.

  • Gillyweed / Bubble-head charm
Diving gear.


I hope you have been convinced now of the Arthur C Clarke quote:
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Turns out, the magical realm really is hiding in plain sight. Just takes a little imagination to realize it.

"Impossible" magical devices that we want next:

  1. Teleportation
  2. Transfiguration
  3. Things that are bigger on the inside
  4. Time travel
  5. Dragons

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