9 sensational sci-fi ideas that came true

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

Sci-fi has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to pointing the way to the future. Yeah, we're still waiting for that personal jetpack, too. But here are nine other amazing sci-fi ideas that actually came true.

Book 'em, Dano 3.0!

Remember the precrime division in Minority Report that could predict and stop crimes before they occurred? Well, the Memphis police department is using software called CRUSH (Criminal Reduction Utilizing Statistical History) that can analyze data on arrests, crime reports and other factors to identify criminal patterns as well as potential trouble spots for the police to pay attention to. Crime in Memphis has dropped 30 percent since CRUSH launched in 2006.

Personal billboards

Minority Report was good at predicting stuff: In Japan, they're one step closer to the "digital billboards" in the movie that actually identified Tom Cruise's character by name. We're not that far along yet, but 11 companies are currently testing similar ads that can determine the gender and age of the person looking at them and customize an ad accordingly. Talk about targeting an audience!

Flying cars

We've seen them in countless movies, from Blade Runner to various episodes of Star Wars: vehicles that can glide down the road or soar through the air with ease and efficiency. Well, a Massachusetts-based company called Terrafugia is working on what it calls "roadable aircraft," suitable for the air and the highway, and complete with wings that fold up so that the car can fit into a garage. Get one of these babies and you'll fly to work ... literally.

3-D printers

Whenever Capt. Kirk wanted a cup of coffee on Star Trek, all he had to do was go to the nearby replicator, punch a button and presto! Hot coffee right out of the wall. Well, it seems that we may not be too far off from something called a 3-D printer: a device that re-creates objects on the spot and "prints" them out. A firm in Brooklyn, N.Y., called Makerbots (which sounds pretty sci-fi itself) currently makes one that "prints" small objects made of plastic—but more advanced machines could be on the way soon.

A vacation in space

Movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey envisioned a time when space travel was as routine and regular as daily flights from New York to L.A. While no one's booking a room at the Hilton on the moon anytime soon, leave it to Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company to be developing spaceships that could provide suborbital flights for tourists. The price? $200,000 a ride. On second thought, maybe we'll stay home and watch 2001 again.

Look Ma, no hands!

Forget pounding away on a computer keyboard or twisting a joystick all day. As seen in The Day the Earth Stood Still, Star Trek and (yes, again) Minority Report, motion-controlled computing is here. Microsoft launched a new game controller last month called Kinect that uses voice and gesture recognition, while the geniuses at MIT are working on both an invisible "mouse" (just wave your hand over a tabletop and the cursor on your computer screen follows) and the even creepier Sixth Sense project, which lets you turn anything—even your arm—into a touchscreen. And you thought the Clapper was cool ...

Robots among us

Robots have arrived, and they're here to stay. Forbidden Planet's helpful Robby the Robot was just the tip of the iceberg: In Japan, a robot called an i-Fairy performed a wedding ceremony, while German scientists are developing a robot car that can pretty much drive itself. One day you might be able to buy a robot that cleans the floor—oh, wait, it's available at Costco right now.

It's alive!

The creation of life has been a sci-fi staple since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and was most recently the subject of the movie Splice. But in May of this year, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute actually created a cell for the first time out of DNA manufactured solely in a lab. The goal is to possibly "grow" new organs for human patients one day ... so don't expect to be ordering your own artificial personal assistant in the near future.

No more books

According to a guy named Bill Christensen, sci-fi author Stanislaw Lem predicted the end of books in his 1961 novel Return From the Stars, writing that paper and cardboard would be replaced by crystals on which pages of the text would appear at a touch. Sound familiar? With the Kindle selling briskly and other such devices popping up—and with sales of e-books outpacing those of hardcovers recently at Amazon—the book as we know it could well be in danger. Personally, that's one prediction we'd rather not see come true.

(via ABC News)