The Cloak of Levitation, Part 2: Could it ever work?

How could this work as technology instead of magic?

In the prior post I looked at the Cloak as a bit of wearable technology. Today let’s ask ourselves how possible this is in the real world.

The abilities of the Cloak listed in the first post imply a great deal of functionality: Situational awareness, lightning fast thinking, precision actuators throughout its fabric, gravity controls for itself and its wearer, goal awareness, knowledge of the world. Some of these aren’t going to happen, but some are conceivable over time.

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Parts of it are conceivable over time

Some of those abilities make sense with what we know of the arc of technology.

Actuators

Technology keeps shrinking, so a fabric made of strong actuators might be conceivable. I’m not sure muscle wire will ever be this strong, but let’s presume generative design can discover a way to use its relatively weak strength for greater-than-human feats of strength, and that wires can be coordinated when woven into a fabric.

Sensors

The Cloak has complete situational awareness, but where are its sensors? It demonstrates field awareness. We don’t see sensors, but it has to be building this awareness from something. One possibility is that if it was able to connect to sensors around it, much like The Machine and Samaritan Super AIs from Person of Interest or Batman’s cellular panopticon. Alternately, the cape could be dotted with sensors that detect in the x-ray or infrared spectrums, so they can be hidden under the fabric. Let’s say this is pretty futuristic, but possible.

The Cloak’s AI

Yes we have crazy fast processors that seem to keep getting faster, so perhaps the processors could become embeddable in the cloth or perhaps the fibulae. And the amount of cloth in the Cloak is much more than most wearables, so sure, let’s say the computational power can be made this small and sartorial.

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Writing this blog takes my vocabulary to some obscure places.

There is the problem of the AI. Some of the Cloak’s abilities imply general, rather than narrow, artificial intelligence. It has complete situation awareness, a clear theory of mind, and seems to learn. We’re not at general AI yet and at least according to Nick Bostrom’s poll, computer scientists are estimating it will be about another decade until we get there, if we can get there at all. Opinions are split as to whether it’s possible, but let’s go optimistic with this one and put it in the conceivable category, with the caveat that it may be wishful thinking.

But some parts break the laws of physics

But then there are a few things that just break the laws of physics, the first of which is flying.

There’s no evidence from other things in the scenes that it is employing a propellant of some kind to do this lifting. It just moves where it wants to. Cloak don’t give a shit. Add the fact that it can hang in place (see the vitrine gif, above) as if it can just ignore the Earth’s gravity, and we’ve got something that earns the Isaac Newton seal of WTF.

It also seems able to pull in any arbitrary direction in space with a great deal of force, as it does when it drags around one of the beefier zealots in a defend-the-master move that would make a Molossus war dog lower its head in respect. Flatworms are the closest thing to a muscled bit of fabric that evolution has come up with, and I don’t think physics would allow it to do this kind of maneuver, either. 

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Then, when Strange flies wearing it, it doesn’t seem to use its powers to carry him. That would look more like a hammock, or a flying carpet. Instead it somehow grants the power of arbitrary space positioning to him, and then it just gets to relax and ride along and concentrate on looking majestic.

So it can pull in any direction with no anchor, propellant, or regard for gravity; and grant this ability to someone on contact. Sorry, but I think we have to admit that these aspects of the Cloak are just wish fulfillment.

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Even if flight could be overlooked, then there comes the question of where’s the power coming from? I don’t see much battery technology trending towards infinite especially when it has to be small enough to be wearable.


So while an engaging vision, we have to be quite careful about drawing design lessons from the Cloak. Enabling technology would be far in the future. And even though personal flight technology (of sorts) exists, but we should take in mind their designs have to deal with the very real issues of thrust and power.

That’s enough for today. In the next post we’ll look at the intelligence and agency evident in the Cloak.

2 thoughts on “The Cloak of Levitation, Part 2: Could it ever work?

  1. Pingback: The Cloak of Levitation, Part 4: Improvements | Sci-fi interfaces

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