Technology Catches Up with Harry Potter Magic

J. K. Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, came out June 30, 1997. The release of the series spans the 20th and 21st Centuries, and new technology has started to catch up to Harry Potter magic.

In the novels, newspapers show moving photographs. On June 29, 2007, a decade after the release of the first Potter novel, Apple released its iPhone, which brings constantly updated news, complete with video, to one’s fingertips. The iPhone and similar devices are much more useful and powerful than the magical papers in Harry’s world, and owl delivery seems positively primitive by comparison.

A few days ago, Technology Review published the article, “A Practical Way to Make Invisibility Cloaks” (thanks to Paul Hsieh over at Geek Pressfor the link).

The idea is that new production techniques allow for large-scale printing of “metamaterials,” largely made of metals, which could be fashioned into things like invisibility cloaks and superlenses.

Provided politicians and bureaucrats manage to restrain themselves from crashing our economies, technology will continue to gain ground on the magic of the Potter universe. Indeed, thanks to the wonders of science and technology, we are living in the most “magical” age of human history, in which doctors can scan people’s bones and hearts, people can quickly fly around the world, the average person in advanced economies owns self-propelled coaches, and we can take vast libraries of books and music around with us in pocket computers.

The Potter novels will always remain great literature — for reasons I explain in my book Values of Harry Potter — but technology will make the magic of the novels seem increasingly less magical. Thankfully, the deeper magic of the novels has nothing to do with casting spells or riding brooms.