Yes, yes. The giant robos and mecha suits are nowhere in sight. Galactic empires and dystopian megacities? Robots becoming commonplace and developing feelings of their own? No, not here yet. However, science fiction and anime have enjoyed a long and fruitful association, and they have manged to make a few predictions about modern society and new technology that were actually right, and not in the most obvious ways. I want to talk about a few examples below. Please note this list is in no way comprehensive, and if you've got suggestions for additions, please let me know about them.
Augmented Reality - Abbreviated as AR, augmented reality adds a layer of virtual reality on top of the real real world. You can see rudimentary uses of AR already in sports broadcasts and mapping systems. But in the 2007, the anime series "Denno Coil," imagined a world where AR obsessed kids wore special glasses and visors that let them see, hear, and interact with an otherwise invisible virtual landscape all around them, superimposed on top of the existing one. Virtual pets could follow them to school and virtual battle games could be played out in real locations. And certain illegal AR hacking tools could let them do even more interesting things. The series won heaps of awards in Japan, but never got proper distribution West. But those new Project Glass images from Google look a heck of a lot like the rough beginnings of a live action "Denno Coil" AR universe to me.
Image Recognition Systems - The 2008 anime "Eden of the East" features an application that allows instant identification of anything you take a picture of, be it a landmark or a random stranger on the street, which then directs a user to public data about them. This is an extension of already existing image and face recognition software that is causing privacy concerns online. Most of the anime has nothing to do with this, being an offbeat conspiracy thriller that imagines global power games being played out with a special cel-phones and a Siri-like interface (though it may actually be a human being behind the scenes instead of an app, so that doesn't count) . The image recognition system is a neat component though, not only because of the technology, but because of how it was created by a small group of idealistic programmers, and reached its full potential through crowdsourcing and social networking.
The Hologram Pop Star - Hatsune Miku became a sensation in 2010 in her native Japan. Originally a a singing synthesizer application produced with Yamaha Corp.’s Vocaloid software, Miss Miku went on to become a pop phenom, topping the Japanese music charts and filling venues for performances as an animated hologram. There have been cartoon bands before, such as the Gorillaz, whose shows are a mixture of musical talent and technical wizardry to create the illusion of animated characters brought to life. However, the cult of personality around Hatsune Miku is on another level, and strongly recalls the fictional computer generated pop star Sharon Apple, from 1994's "Macross Plus." Sharon had her own AI, composed her own music, and could put on a much more sophisticated light show. However, she also went a little nuts, resulting in a city-devastating rampage. Let's all be very nice to cute little Hatsune, huh?
Anonymous - The "Ghost in the Shell" franchise has predicted all kinds of new technology, from GPS to prosthetic bodies to advanced AI. However, the 2002 series "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex," introduced a new breed of cyberworld villain, the Laughing Man. This was a hacker vigilante who concealed his identity by hacking all video recordings of himself, hiding his face with a smiling logo: the Laughing Man. Though dismissed as a prankster at first, his activities eventually become serious enough to draw the attention of the show's law enforcement heroes. There are plenty of other parallels to the real-world Anonymous group, particularly as you get deeper into the operations and philosophy of the Laughing Man, and the force that spawned him, the Stand Alone Complex - where "unrelated, yet very similar actions of individuals create a seemingly concerted effort." The actions of Anonymous are definitely concerted, but its operations suggest no one is really in charge.
The Dark Side of Life Online - One of the things that anime does better than most Western entertainment is tackle the morality and social impact of new technology. Back in 1998, just as the internet was really starting to get rolling, "Serial Experiments Lain" presented a dystopian future where society revolves around a creepy version of the internet called the Wired. Cyberbullying, alienation, identity theft, and a whole host of new problems take center stage. The story is kicked off by an E-mail purportedly sent by a girl who recently committed suicide, for reasons unknown. "Lain" moves on to much more high minded science fiction concepts and existentialist ideas, but the way that the Wired is portrayed, as a place where traditional, real world morality breaks down and gets warped, hits pretty damn close to home.