It's actually harder to conceive an FTL system that can't also double as a Weapon of Mass Destruction than it is to conceive one that can. And that's not even getting into the fact that, because of the way relativity works, FTL travel is logically equivalent to Time Travel...
The technology that allows your crew to travel from the Cool Ship to the planet and back without using a shuttle is the same technology that can park a live warhead in the enemy captain's lap without using a missile. It also makes a nifty Disintegrator Ray if you skip the "rematerialization" end of the process or, if it doesn't work by dematerializing, send the receiving end into the sun. Or only teleportingpartof the target. And unless it's ludicrously expensive/has major side-effects, it can be used to greatly reduce shipping costs and delays, and could remove the need for any other planet-based vehicle (if it's cheap and practical enough, you wouldn't even need to walk). This would change the face of society.
If the technology works by destroying and reconstructing, there are a number of possible uses that are rarely used, like bodily restoration after injury or death, copying/mass-production of reconstructible objects, copying/mass-production of people, etc.
Unless those other functions are actually offshoots of artificial gravity (or vice-versa).
For that matter, mounting weapons might be redundant - just ask the crew of the Nadesico.
Note that it takes a really strong and accurately-placed gravity field to significantly change the trajectory of a laser beam or anything else moving at relativistic speeds - a field which, apart from theoretically consuming an extremely large amount of energy to maintain (depending on your flavour of Phlebotinum), might have unintended consequences.
However, manipulation of a gravity field probably won't get you to trans-light, unless you're in a "gravity is warp" model like GRT and use it to form Alcubierre warp drive.
Nanomachines While they may have more limits in real life, it'd be easier to list the things you couldn't do with nanomachines capable of the kinds of tasks they do in fiction than the things you can, yet they're frequently introduced as a plot-device for one specific thing and never used for anything else.
The digital world from Digimon was created from computer programming and could subvert any laws of reality, a programmer could solve any problem plaguing humanity. In particular, humans who go there do not have to eat, breathe, excrete waste, or age if they don't want to. Said programmers primarily use their digi-Reality Warper abilities to... create inter-world portals and mess around with Mons.
The way Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi used up her three wishes. Seriously, for how long the series went on, you would think the writer could have thought of better requests...
Played straight then averted with the kagebunshin (shadow clones) of Naruto. Perfect duplicates of the jutsu's user whose memories are re-integrated back into the user when the clone is dispelled/destroyed. Up until Kakashi pointed out that they could be used for espionage and training, Naruto only used them to attack opponents mundanely. Fortunately, he now has used them to accomplish the world's fastest creation and mastering of a brand-new technique, the Rasen shuriken, which is also the first ever technique to combine perfected shape manipulation with nature manipulation.
Funnily enough, fanfiction has been taking advantage of the huge potential for years before that showed up, although the approach is frequently avoided for the reason that intelligent application of it can derail most of the challenges Naruto faces in the early part of the series.
Acknowleged in The Five Star Stories. The Humongous Mecha are shown to be quite impractical and tempermental, and its recognized that the whiz-bang technology that goes into creating them could be put to better use. What stops them is a combination of aristocratic tradition and the fact that if that technology were used for more efficient weapons it could result in the destruction of entire planets. Not a wise thing to do, considering there are only five or six habitable planets in their known universe.
Somewhat averted in Cannon God Exaxxion. They go into a considerable amount of detail about all the interesting things you can do with Artificial Gravity tech & how it dramatically changes the face of modern industry & combat. The limited way Nano Machines are used in the series smacks of this trope, but they at least bother to handwave it by citing the technology's astronomical cost.
Gosunkugi from Ranma ½ gets ten paper dolls which let him give people commands that they must obey. He suffers from a pretty severe lack of imagination. He tries to command Ranma to argue with Akane — he didn't succeed, but nobody would have noticed anyway. The other nine are similarly squandered.
Averted in Code Geass with Sakuradite, a naturally-occurring substance that is an exceptionally good conductor. It's used in Humongous Mechaand consumer electronics, and is the reason the why Magnetic Weapons have completely replaced gunpowder, even when it comes to personal firearms.
Ranma 1/2's Jusenkyo —cursed springs that, when submerged inside them or splashed with water from them, give you the shape of whatever drowned there first until you turn yourself back with hot water (and then turn again with cold.) Any living thing can be transformed into a multitude of other things: men, women, children, a huge variety of animals, twins, or even godlike lightning- and fire-spewing entities. Yet no one in the series ever thinks of [ab]using it to, for example, dump a handful of ants in the Spring of Drowned Ox and feed impoverished villages with the resulting hundreds of oxen. Worse, there's even powdered packets of "instant," single-use springs, but they're even more obscure than the springs themselves. About the only people who profit from the springs are the Musk Dynasty (who, in antiquity, would dump strong animals into the Spring of Drowned Girl in order to procure wives to yield stronger children,) and the people of Mt. Phoenix, who use their bird-cursed water for everything water is typically used for (bathing, drinking, cooking, washing) and, from time to time, turning themselves human to spy on others.
This world also has the technology to create powerful suits of armor —strong, quick, and durable enough to give Ranma serious trouble— at such low cost it's readily available to the public via mail-order. Nobody thinks of removing the armor's Power Limiter and equipping the local police force with these.
Seemingly played straight, but averted at the last second with in the case of the Yamasenken and Umisenken. These are exceptionally devastating martial arts schools which emphasize, respectively, outwards force and absolute stealth. Warrior-minded fighters will seek them out to add to their repertoire... but in their creator's words, they're actually meant for burglary and thievery.
In part six of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure a minor villain named Ungaro has the unbelievably overpowered stand Bohemian Rhapsody which allows him to turn drawings to life. Drawings of literally anything. So he animates such fearsome entities as... Pinocchio and Vincent Van Gogh? You know, instead of creating a superhero with the power "Ungaro is omnipotent, invincible, and cannot be harmed or defeated by any means. This power cannot be removed or altered by anyone except Ungaro." (Which we know is possible because Weather Report creates a character designed to unmake all the other characters and it actually works.) There's probably a loophole somewhere to a statement like that, but it shows how easy it would be to abuse that stand's unlimited power. A potentially invincible villain defeated by his own weak will and lack of imagination.
Green Lanterns - You have the ultimate weapon. Its power is limited only by your imagination. Big-ass hammer is NOT a good application of your powers.
Finally subverted with Kyle Rayner, who was more likely to create Humongous Mechs and Anime characters than giant hammers and boxing gloves. Once when asked to make a simple bubble he said that it was the "other guy" who did mundane things like that.
On the other hand, until the 1970s the rings were really able to do anything, including wiping minds, acting on time-delayed and preprogrammed commands, transmuting matter, and mutating living beings at will. Really, neither Kyle nor Hal Jordan ever really noticed all the implications of the rings.
DC Comics has (had?) the Kapitalist Kouriers, a set of Russian superspeedsters who indeed used their powers for a courier business. All over the world. However: characters who do that instead of beating up on The Bad Guy of the Week don't get played in RPGs and don't get their own comic titles. So it's sorta self-defeating.
An issue of Heroes for Hire (which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, so at least these guys are getting paid for their work) has one of the "heroes" in a government warehouse where various captured supervillain equipment is stored. Upon seeing one piece of equipment, he notes the idiocy of inventing a gun that turns stuff into gold, then using it to rob banks. It takes him very little time to realize that he ought to steal the gun himself and use it in more intelligent ways. Unfortunately, it's broken shortly afterward in a super-brawl. He presumably was unaware of the fact that any object transmuted by the alchemy gun turns into dust after exposure to heat or after a certain amount of time. (However,mining and construction companies would pay a fortune for a device that could easily reduce solid material into dust regardless of what it became in the interim!)
A recent issue of Flash had him do just this. He was hired by an antique film and memorabilia collector. He hired the Flash to watch all of his movies and examine all of his antiques and catalog them. Obviously made for the plot, but ingenious none the less.
Another issue of Flash has Mirror Master being introspective about how him and many of his fellow villains are perceived as examples of this trope. He is perfectly aware of the fact that he and most of his compatriots could make more money selling their various technology (Freeze Rays, Teleportation, Weather Control, etc.) legitimately then they could ever hope to make robbing banks even if there were no super heroes. He does the supervilliany instead because he's an immensely disturbed individual, but is aware of the fact.
Pre CrisisMad ScientistLex Luthor could become every bit as wealthy as Reed Richards if he marketed his tech legally, but he has too much of an Übermensch complex to even want to make a living within society's infrastructure, viewing mundane Last Man civilization itself with contempt. John Byrne's Post Crisis Luthor is rich, but he only sporadically does scientific jobs himself, preferring to supervise or steal the work of specialists; while he has a superior intellect and his empire is based on earlier inventions, he is mostly rich by being a mundane ruthless SOB. Modern Luthor combines the two versions elevating his intellect Up to Eleven to finally Cut Lex Luthor a Check and establish his scientific genius as the source of his colossal wealth.
Lampshaded in the first issue of the Mark Shaw incarnation of Manhunter. Over a series of panels of Dr. Alchemy using this powers to perform a robbery, Manhunter points out that he could probably make more money a dozen different ways using a stone that would allow him to transform an object into something else, even if it was temporary.
The GURPS supplement SuperTemps was filled with supers who used their powers for things like sanitation and garbage disposal, medicine, being a courier, or being a security expert.
GURPS International Super Teams incorporated SuperTemps into its setting, and expanded upon it. And the I.S.T. chapter of GURPS Y2K had detailed passages on supers using their powers for construction and other mundane occupations. And not-so-mundane UN-sponsored occupations, like weather control (to divert destructive hurricanes, alleviate drought, and so forth) and famine relief ("you can make plants grow? come with me!").
Captain Hammer in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is mentioned by Dr. Horrible as being "corporate"; presumably he takes sponsorships. Given the character in question (an incredibly self-absorbed jackass who takes special pleasure in beating up geeks and seducing clueless women, getting away with it all because he's labeled a "hero"), it wouldn't exactly be surprising. Given his chest insignia, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if he was funded by Sears.
Almost subverted in DC's critically-acclaimed Starman comic of the mid-to-late-1990s. Our Hero, Jack Knight, agrees to take on his father's mantle as Starman, if his father will in turn take the amazing Cosmic Rod technology that he's used for self-indulgent heroics for half a century, and adapt it to civilian use: clean power, antigravity, force fields, and more. In the final issue, Ted makes good on the promise, and hands Jack a thick sheaf of documents detailing exactly that, just before his Crowning Moment of Awesome. It's almost subverted because, years after the end of the series, no trace of the "spin-off" technology has been seen.
Seriously averted in Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan's unique physiology and abilities are used to derive a massive amount of technologies, including electric cars. Ozymandias is running a mega-conglomerate, selling, among many other items, perfume and action figures based on himself and his colleagues. The original Silk Spectre also made a living as a model. She went on to marry her agent.
Deadpool (at various times, Cable and the Six Pack also qualify) use their abilities for mercenary work, drawing a paycheck for using their powers and skills to hurt and kill people. It may not be particularly nice money, but hey, it's a living.
The Hobgoblin invoked this when he discovered the Green Goblin's lair, reasoning that Gobby would have made far more money selling his equipment then he ever would have done through crime.
Phil Seleski (aka Solar) from Valiant Comics universe has the power to manipulate matter and energy any way he wants. Most of the time, he uses them to stop criminals that, even if powerful, were much weaker then him. Justified because first time he tried to use his powers to the fullest, the entire universe collapsed into a black hole, forcing him to re-create it as the Valiant Universe (a combination of the real world and stories from his favorite comic books).
Averted in the Marvel Universe. in that it's implied that most of the big brains (Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Tony Stark) do make money patenting and licensing their creations. (It's canon that most of the Fantastic Four's funding comes from Reed's various patents, most notably unstable molecules.)
Not entirely averted, as people like the Trapster and Spider-Man demonstrate. In the case of the latter, the alternate-future series The Last Avengers Story showed Peter Parker as a multi-millionaire, having patented his web formula after retiring as Spider-Man.
One continuity had Peter try to patent the formula, and get rejected on the grounds that it wasn't permanent. Never mind that even an impermanent adhesive like that would have countless uses. If not especially an impermanent adhesive like that— take the formulation on Post-It notes, which has made Eleventy Zillion dollars for 3M.
A large chunk of their income actually comes from several companies that pay Reed NOT to release certain of his inventions which might drive them out of business or make their entire industry obsolete.
One "What If?" story asked the question "What if Tony Stark shared his power suit designs with the world?" It turned nasty very quickly, as it allowed considerable power into the hands of some very ruthless people and caused several very unpleasant wars. (The Fantastic Four were also slaughtered by a power-suited Dr Doom.)
Which doesn't help in that Simon dislikes showing his rear for the camera.
Which is even funnier, considering he wears tights that practically show everything anyway.
Alan Moore's Tom Strong. His recurring enemy has 'liquid sun' as his main weapon (being an evil genius also helps). Much misery results. An alternate universe Tom convinces said bad guy to sell his Phlebotinum as an energy source. Much happiness results. Until it all goes to pot.
At least Herschel Clay, the school's handyman, is shown to use his powers for commercial purposes: He owns an industrial conglomerate that, amongst other things supplies the school with most of its high-tech gadgets, and in a side-story is shown to be a contractor for NASA who makes starship designs — unfortunately, the people who are supposed to implement his designs can't keep up with his constant drive to improve them.
Double subverted in Invincible: the superheroine Atom Eve's power is that she can create, transform and manipulate almost any form of matter. After having used this power for superheroing for a few years, she realizes she could better use it to help hungry and poor people in the Third World, which is what she proceeds to do. However, after doing this for some time she finds out she can only offer temporary help and not facilitate any long-term changes on her own, so she returns to being a superhero.
In the aftermath of the MarvelCivil War, Norman Osborn invents an actual cure for cancer. What does he use it for? To try and kill Deadpool. OK, he had good reasons to want Deadpool dead, but still, you'd think that making it readily available would bring him a ridiculous amount of money and good publicity.
Films — Animated
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has an inventor who typifies this trope. One could think up a thousand uses for a bulletproof, waterproof, fireproof, spray on coating other than "spray on shoes". And consider that his "food creation machine" converts ordinary H2O into complex organic food molecules (which means it could convert them into darn near any other material, organic or inorganic)—- and apparently runs off the residual energy left over from the process. A combination replicator and fusion generator...
The coating's potential is partially realized at the end of the movie.
Films — Live-Action
The Prestige's matter duplicator. You can duplicate anything, even living beings. Best use in story: a magic trick. Better idea: Have anything you want. This is somewhat justified by the fact that the main character is too crazy and vengeance-focused to use it for anything but his convoluted magic trick plot. Tesla, the inventor, could have used it to solve his funding problems and his feud with Edison, but it seems that he was too worried about the device falling into the wrong hands. Plus he had built it specifically for Angier, so he probably wouldn't want to break his word and keep it for himself. Instead, Tesla leaves the device for Angier with a note begging him to destroy it. Angier refuses.
In the Cronenberg remake of The Fly, Brundle messes himself up beyond repair because he risks his own hide in order to get his teleporter to transport living things successfully. A teleportation system that only transports inorganic or post-organic matter could still be worth trillions to global industry.
Surrogates: In this world exists the technology to control machines with your mind, and yet its applications in the film are painfully limited. For example, we see people fighting wars by controlling human-looking infantry robots that are even wearing fatigues and helmets. Why not just control a tank? We even see surrogates using handheld cell phones!
In the various Blade movies, Blade is the only (Half) vampire with the ability to go about in the daylight. Best use in movie: None, he just moves around and talks to humans during the day. Better use: Use it to attack other vampires in their homes or offices during the day when they can't run away. However, it's more cool to kung-fu fight vampires than stake them in their sleep.
In The Matrix sequels, Neo never seems to use the full extent of his powers. In the first film, it's implied that he has transcended the laws of the Matrix, and can now just about anything he wants while inside. When Smith attacks him, he just tears apart his code. In films two and three, he shows some super-powers, like being able to fly and stop bullets, but he's still punching his enemies and worrying about getting punched.
A possible explanation is that the Matrix in the second and third movie is reloaded (i.e. a new version) and that the upgrade reduced Neo's powers. This is supported by the first time in Matrix: Reloaded that Neo fights a group of Agents. They prove to be (slightly) more of a challenge than he remembers, and he sarcastically remarks: "Hmm... upgrades."
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is full of this, but it's lampshaded by Mike Teevee being outraged that Willy Wonka only wants to use his shrinking/teleportation ray for something as "pointless" as candy, when he could be using it on more interesting things, like breakfast cereal and people. Shortly thereafter, he learns the teleporter's limitations the hard way.
Star Wars: The battle droids' artificial intelligence. We've been trying for decades to create artificial intelligence so that robots can adapt quickly to changing situations. In Star Wars, artificial intelligence is used to give robots human-like reaction times and indecisiveness, turning a killer robot army into comic relief.
The Rifftrax notes this, marveling at the droids "artificial lack of intelligence."
Later, more advanced models are actually worse for this. In Episode One they had verbal orders and could be confused, by Three they had little chats while they worked.
Lampshaded in the novelization: A clone trooper, pretending to be dead for the benefit of a few battle droids, is able to communicate with his squad and recieve orders, since his helmet is designed to work on voice commands and chin switches, so it can be used even when immobilized. He muses that while clones are becoming more like droids, droids are being made more human (such as being required to speak aloud when using their communicators).
The droids' lack of intelligence may be explained by the various Corrupt Corporate Executives, especially the Neimodians, being extremely paranoid cowards that only used droid armies in the first place because they wanted soldiers that were one hundred percent loyal, constantly concerned about their subordinates turning on them, so could have intentionally had them programmed to be less than optimal. Also, it is well established that without constant memory wipes droids develop individual personalities, so this could have happened as well, though far less probable considering the aforementioned paranoia.
The "FTL as a weapon" idea is averted in Star Wars — if a hyperdrive approaches a gravity well, it automatically shuts down and reverts the starship to realspace. Or, failing that, melts. Which pulls the starship back into realspace. The time someone gets stranded in hyperspace, we find out why there are so many safeguards. Also, if a ship hits a gravity well while in hyperspace, it's rather strongly implied that it will somehow be annihilated, killing all on board.
Also, with the kind of forces Star Wars throws around, "FTL as a weapon" might not always work. At one point in an older Star Wars comic, The Rebels set up the Executor on a collision course with three Star Destroyers exiting hyperspace, which promptly ram into the Executor at near light speed. The (fully shielded) Executor shrugs off the attack and casually proceeds with its original mission.
Star Trek in general has many instances of this trope; the 2009 movie adds a new one: with the help of future knowledge from Old Spock, Scotty quickly modifies a transporter to beam himself and Kirk onto the Enterprise — which has been travelling away from them for hours, at the kind of speed that let it get from Earth to Vulcan in minutes. Now, if you can build a transporter that sends you across vast interstellar distances in an instant... why do you need starships? (Of course, the answer is — to prevent the Star Trek franchise from turning into a funky version of the Stargate Verse...)
It could be that the transporter could only work if one knows the specifics of the destination, and one of the fundamental aspects of Star Trek is exploration, wherein the destination is not always known.
This method of transport also seemed less accurate than the usual teleportation as Scotty ended up in the water filtration system and nearly got diced by it before Kirk saved him.
There is a throwaway line in the second movie that the formula Spock Prime gave for transwarp beaming has been taken by Starfleet, so Scotty can't use it again in that movie.
That doesn't explain why all spacefaring races in the Star trek verse still insist on using Torpedoes as their main ordnance. Just beam the warhead right over, even if you can't beam through the shields, a proton warhead detonating right inside the shield should do some damage. The nigh invulnerable Borg Cubes never had any shielding to inhibit transporters from working, so go figure.
At the risk of being natterly, though it is stupid that nobody ever seems to have bothered using this tactic against the Borg, it's only logical that the Borg would quickly adapt to it. On the other hand, someone could have done it already offscreen and the adaptation has already occurred. As for using it in a standard battle situation, it's well-established in the canon that transporters can't work through shields. While the Enterprise was in warp, it had no use for shields, so Kirk and Scotty were able to teleport inside.
This tactic was used a total of one time by the Voyager against a Borg scout ship. And the goal was to disable it, so they could make off with the ship's transwarp coil. Unfortunately, given the Bizarrchitecture of a Borg ship, they accidentally park the torpedo near a key power conduit, blowing up the whole ship. They salvage the coil, but its failsafe mechanism has already rendered it useless.
In the film Flubber, the lead character's research is to help fund the university. He's assisted by a flying computer equipped with Artificial Intelligence, which would probably be worth millions, if not billions.
Justified trope: He has no idea how he made her, and can't replicate it.
Except that near the end, the AI is revealed to have created a modified version of her own blueprints. Which means she had access to those blueprints, and apparently just didn't mention it.
Although it is very strange that no-one notices that Weeebo can also fly, meaning that he's already invented anti-gravity independent of the creation of Flubber, and at the end, now has access to the schematics?! Why the hell would anyone want to install cars with an engine filled with a sentient, physics-defying goo bombarded by radiation, when there's also a more compact, cleaner version around?
Iron Man. Similar to Flubber, by far the most important scientific breakthrough is the development of AI, yet the implications of this are not mentioned once and it's never used for anything more than cheap laughs. This trope also appears for many other technologies including those that are central to the films, but at least they're usually excused in some way, even if those ways are rather flimsy.
Iron Man possibly has the justification that Stark is implied to make a lot of cool toys for himself and just uses them for mundane things instead of marketing them, just because he can be a lazy dick.
Because like the second films demonstrated with the Iron Man armour, people love to make knock off versions of Stark's technology for the military and Tony's smart enough to see how giving the world access to AI could go, horribly, horribly wrong!
One of the biggest problems of the main character in Click was that his job took too much time, leaving him too little to spend with his family. His magic remote has a Pause button he can use to freeze time, during which he can manipulate objects and people. He could have solved his biggest problem by doing his overtime work outside time entirely, but doesn't try that on screen. That doesn't even get into the remote's unexpected behavior.
In Sherlock Holmes, Lord Blackwood's pet scientist has invented radio control seven years before Nikola Tesla actually developed it. Instead of patenting it and making enough money to just buy control of the British government, he uses it to remote detonate a chemical weapon, while pretending to be killing the victims by magic.
The Bourne Legacy, we learn that all of the assassins gain their enhanced intelligence and physical prowess from little blue and green pills which we later discover are not even necessary if the drug is properly applied and seems to have no real drawbacks. Not a single person in charge seems to consider the medical and scientific benefits of such a drug or even thinks that they might personally benefit from such enhancements themselves.
Not so, the mind enhancers are the subject of an investor presentation that we see in passing in the manufacturer's headquarters, being billed as an Alzheimer's cure. While we don't see the body enhancers being discussed in such a capacity, it seems likely that they were at least considered for the same process.
In the Hyperion Cantos's last 2 books, the protagonist and narrator, Raul Endymion, is trapped in a deathtrap modelled after Schrondinger's Cat because nobody wants to kill him. So, with his connection to the Void Which Binds, he starts writing, and uses the connection to look back in time to ensure his story is accurate. He actually peers into minds all over the known universe. He also knows that the Void Which Bind, which he's connected to, was used in the past as a teleporter, and Aenea, his girlfriend/the messiah can use it. Never mind. It doesn't occur to him throughout the books that he can break out and continue writing without the threat of death by cyanide poisoning.
Later, he realizes this and teleports off. Turns out he was kinda slow (and also was at the time greatly affected by the horrific martyrdom of Aenea). Practically the whole universe had learnt to do that, and has dubbed it "freecasting", a homage to the older term "farcasting". Starships are still used by the people still loyal to the Pax, and refuse to take Communion and learn freecasting. In fact, the whole point of him writing the two book is to come to this realization.
None of the characters in the series Animorphs ever considered that the morphing technology handed to them in the very first book, if given to the series big bad, might solve the species-wide problem that drove them to Alien Invasion in the first place? Even after they offered it to the Extreme Omnivore Taxxons in a bid to get them to switch sides? When you consider that they're constantly up against Visser Three, though, no wonder it took them ages to think of it.
A couple of other factors in play there, though: first, it took them forever to get their hands on a morphing cube, and once they had one, the one and only time they used it was a complete disaster, and second, it's Andalite technology, and they're desperate for Andalite help, and Andalites aren't exactly enthusiastic about letting the Yeerks use their technology, especially considering what happened the last time they tried it.
The imperialist Yeerks would have just used it as a weapon, and they were forced to permanently morph into animals at the end.
Let's not forget that they did get the morphing technology towards the end, and didn't go "Oh, now we can stop taking over your planet." They just used it as another tool for conquering. The Yeerks may have started empire-building to escape their plight, but by the time they reach Earth it is empire for Empire's sake.
The Andalites are very guilty of this, however. Despite the fact that all their soldiers can morph, most of them never use it. It's been heavily implied that Andalite society is hamstrung by tradition, however, which might explain that.
The Alfred Bester short story Star Light, Star Bright is about the pursuit of a cabal of supergenius children who have developed fantastic technology in order to deal with kid-type issues (e.g. producing sprouts that are strawberry-flavor on the inside).
The point being that, in a way reminiscent of idiot-savants, while they are capable of advanced theoretical, mathematical and biological leaps, they're still kids and think like kids. Ask a kid what they would do if given some random power/technology. Most of the time it will be precisely something of that order. Mathematics only require a knowledge of the basic rules and their extrapolation. Sociopolitical thinking (which includes the application of theoretical research) is based less on intellect and more on experience.
A number of stories by Henry Kuttner about a down on his luck (mostly due to constant drinking) man who becomes a Bunny-Ears Lawyer genius inventor when drunk but can't remember when he sobers up. Since it is generally played for laughs and his drunk self is a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, that kind of explains it.
In the short story The Proud Robot he invented an unbelievably sophisticated singing robot with a highly intelligent (and vain) AI. The inventor couldn't get the robot to do anything he wanted because he forgot why he built it in the first place (he was drunk). In the climax, he remembers that he built it because he had trouble opening a can of beer. He swore to build a bigger and better can opener; said robot is able to open beer cans with absolutely no fizz or a single drop of spilled beer. The ending has the inventor becoming depressed because beer cans are being phased out in favor of plastic bulbs, meaning his "can opener" robot will be "useless".
In Twilight, the Cullens are blessed with eternal life and a seemingly infinite amount of money. You'd think they'd devote their lives to something interesting, if not something charitable since they are described as basically Jesus. The best thing they could come up with is going to high school for decades and not even making good friends every once in a while.
However, it is mentioned that they get infinite money from Alice's foreknowledge of the stock market's ups and downs. And then Carlisle is a doctor, which is a pretty good way to put his skills to use. And Edward used to use his mind-reading powers to hunt down criminals.
Don't forget the perfect looks, absolute expertise in all physical combat, inability to feel cold/heat/pain, and several degrees apiece. About the only thing that can be used as an excuse is that the Volturi might kill them for using too much of their awesome stuff, but then that doesn't stop them from buying crazy-expensive cars and jet-setting around the world for years at a time. You have to think the world governments already know about them.
In Michael Crichton's Timeline there is an immensely powerful quantum computer capable of recording the exact quantum state of every particle in human body, and then sending the data to another universe where it can somehow be recreated into a perfect copy of the person (though the original is technically speaking destroyed - the protagonists are much less disturbed by this than you'd think). It is used to study history by sending people and recorders to universes identical to our own except their position in time, when they could use it among other things for consulting dead people with important opinions, for duplicating rare and useful materials, for immortality, or for bringing just about any technology that's ever going to be invented in any possible future to the present you morons!
Plus, they did originally develop the technology as a teleporter; wormholes were discovered by accident when they tried doing it wirelessly.
The company that designed it was planning to do all that; the story takes place in the proof-of-concept testing phase, and the heroes murder the inventor before he can do any of it.
Wait, it actually gets worse: What was the first revolutionary, world changing application they thought for said historical research? A Theme Park. Yeah. They just dropped the idea because Reality Is Unrealistic (I.E. nobody wants to see George Washington puking on the crossing of the Delaware)
James P. Hogan's novel The Genesis Machine takes the Faster-Than-Light Travel/Weapon of Mass Destruction misapplication mentioned above and flips it on its head. The protagonists figure out a way to transmit energy through "hi-space" to a location of their choosing, no receiver required; they weaponize it and sell it to the military. Only at the very end of the novel does it occur to one of them that with slight modifications, matter could be transmitted as well.
Also time travel was used to see if a certain set of brilliant poems could be made better if the author had some corrective ink to work with.
Averted in Larry Niven's Known Space setting. Thanks to ubiquitous and cheap teleporters, Earth's population becomes almost entirely homogeneous (both physically and culturally), the internal combustion engine is practically extinct, and the parts of the interstate highway system that weren't demolished and rebuilt have become parks. On the down side they deal with flash mobs and the ability of a criminal to be literally anywhere else in the world seconds after committing a crime.
Stasis field appears in the very first novel. Later Niven confessed that the technology would be so useful, he has to go to great lengths NOT to use it as a solution in every story.
Even one of How It Should Have Ended videos stated that the heroes could go back to the past and kill Voldemort as an infant, but there's a problem with doing that. Said time machines demand that the user returns to the exact place where he activated the machine at the exact time (which would be difficult if you travel several decades into the past). And it's implied Never the Selves Shall Meet and it cannot create Time Paradoxes. Yes, it will blow your mind when you try to figure out how Harry could save himself in the past and thus enabled himself to live up to going back to the past... but this may be kind of explanation: if the heroes killed Voldemort in the past they would not need to go to the past and therefore they would not kill Voldemort in the past. Seems like no one in Potterverse uses time travel for actual stuff exaclty because its temporal mechanics is so fucked up.
The Room of Requirements is even guiltier since you can't even give the "it's too dangerous" excuse. A room that can response to your request by changing itself, providing all the neccessary equipment and information. Even if it cannot create things that don't already exist (like a map that marks all V's Horcruces), the possibilities are still staggering. You could probably request a room full of gold, or lost artifacts, or weapons, or hell, maybe the cures to cancer and AIDS, while you're at it (one could argue that it does exist, we just haven't been able to put it together)! Naturally, none of these options is ever explored by the characters, and they end up using it as a gym, a supply closet or a storeroom.
And how about the Resurrection Stone? Yes, bringing back loved ones is dangerous, and trying to do it permanently is wrong, but imagine the possibilities of contacting the dead! Solving a murder crime by asking the victim, getting the wisdom from the greatest minds in History directly from them, etc.
Aversion: in the Teleporter section of the main article, there's a mention of the potential use of this for backing yourself up/making multiple copies of yourself. The Charles Stross book Glasshouse did both; they massively affect society, and form major plot points. For example, changing genders is common thanks to the 'reconstruct' part (making gender nouns rather confusing); 'orthohuman' (standard H sapiens shape) and 'xenohuman' (with massive bodily alterations) are normal descriptions; lethal duels are equally common so long as the participants 'saved' recently; the combination of disintegration/reconstruction transport 'gates' with memory-wipe technology resulted in memory censor viruses which affect anyone who uses the gate, one of which managed to pretty much wipe the reason for a whole war from history; and a major plotpoint involves the main character being knocked out by a copy of himself (well, he's physically female at the time, but he seems to identify as male for the most part), thanks to the 'original' being brainwashed with one of those memory worms.
Charles Stross's The Merchant Princes Seriesplays with this trope. Members of the Clan have the ability to teleport between alternate timelines, along with whatever they can carry. They use it to get rich in modern America by smuggling drugs through a world with a feudal culture that lacks a DEA, and in that feudal culture they use their ability to get rich by bringing in modern innovations like penicillin and automatic guns. That's a very practical application of the phlebotinum, compared to many examples on this page, like robbing banks, using Green Lantern Ring superpowers just for fighting, or using dinosaurs as the main attraction in an amusement park. However, after a modern business journalist learns about the system she quickly points out that mercantilism is a very old-fashioned, zero-sum economic theory and there are much better things the Clan could be doing with their time, like Giving Radio to the Romans.
In David Weber's Empire from the Ashes the Enchanach Drive, if activated/deactivated too close to a star, can accidentally cause a supernova. A small error in emergence in our Solar System is also used to explain why the orbit of Pluto is a bit odd. (Well, it's using black holes - there's bound to be SOME gravitational side-effects!) In fact, they make use of the supernova-riffic side effects to give an entire enemy fleet a billion-degree plasma bath.
In The Wonderful Life of Henry Sugar, the titular Henry Sugar finds a book that gives a first-hand account of how a doctor met a man who mastered an ancient technique that allowed him to see without eyes and to also see through various thin objects, like playing cards. Subverted by the doctor, who wanted to find a way to use the technique to help people with disabilities like blindness be able to live normal lives, but played straight by Henry, who picks up the technique to win in casinos. He later subverts it himself, when he is bored and rich and decides to dedicate his life to winning money and donating it to various orphanages and charities.
Live Action TV
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Sabrina is allowed access to a crystal ball that can answer any question. Her first question was, oddly enough, "What if Kenan and Kel won the lottery?". We then see a short segment of the two losing the ticket and coming to the conclusion that it was inside a sandwich that Kel just took a bite out of.
Star Trek actually did do the research on this one (albeit with some glaring exceptions): The Federation as depicted is a near-perfect example of a post-scarcity economy. Federation citizens don't need to work for a living because replicators make everything you need for free, so everybody just does whatever they feel like doing. The shows concentrate on the idealists who are devoted to exploration and diplomacy because that makes for better television.
Another case is the holodeck. One may assume there are people who have taken to just living permanent lives of leisure in a holodeck, but again, they aren't shown on-screen because that would be boring. Recurring character Reginald Barclay's ongoing struggle with "holo-addiction" points out why you don't want that sort of thing going on when you're supposed to be busy exploring the galaxy and making friends with aliens.
The Vidiians in Star Trek: Voyager have some of the most ridiculously advanced medical technology ever. They are also afflicted with a disease that devours their organs one by one, and which for reasons that are never explained adapts too quickly for them to cure. They use their hyperadvanced medicine to murder people and steal their organs. In "Faces", it's definitively established that they can create clones through transporter technology. Given an IQ higher than seven, they could use this to produce organ-harvest clones, which may be something of an ethical minefield but has to be miles ahead of murdering people and stealing their organs. Mind you, Voyager is no stranger to this trope; in "Prime Factors", the Sikarians have a teleporter that can reach planets forty thousand light years distant, which they use exactly once in the episode - to allow one of them to go on a romantic walk with Harry Kim. note Naturally, because Failure Is the Only Option, it's incompatible with Federation technology so that the cast can't apply it in a way that actually makes sense.
The Vidiians also overlook the possibility of harvesting organs from, y'know, non-sapient animals rather than intelligent races, despite their obvious proficiency in cross-species transplantation.
This is somewhat justified by the fact that the humanoid aliens of the Star Trek universe come from a very similar genetic background, as a result of being seeded by the same Ancient Astronauts
Subverted in Supernatural. When a character is discovered to have mind control abilities, he is asked why he is only using it to live a lower middle class life and to obtain some weed and a couple cool things like a rare car. He replies by claiming that he has everything he would ever want.
Speaking of mentalistic powers, Buffy Summers acquired the ability to read minds. Giles suggested using it for gathering intelligence against her enemies... but Buffy's response was "Way better than that," and she used it to investigate the petty personal questions of how people think about her. Of course, like most magic in Sunnydale, it goes horribly wrong.
Sylar's power of "studying something and figuring out exactly how it works" in Heroes. In-story use: fixing watches, stealing supernatural powers. Better use: churning out Nobel Prizes. In anything. Studying just the human body opens up fields like medicine (cure diseases, extend lifespans), neurology/psychology (figure out how the non-superpower parts of the brain work—consciousness anyone?), and genetics (genotype interaction). However, this may result from the fact that Sylar is insane.
Furthermore, the second episode established that Sylar was incredibly well-read; his apartment was filled with nothing but books on a wide array of topics (sorta like an eerily tidy version of Yomiko Readman's pad), suggesting that Sylar had spent the vast majority of his life absorbing information about pretty much everything.
It gets to ridiculous levels in the finale of Volume Four, when they're trying to revive Nathan by implanting his memories into Sylar, and nobody even thinks about simply using Claire's blood instead.
In New Amsterdam, in the 1600s, a Native American tribe has a spell that makes people immortal. In-story use: reward some random white guy who saved the life of one of the tribe's women. Better use: make all of the tribe's warriors immortal, then easily defeat the white guys that are taking their land.
Well, considering that we have absolutely no idea how the whole immortality thing works, it's entirely possible that it only worked on people in John's situation (saved a woman/saved a woman from his own comrades/saved a stranger from his own comrades and then was stabbed...). We have no idea how specific the requirements are.
The spell also only works until John finds his true love. Maybe all the local braves were already married.
In Stargate SG-1, we were told that wormholes only function one way and that anything entering the wrong side is instantly destroyed. So even though the Stargate program didn't bring back interesting technology all the time, one has to wonder why nobody ever pitched the idea of having someone dial in off world and solving all the world's garbage and nuclear waste problems by dumping them into oblivion.
Stargate Command does use the stargate like that now and then. In at least one episode, a piece of phlebotinum was about to explode and they couldn't find any safe way to destroy it in time, so they dialed a wormhole and threw it into the "kawoosh" vortex, which disintegrates anything caught in it. Note that that wouldn't work for radioactive waste; disintegrated matter doesn't go anywhere, it just gets reduced to its component atoms. (At least, that's what the iris does.) As for why they don't regularly use the stargate to send dangerous stuff or trash to another planet intact, there's no good reason except for the secrecy of the program.
Anything destroyed by the iris was said to be reduced to sub-atomic particles; depending on how, exactly, this works, it may indeed turn radioactive or toxic substances into something relatively harmless.
Or energy efficiency. Or unforeseen side effects of overusing the technology; in one Stargate Atlantis episode, they tried to solve global warming by pumping excess heat into an uninhabited parallel dimension, only to nearly freeze to death because they couldn't turn it off.
Star Trek: Voyager DID do that with an alien race that discovered a wormhole to a seemingly empty bit of space. Unfortunately it wasn't completely empty.
Similarly, a TNG novel focused on a planet which was being massively polluted from seemingly nowhere because its alternate universe counterpart had stumbled upon a device that made things vanish. It wasn't until much later that they realized they'd created an interdimensional transporter. This novel also showed why using such a device as a planetary-scale garbage disposal might not be a good idea: they eventually discovered that the "garbage" and pollution they were getting rid of included important trace elements of their atmosphere. And since they'd also unknowingly destroyed all of their planet's dilithium crystals long ago, before realizing their importance, they didn't have the means to evacuate more than a small fraction of their population
The Asgard had a sudden attack of Genre Savvy about this and only gave humans teleporters that were run by their own people. Until the humans found Atlantis and its storehouse of Lost Technology, after which (no causative relation implied) the Asgard just threw their hands up, committed suicide as an entire culture, and handed over all of their knowledge to the Tau'ri. With a talking manual Thor thrown in for free. Of course, the vote to hand over everything to the humans was less than unanimous, but after the whole lot of you offed yourselves...
The Asgard decided to commit mass suicide when their last effort to correct the genetic degradation of their species had failed. Since they were going to go extinct soon anyway, they decided it was better to kill themselves and give their technology to the still relatively primitive but basically trustworthy Tau'ri rather than risking it falling into Ori hands. Yet to be brought up is that, with all of the Asgard technology at their disposal and no time limit like what the Asgard faced, Earth scientists might someday be able to solve that genetic degradation problem and clone new bodies for them (among other things, the Asgard database includes the recorded thoughts and memories of every Asgard who ever lived).
In earlier episodes of SG-1, it was implied that the Asgard did use their teleporters as weapons: The first time we meet them, they "beam" an entire Goa'uld army into oblivion before using the same device to harmlessly transport a human bystander to their ship to meet them.
On the other hand, one could infer that was because the Goa'uld violated the Protected Planets Treaty by invading Cimmeria, which was one of the many worlds under their protection. Thor later implies that small demonstrations of the Asgard's power are occasionally needed to keep the System Lords in line.
Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis actually do tend use phlebotinum intelligently. As soon as people dealing with the Wraith gained access to Asgard beaming technology, who had never dealt with that before, they just started teleporting atomic bombs onto Wraith vessels, which did considerable damage before the Wraith figured out how to jam it. (Which took all of about five minutes. But hey, they got in a few good shots before that happened.)
It's speculated later that the reason it took only five minutes is because the Vanir (rogue Asgard to fled to the Pegasus Galaxy) had fought them using this method before. The Wraith already had a counter in place. They just didn't need to use it until the humans began to 'port bombs.
In the SG-1 episode "Tin Man", a lonely alien android makes Robot Me versions of the team, almost indistinguishable from the originals except for needing to recharge their batteries every few hours. In-verse application: none, they bury the gate and we never hear of it again. (At least they don't murder the doubles!) Better application: Me's a Crowd. The SG teams have dangerous jobs; sending disposable duplicates on them would greatly help. Even better, it would probably be fairly easy to make it true Brain Uploading. There would be huge lines of the terminally ill and quadriplegics willing to be transferred into properly functioning, indistinguishable-from-the-original bodies (absent the problems they had in the first place). Sure, the whole "can't leave the planet" caveat's a bummer, but a minor one; they could receive visitors and news/entertainment/whatever through the gate. Given the alternative, a lot of people would probably take the offer.
Actually revisited for once. The Robot Me versions start using their battery power to go on their own missions through the Stargate, just going home before their power runs out. Until stuff happens.
There is an episode of SG-1 where Anubis has souped up his flagship so that it has a nigh-impenetrable energy shield. Meanwhile, the Tau'ri have developed a kick-ass space fighter with a hyperdrive that, sadly, only works for very short hops (as in, miles, rather than light years). Colonel O'Neil uses the hyperdrive to make a hyperjump just inside the forcefield and make an Spacestrike Impossible on the flagship to disable its main weapon.
An episode of Atlantis had an Ancient outpost that was attempting to get energy from another dimension or something, amounting to infinite energy. It turned out to be uncontrollable, and blew up most of a solar system. They later replicated this with a version that dumped the problematic particles into another universe. Now imagine if they had put that into a missile with the power going to extremely powerful shields (in the event anyone in the Stargate verse ever gets around to making point defense weapons) and engines. Buh-bye Wraith or Replicator fleet (and planet). Sure, the explosion could happen prematurely, but they also had cloaking technology and could just set it off while it's cloaked.
Despite possessing an incredibly versatile technology that could be used for any number of things, the Dollhouse deliberately explores both the use and misuse of technology that allows one to imprint minds and skills into human bodies. At first glance, the eponmyous Dollhouse appears to be flagrantly misusing their tech to run what essentially amounts to a high-tech brothel/thieves' guild/assassination broker that manufactures tailored agents. However, as the series progresses, we see the other uses of the tech, such as mass-producing hive-minded supersoldiers, and weaponized use of imprinting/wiping signals across radios/telephones as weapons of mass destruction.
Student: So how come you're not the richest man in the world living on an island with Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell?
Wyatt Donnelly: Uh... we never really wished for that.
Student: Oh, so what did you wish for?
Wyatt Donnelly: I wished to be president of the chess club once. It didn't work out.
Notably averted in Farscape: The bad guys aren't after Crichton's wormhole tech just so they can use it for transportation. In fact, that use of the technology only seems to interest Crichton himself. What happens when you open a wormhole inside the enemy ship? Inside a planet? A star? In the concluding miniseries John unleashes a wormhole weapon, which is designed to grow in size at a massive rate. Within a few minutes it destroys a planet, and if not stopped would have swallowed up the entire galaxy.
Just about any technology from The Outer Limits gets used in the most wrong, awkward and fucked up way possible in-world.
Most of the time this occurs in The Time Tunnel it can be forgiven since the titular device is an experimental prototype that they haven't figured out fully yet, and all of their travels must result in a Stable Time Loop. However, there is an episode where the time travelers encounter alien invaders that embodies this trope. The aliens have working teleporters that do not appear to need a transmitter or a receiver. They have orders to raid the Earth for protein. They do this by attacking a town and forcing them to give them meat. They could have just stolen the food with a teleporter, or stolen a herd of cows, or abducted a school of fish!
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring the movie The Dead Talk Back has an entire sketch parodying this trope. The film features a scientist who claims to be working on a radio that can talk to the dead. Crow and Servo manage to get a working version together, and immediately use it for a sports talk radio show. Mike spends the entire sketch flabbergasted as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill call in from beyond the grave; despite his attempts to ask them more important questions, not even they're interested in anything besides who'll win the Super Bowl that year.
In Fringe, Walter once invented a matter transmitter, which he thought could replace the can opener.
Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) fans have endlessly debated about why, given the lack of No Warping Zone on their FTL drives, the Cylons never bother to simply jump in nuke-armed Raiders and feed Galactica instant sunshine until she's destroyed.
Most magicians in Unknown Armies behave this way, one major reason why some of the most powerful canon NPCs are almost completely mundane. The rulebooks frequently mention adepts using their earth-shattering powers and ancient mystic rituals to beat up ex-boyfriends or acquire Star Trek paraphernalia. Since step one to being an adept is to become cripplingly obsessed and insane...
Clerics can make water materialize out of thin air and purify huge amounts of existing water. Rather than, you know, revolutionizing agriculture and sea travel, they primarily use this ability to reduce the amount of canteens parties of adventurers have to lug around.
Given how frequently those spell can be cast (and require a rather powerful priest to begin with), they mostly end up Awesome but Impractical. Magic items (Decanter of Endless Water, Urn of Water Purification) are better, but very expensive. In the same way, magic-rich settings like Netheril may have full set of plane-gating plumbing.
Due to nature of the Dark Sun, create water was reduced to an fraction of its normal efficiency in the setting from the start. It was better than nothing, but it wouldn't save anyone unless you were both high level and devoted a lot of spell slots to it. The game designers wanted an apocalyptic setting where the players actually had to struggle.
Generally, D&D magic easily lends itself to Magitek - a permanent area of reverse gravity with a flywheel half inside is a perpetual motion machine, conjuring water and fire (or ready steam) allows compact steam machines never running out of fuel, etc. It's used more frequently than purposefully averted, but still not all that much.
The Tippyverse is a hypothetical setting where every piece of phlebotinum is pushed to its ultimate limit. In a world ruled by wizards, spells are "trapped" in push-button Magitek machines that act as food dispensers, showers, training dummy makers for grinding experience, emergency rooms, transport, and more.
In most New World of Darkness gamelines, using your magic powers for mundane tasks is a Karma Meter violation. But it's usually one so small that only a living saint would even need to roll for degeneration for doing it.
Steambot Chronicles: The Killer Elephants have a large organization with extensive industrial production, able to mass-produce the mecha they use, and even a giant mecha. What do they do with all these resources? They rob passing travelers. True, they're just trying to get funding for their true project, flying to the moon, but with a setup like theirs, they really should be doing something more profitable.
Portal: Aperture Science, the company behind the insanity at the heart of the plot, is almost entirely built on this trope.
Originally contracted to create shower curtains for the Army, Aperture patented their portal gun technology as a "man-sized ad-hoc quantum tunnel through physical space with possible applications as a shower curtain." This is a device that breaks the laws of thermodynamics, implicitly allows Faster-Than-Light Travel, and would revolutionize the world, and it gets used to run hapless test subjects through mazes like lab rats.
GLaDOS, a fully sentient AI, was originally designed as a fuel line de-icer. She was also designed in apparent ignorance of the Three Laws, as shortly after she was turned on, she found a way to murder nearly every scientist in the facility.
Portal 2 reveals that most of Aperture Science's products fall into this trope:
Aerial Faith Plates - Compact and quite powerful catapults capable of launching adult humans dozens of feet into the air. Marketed as truck cargo loading devices, despite being WAY too powerful for that, causing the cargo to be damaged and/or bounced right back out of the truck.
Thermal Discouragement Beams - Semi-lethal laser beams. Marketed as means to keep office workers from leaving their desks.
Repulsion and Propulsion Gels - Gels literally capable of breaking the laws of physics by making any surface in which they are spread suddenly gain elasticity or make any object in contact with that surface gain momentum respectively. Marketed as dietary aids despite being horrifically toxic.
The Long Fall Boot — a "foot-based suit of armor for the Portal Device." Something that lets human beings fall up to 500 ft and land without a scratch? It was only used to help in testing the portal gun!
And then there's the stuff that was apparently never released at all: solar powered Hard Light bridges, tractor beams capable of sending things forward or backward, Brain Uploading, enough technology to create a facility literally capable of suriviving the Apocalypse, repair and literally rearrange itself at will, sentient AIs capable of running with voltage sources capable of outputs as low as 1.1 volts, selective disintegration... all this used for no other purpose than testing.
And now, the Perpetual Testing Initiative demonstrates that Aperture developed interdimensional travel (apparently reliable, at least as much as any of their other products), and decided to use it to get other Apertures in parallel universes to build test chambers for them. This is like having a key that can open any lock and using it to steal office supplies.
At least "Cave Prime" manages to find a universe literally made of money with it, so it wasn't a total waste.
Averted to an incredible degree in Mass Effect: almost everything in the universe runs on eezo-based technology, from artificial gravity and FTL travel to miniature railguns and telekinesis. Hell, one of your crew members in the third game has an eezo toothbrush. The writers even remembered to Obvious Rule Patch away FTL ramming.
And in Mass Effect 3, apparently no one in the whole galaxy realized that the Mass-Relays that the Reapers so kindly left free for humanity to use despite having the capability to shut the whole network down in the space of a day or two could basically double as massive (we're talking planet-killing level here) FTL cannons that could blow the Reapers apart to smithereens if they were weaponized by humanity and its allies.
They actually explain this by stating nobody knows how to manipulate them and if they did use them as weapons they might be damaged and unable to be used
The Weavers Guild in Loom can manipulate the fabric of time and space. They mostly use this power for... spinning and dying clothing. Or so it seems to a casual outside observer.
Actually they can become immortal and turn the insides of small tents into roomy houses and one cathedral-sized temple. And then they used it to observe the nature of the universe and trace a discord that threatened to destroy everything. Weaving cloth is just how they got started.
More specifically, each of the guilds in Loom derives its supernatural abilities from a sort of Charles Atlas Superpower related to their original mundane role. The glassmakers make infinitely sharp glass edges and crystal balls that see the future; the Weavers went from weaving cloth to weaving reality. But they still stick to their roots.
According to the manual, the use of some drafts is strictly regulated, because they may put other Guilds out of work or collapse the economy with cheap gold.
In Power Quest there exist little remote controlled robots capable of firing ki blasts out of their palms. And yet no one thinks to scale these up for military use; no, they're much better as children's toys.
Naoya from Devil Survivor creates both a demon summoning program and a harmonizer that lessens blows to the user and increases those from the user. While the demon summoning program is rightfully considered a big deal in universe, the harmonizer is not, despite allowing its user to shrug off gun wounds.
Considering the circumstances, however, people may simply be assuming the two functions are connected, and with the problems the former is causing... On a related note, Atsuro comes to think that the demons themselves are Misapplied Phlebotinum, and wants to take the summoner's control over them even further.
The harmonizer weakens blows from demons. A bullet will still have the same effect it always does, but a fireball will barely scratch you. This is the reason you can't just massacre the JSDF and walk out of the city.
The Black Spider ninjas' motivation for trying to steal the Dark Dragon Blade in Ninja Gaiden? Their leader wanted to grind it up to make tea. Granted, he believed drinking tea made from dragon bones (which the Dark Dragon Blade was forged from) would empower him...but still, tea?
Lampshaded in game.
PR0XY, the cheerfully homicidal (to Galen at least) Robot Buddy in The Force Unleashed. Vader created a droid that could, with the proper modules, copy the techniques and appearance of any Jedi, somehow produces lightsabers from nowhere, and can even replicate Force abilities with repulsor technology. And Vader uses it as a communications device and as a Training from Hell tool. As opposed to mass producing a droid Jedi Super Soldier army.
Not so much. The Clone Wars (well, the last five minutes or so) showed that while the Jedi are extraordinarily lethal in individual combat or against small groups of people, in terms of full-scale war they don't make a very effective army, with their primary use being as surpise-attack commandos (Vader has that) and generals (Vader IS that). And we don't know how prohibitively expensive PR0XY was.
Apparently, not that expensive, considering Vader trains multiple Starkiller clones with dozens of PR0XYs.
Pokémon both follows and averts this trope. The Verse is filled with these insanely powerful creatures, who mostly serve as combatants between children with voice commands. They have also, however, been show to do more practical things.
For example, right at the begining of one game, some superhumanly strong Machokes are moving boxes into your house with ease. They are also used in construction. Miltank are used for dairy production, grass types in perfume manufacturing, and electric types are used in power plants for organic, completely ecologically-friendly energy production.
A better example would be the online storage systems. These store and teleport hundreds of living creatures (and in some games furniture and dolls as well). These could surely be used as houses, storing populations of whole countries.
That is, if it weren't for the fact that the living creatures stored there go into eternal unconsciousness, meaning it wouldn't so much be a "house" for the population of entire countries as a "horrific never-ending prison limbo". I have no mouth...
The technology is massively inconsistent, as well (you can't even store items in Unova). It would be a horrid risk to store living people in there until the system was unified.
However, by Generation IV, players would have Hyperspace Arsenal, eliminating the need for storage on the PC.
In the setting of Borderlands the technology exists to digitally decode DNA and to deconstruct solid matter into a format for digital storage and reverse the process without limit. Use in-game? Justifying the game's respawn mechanic and why players can carry 20 rifle-sized weapons and none of them show. Better use? Clone Legions armed with Conversion-Bombs.
The system is shown to be prohibitively expensive. If memory serves, a percentage of your money is taken every time you die. If we accept handwaving, then that means a stronger person costs more to reproduce. Or, look at it the other way: The average player probably has killed well over a couple thousand humans by the end of the game: Who is to say they weren't being respawned too?
A particularly hilarious and acknowledged version of this occurs in a codex entry in Dragon Age: Origins: before the creation of the Circle of Magi, the Chantry employed mages exclusively for lighting sacred candles and lamps in their churches. And occasionally sweeping up. Eventually, the mages of Val Royeux's cathedral snuffed out their lamps in protest and demanded that their services be put to better use; the Divine responded by ordering an Exalted March (ie: a crusade) on her own cathedral, which was only prevented by her Templars pointing out what a patently insane idea this was.
Touhou. The vast and varied amount of potential applications for some of the characters' powers are mind-boggling (for example, Cirno can not only basically invent air conditioning by herself but could freeze any opponent solid in an instant), yet due to laziness, selfishness or sheer stupidity none of them even consider what they could accomplish. This has been massively averted recently though, with Kanako spending several games attempting to revolutionise Gensoukyou, including having a brand spanking new nuclear fusion plant built to produce free electricity.
Izayoi Sakuya, the time (and space) manipulating maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, uses her abilities to...clean. Granted, with a bunch of fairy maids as co-workers, it'd be quite a big hassle otherwise...
In Halo: Reach, a Slipspace drive is used to destroy a Covenant supercarrier when no nukes are available. About a third of the ship is pulled into slipspace, leaving the front and back portions disabled. However, this is pointed out as being an impractical option born more out of desperate circumstances than a good use of the technology. Nukes are generally cheaper and easier to deliver to a target than a functional slipspace drive is.
The first 10 Robot Masters in Mega Man were created for such purposes as forestry, lubrication, lab assistance, and housekeeping. Do you know how much trouble creating humanoid robots has been in Real Life?
To be fair, they were first made for the sake of being made and only then their creators started thinking of more practical uses like replacing man in dangerous work (don't mind housekeeping, that was the first two robots and the lab was really a mess, ok?) and Take Over the World. They still fit this trope to a 'T'. Oh, and lampshaded in Bob and George.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution has an upgrade to the basic pistol that lets it pierce armor. The item's description says that it uses quantum tunneling to phase through armor. Quantum physics Twenty Minutes into the Future is advanced enough to be miniaturized, weaponized, and put in user-installable gun modifications, yet does not seem to be used anywhere else in the game's world.
Sidekick Girl, a superhero parody comic toys with the idea by having a mind-switch between the powerful ditz Illuma and her sidekick here. Once switched she practices and applies Illuma's powers in a much more intelligent way. Developing flight, stun blasts, and other useful applications that Illuma could never figure out herself.
Fracture: As pointed out in this Penny Arcade strip: . And when you start to think about how the terrain deformation might work and other applications for its principles, it becomes even sillier.
They also came up with another use for the Portal gun.
All the technology Tony invents in Real Life Comics is used by Greg for disturbingly mundane purposes. This pretty much tells you all you need to know. This is deliberate, and played for comedy, though.
Mad inventor Riff (well, he's more of a "Meh" inventor) in Sluggy Freelance has ended up playing this trope for laughs by using such things as his dimensional portal for cheap magic tricks, and generally using his prodigious intellect on ray guns and toaster cannons. Is it any wonder his Catch Phrase is "Let me check my notes"?
In 4U City Alt-Riff's nanomachines fairly avert this trope allowing the citizens nearly magical abilities in healing and allowing the near instantaeous conversion of matter such as converting tranquilizer darts into live fire ammutition.
Subverted by the fact that his inventions are being applied to better effect (well, slightly better at least) by the evil corporation that employs him.
Doc of The Whiteboard uses a teleporter to get pizzas delivered instantly. He also once invented a device that could launch paintballs backwards through time (presumably by breaking the light barrier).
The Pizza Teleporter can only be used to teleport objects to his desk (plus Majel Roddenberry would sue him if he tried patenting it), and he made the time traveling marker while intoxicated (and destroyed all reality when he used it).
Heroically averted in Schlock Mercenary with the Teraport. Originally designed to make money by allowing rich bastards to take their space-yachts between stars without queuing-up to the Wormgate with the rest of the plebs it didn't take long for people to figure-out it made a dandy Superweapon.
The Wormgates themselves can be considered an evil aversion of this trope as well: after all as long as people are seen going in one place and coming out the other, there's nothing to worry about what goes on in between...right?
And even before the introduction of the Teraport there was the ubiquitous gravitic technology; if you have gravity manipulationnote not creation, just manipulating the gravity generated by a sphere of Neutronium on your ship then you already have forcefields, tractor-beams and a reactionless drive as well.
...not to mention the ability to rip other ships apart with a careful application of gravitics.
They're also nicknamed "gravy guns" because it's possible to liquefy the crew while leaving the hull intact.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a big gun."
Tedd of El Goonish Shive uses his ultrapowerful transformation gun to throw a party for his girlfriend and switch genders so that he can cook.
Considering that Tedd's dad is the head of the local MIB, he can't really sell or distribute the technology without getting grounded for, say, ten thousand years or so.
This is also a universe where every major government has a dedicated (albeit secret) magic agency. Just because Tedd's not applying the phlebotinum doesn't mean somebody isn't.
Tedd and his friends occasionally do break out the transformation equipment for more practical purposes, like to turn Elliot into a Were Cat for getting places faster.
This is a Justified Trope for the most part. Tedd only has access to the gun because he was a notable kid genius with computers and the like, because his father runs the local MIB as stated above, because the gun's existence was one of the few things that prompted him to come out of his reclusive shell, and because he was both able and willing to work on it while also being someone that Tedd's father could trust not to blatantly abuse it. And when he first got it, it was only able to do minor changes. Most of his playing around with the gun is arguably experimentation, and none of what we've seen in the story even happens until he's been working on the gun for several years. He's also been shown to use the gun and his other Magitek inventions formoregenerallypracticalpurposes - after he's had a chance to test out the minor applications first. Even then, he'sstillwrongonrareoccasion.
Drive: Averted viciously. If the space being pinched by a ring drive is occupied by a planet, then that planet will suffer massive tremors. The bigger the ship, the more severe the quakes. This has been taken to the logicalconclusion.
The Alt Text of thisxkcd comic posits that some of the greatest problems in computer science today may have already been solved by some nameless programmer somewhere, who will never receive recognition for their achievement because their solution was Lost Forever in some mundane piece of tech they were hired to work on.
"Some engineer out there has solved P=NP and it's locked up in an electric eggbeater calibration routine. For every 0x5f375a86note (a.k.a. fast inverse square root) we learn about, there are thousands we never see."
The eponymous object in Erikas New Perfume never really does more but take up space in Erika's bedroom after Sarah uses it, despite having at least two of its three demonstrated functions with a definite audience for them and having even more All There in the Manual. This might partially be because the characters themselves don't have the manual, though.
Phase is single-handedly wrecking this trope in the Whateley Universe. Only a freshman at Whateley Academy, he's already going around getting inventors to sign up with his financial service and marketing their inventions to fix this problem. Bugs had a weird gadget that faked painting on stuff: Phase saw how to turn it into the best toy ever. Jericho had some stuff that Phase is trying to patent and turn into the best medikit in the world. Loophole had a gadget that helped her get awesome performance out of her self-built car: Phase wants to market it as a way of cranking up automotive fuel efficiency world-wide.
Averted in The Salvation War. When the Legions of Hell invade Earth, they start out with Bronze Age tactics and technology, but that proves inadequate. They quickly adapt by using their portal-making abilities for Fantastic Nukes. After the war, they use their portal creating abilities to put FedEx out of business.
Taylor i.e. Skitter in Worm is exceptionally good at coming up with ways to use superpowers effectively. Which makes it highly frustrating when she has to deal with capes like Panacea and Genesis who aren't.
Many Spacebattles posters like to accuse various factions of "incompetently" using their abilities or technology and suggesting better alternatives, though various posters try to argue otherwise. A quote follows. It's gotten to the point that "competence" has become something of a slur due to inciting violent arguments.
Nattuo: Obviously, we should use bad analogies to imply whenever we see the technology not doing the thing we want it to it's just that they've dialed it down because they're all just incompetents. Being so dumb they probably don't even know the dial goes up that high, you know, because they're dumb. Not at all like us. This is obviously because we have such stupendously vast mental faculties we can instantly see all the hidden factors to a technology's operation when we're shown a single - or extremely limited - instance of it's usage, and can predict exactly how it completely changes the nature of the setting(in spite of it not doing so) and use that to deduce the residents of the setting are just dumb(because of the aforementioned failiure to completely understand all the hidden factors in their technology that allows us to forsee such usage methodologies with our incredible intellect). Hence, even with them working with said technology every single day, and having built said technology, and having a functioning understanding of all the engineering aspects of said technology, we understand it better than them, despite lacking all these things. We're just that fucking clever.
The premise behind Chaotic is that it can create an identical duplicate you to live out a real world version of a Trading Card Game. You can 'port out' and the duplicate's memories are reabsorbed into you. While the show managed to show a wheelchair bound player walking inside the simulation, they ignored a more obvious application of their technology: Immortality.
Except you would only be immortal within the world of Chaotic, which would probably get boring eventually. The show has also not been going on long enough for us to know if it has been ignored or not.
What about halving the time you need to spend studying, by having each half study, well, half. Not to mention if, say, you ported out -in the middle of a test-
Parodied to no end in Invader Zim. The title character once created an orbital satellite station that sucked out all the water from the city, gathered it into a giant balloon, and dropped it for no other reason than to win a water balloon fight.
A massive robot obviously capable of obliterating everything in its path is used by Zim to get revenge on Dib for a few off-hand comments made earlier in the episode.
Zim tries to get revenge on Dib for throwing a muffin at him. Zim gets Dib trapped—there's no escape, Dib's got a massive laser cannon aimed straight at his head—and what does Zim do? He has the cannon fire another muffin—not even a massive muffin, just a normal muffin roughly equivelent to the one Dib threw at him. And then lets Dib go on his merry way.
Zim has a device that can take out human organs and subsitute them with...stuff...and what does he do with it? He uses it to stuff himself full of human organs in case the school skool nurse decides to do an x-ray. Never mind sucking the brains out of the entire human populace, what if Zim needs to see a doctor?
Perhaps the most bizarre by far—Zim has a device that can submit humans to the most painful mental torture possible, and uses it to hypontize the town's populace into helping him win a school skool fundraiser.
Lampshaded in the episode "Jail Bird" of Darkwing Duck; Negaduck is continually frustrated that Megavolt, Bushroot and the Liquidator are too stupid to make full use of their superpowers. (Although, thanks to a power-stealing emerald, Negaduck ultimately doesn't fare much better.)
Well, his main problem was that he also gained three new sets of weaknesses and a compulsion to act goofy at inopportune moments in addition to the powers. You have to admit, before he got taken down, he was much more of a threat then Bushroot, Megavolt, and Liquidator ever could have been.
In one of The Simpsons Halloween episodes, Homer buys a teleporter from Prof. Frink and uses it to get food from the fridge without leaving the couch. Marge draws the line at using the teleporter as a shortcut to the toilet.
Another Halloween episode has Lisa and Bart develop superpowers. Bart vows to uses his powers (stretching) "only to annoy", and procedes to pull a prank on Skinner.
Yet another Halloween episode shows what each Simpson (aside from Marge) would do with The Monkey's Paw. Homer wishes for a sandwich.
This may be a case of Genre Savvy; he'd just seen the Paw mess things up twice before hand, so he tried to make a "safe" wish, specifying it as much as he could to make sure nothing happened. It didn't work; the turkey was dry.
Pretty much every invention ever made by Doctor Doofensmirtz on Phineas and Ferb. In one particular incident, he created a machine that could remove zinc from water as the first stage of a circuitous plot that even he couldn't remember all the details of. Considering that zinc is fairly useful metal, he could have just cornered the world zinc market, made a lot of money, and done so legally at that.
On the PBS cartoon WordGirl the villainous Dr. Two-Brains builds a ray which can make gold into cheese (he's obsessed with cheese) and then a second one which can turn potato salad into gold. He then steals potato salad to turn into gold and then into cheese. Not only WordGirl but even the announcer think this is the stupidest plan ever — why not just turn potato salad into gold and buy more potato salad?
In Turtles Forever, the Shredder of TMNT 2003 was much more creative with the Technodrome's technology, such as using the dimensional portal for bigger ambitions and even spliced the technology of Krang's suit into his own to great effect.
Very common in Batman Beyond, which was set Twenty Minutes into the Future and given the kind of writing team that admits they usually just blew the building up to round off the episode because they hadn't though of an ending. Most of the plots revolved around some new technology, and none of it was thought out very hard.
Particularly ludicrous example is that cash money has become obsolete, but the writers apparently didn't understand how digital currency transfers work, so you get things like people stealing shipments of little green 'cash cards,' or running a 'cash card' through one of those little handheld beeper thingies and getting the correct amount in the read-out, but then the card gets stolen back and apparently the money's still on it.
The various incarnations of G-Rated Drug in the franchise are often subject to this as well, but the Venom 'slappers' are kind of an aversion—the stuff Bane used to dope up on to make him the man who broke Batman has now been commercialized as a street drug. Bad, yes, but kind of realistic.
And, of course, all the supervillains. The future has hovercars, but they work about the same as regular cars, and pretty much all that's different is that youthful self-destructive behavior is more colorful.
The Magic Schoolbus has the titular bus,which can reach distant planets and the bottom of oceans in barely anytime at all.Instead of using this to colonise or exploit resources,its used to give a few kids an educational joyride.
Lampshaded in Schoolhouse Rock's "Electricity" "Now if only we had a Super Hero who could turn the generator real fast we wouldn't have to burn so much fuel to make electricity"
In The Transformers, there were a lot of times the gadget of the week was something that could end the war in two seconds flat. It would invariably be used once and never again. The ease with which they're made also makes No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup hard to believe - yeah, that device that instantly disintegrates anything got trashed, but why not just make another in an afternoon?
The Decepticons have Invisibility spray. They only use it once, at night, to creep up on the resting Autobots... but not to kill them, only to mess around with their recharging chambers and make them evil. Later it also turns out that while the invisibility — somehow — renders them undetectable to the "evil presence" scanners of the Autobot ship, security cameras can still see their outlines. Had they killed the Autobots, they wouldn't have had a chance to watch the footage and undo their plan.
Not that the others were much better. Each carried a ring capable of using the classical elements to impressive degrees, but the never bothered to use them to their full potential.
Hell, they had technology like a solar-powered plane, but no one ever thought to showcase it to the world to help reduce the dependency on fossil fuels.
Santa Claus has, amongst other things, access to a vast manufacturing complex run by magical elves, a sack that can hold near limitless contents and still be carried, the power to make reindeer fly and some kind of time dilation ability. Best use in story: making illegal copies of copyrighted/trademarked/patented toys and giving them to children. Better idea: world domination.
Santa has every and any material possession he wants, a happy and stable marriage, a small army of faithful and happy slaves, no neighbors, a 100% approval rating virtually everywhere on the planet, and 100% job security. And he's also immortal. And he only has to work one day a year.
Well, he only has to do field work once a year. The rest of the year is all the naughty/nice paperwork.
So why do rich kids get nicer presents than poor kids? He easily has the power to end poverty in third-world countries, but he's too busy conquering the Martians and turning into Tim Allen, apparently.
Any one who actually has psychic powers could make tons of cash at Las Vegas instead of appearing on talk shows. As Jay Leno once said, "Why do you never see the headline 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?" Answer: Because when a psychic wins, he doesn't tell he's psychic. 'Cause, you know, some people might dare accuse him of cheating.
This is actually Lampshaded in the Nicolas Cage film NeXT. Also justified since the psychic in question knows he's being hunted down by the government and thus keeps his wins small to avoid attracting attention.
This is also used in the Doctor Who episode "Planet of the Dead", with a psychic woman who repeatedly wins small amounts on the lottery, because she's happy enough with her life as it is and doesn't want the changes a big win would create.
In case you haven't heard, Casinos tend to kick anyone who starts winning too much out the door, and blacklisting them across town. Because no one said they have to play fair.
In many places, the government says they have to play fair. However, in many of these places, nobody says the casino has to play. (That is, they have the right to refuse service.)
The Computer, a machine capable of performing incredibly complex arithmetic and decision logic, primarily sees use doing a workless infinite loop and managing resources that may one day be used. Even in the case of people who actually use computers for things, most of the time it's the same old boring stuff over and over again. They want to do their accounts, or write a letter, when the machine may be capable of creating sapient or sentient thought, or just comparing your personal data to millions of other people and trying to figure out what kind of beer you'd want.
Oh, it gets used for the important stuff, too, like doing simulations for engineers and scientists. It's just that they're so cheap nowadays that the Mundane Utility of being able to do silly stuff like editing TV Tropes or playing video games is more visible. On a more relevant note, if you want your own computer to stop being misapplied, go participate in one of the distributed computing projects listed on That Other Wiki.
The Brain, the most marvelous organ in your body, capable of incredible feats of complex movement coordination, communication, image and sound analysis, and decision-making, primarily sees use reading TV Tropes.
Any science fiction full-body alteration device. Yes, they do occasionally forget that Reed Richards Is Useless and start marketing it to transsexuals, but fail to recognize that a device capable of making such thorough rearrangements of adult bodies might be engineered for more than appearance - like, say, immortality.
Everyone's always gotta aim so high. Living forever aside, do consider that no-one need worry about losing limbs or needing organ transplants ever again. Many cancers that weren't brain tumours or enthusiastically metastasizing all over the place wouldn't be a threat either. Not to mention putting plastic surgeons out of a job...
Or creating an army of never-tiring, non-pain-feeling, super-strong super soldiers with bladed arms.
Or ensuring that war is pointless by converting the population to never-tiring, solar-powered, unsuited-spaceflight-capable, super-strong, inhumanly beautiful people who never need to eat or drink and can see in the dark. What do you have to fight over then, eh?
Telekinesis is rarely if ever used to its full potential. With sufficiently fine control, it could be used for transmutation of any element into any other (move the protons around), for invisibility (bend light rays around object), or to make solid & visible "illusions". Or for remote surveillance, if the user can "see" what matter/light rays are hitting a piece of the field generally used for manipulating things.
Or immortality (reconfiguring DNA), curing every illness, getting stuff to orbit (or to the moon)...
The problem is "sufficiently fine control" and the limits of human intelligence and processing power/speed. Without sufficient control, you wouldn't be able to manipulate things that small. And even with it, you have to consider just how many such things you'd have to manipulate to get any results. Converting just one gram of hydrogen would require you to manipulate 6 x 10^23 protons, individually, not to mention that screwing around with the nuclei would have you constantly fighting the strong and weak nuclear forces so as not to trigger uncontrolled nuclear fission or fusion. So there's a reason you don't see anyone aside from Dr. Manhattan doing something of this sort: because for anyone who doesn't have a brain capable of rendering supercomputers obsolete, it's a futile task.
You don't even need to go to the molecular level: simply being able of manipulating microcomponents of complex machinery without having to completely disarm or disassemble the device could signify billions saved in maintenance and working time. Not to mention extreme cases, as repairing an airplane mid-air...
Really comes down to how many of the Required Secondary Powers to do the job our hypothetical telekinetic actually has in addition to their raw power. Telekinesis alone can actually be pretty limited if defined as such — for one thing, if it requires direct line of sight because it doesn't just so happen to also include convenient clairvoyance or at least some form of 'tactile' feedback as well, it's going to have a lot of trouble actually working on anything hidden behind or inside something else with any degree of accuracy, if at all.
When a telekinetic is fighting someone, they always throw things at their opponents. They never use their power on theiropponentsthemselves.