Tuesday, January 8, 2008

20 Ways The Future Has Let Us Down

Today I have come across this article on MSN, and the minute that I started reading it, I realised how many of these things I used to think would be available to us in the future. I even remember an English textbook we used to study from when I was seven, called 'The Pathway to English', that described quite an interesting amount of stuff that would happen in the future. Well, the future is here, and of all the things I remember in that book, the only prediction which came true was that someday you would be able to see the person that you are speaking with through long distance (internet and video phones made that possible). Other than that, we are still doing things the same way we were doing them in the past. I shall post this article here, because I think that the author has managed to capture most of those predictions which never came true. This article was published here: http://tech.uk.msn.com/features/gallery.aspx?cp-documentid=7176637

20 ways the future let us down

Promises, promises; when I was young, the future was an exciting place, full of wonderful inventions, mind-boggling concepts and amazing occurrences.

The problem is that, as it stands, this future lark is all a bit, well, disappointing.

The way I eat, travel and exist all seem to somehow fall short of what was predicted in my formative years.

So we have picked out 20 things that never did quite make it to reality, from meal pills to flying cars and moon colonies.

A meal in a pill

Did any of us really expect to still be going through that whole laborious cooking process by now?

So many predictions of the future seemed to assume that food would be reduced down to pill form – containing all of the essential vitamins and amino acids – but in actual fact we not only still stick things in a particular hot cupboard for long periods of time before eating them, but actually spend hours of our lives watching programmes about it.

Living on the moon

Let’s be honest, if there was one thing that we all assumed humanity would have achieved by now it was establishing colonies on other planets or, at the absolute bare minimum, at least on our very own moon.

But no, the last human foot to touch the moon’s surface (if you disregard the popular rumours one way or the other) was Eugene Cernan back in 1972. They didn’t even have iPods back then…

'Free' energy

When the nuclear industry was created many thought that it contained within it the seeds of an energy source that would sustain humanity's increasing needs but for virtually nothing – with fission or cold fusion held up as ways in which mankind could realise the potential of energy trapped in everything rather than the rather ham-fisted and short sighted method of burning stuff.

Although we are increasingly aware of the dangers of the clumsy way in which we release energy from fossil fuels, we are also increasingly using it up as fast as we can. Will we leave it too late to find a genuinely ‘clean’ energy source?

Flying cars

If you had asked people 50 years ago what the cars of 2008 would be, it would be most unlikely they came up with the slightly sparklier but essentially completely similar transportation we have now.

It seemed to make perfect sense that flying through the air was far superior to roads, traffic jams and a distinct lack of space. It still does, although the reality is we are still (largely) trapped on four wheels honking our very 20th century horns and wondering if things will ever change.

Robot slaves

The robot slave, releasing humanity from their shackles of labour and making everything easier; or they would do if they existed.

Robotics is an area where we appear to finally be making a little progress, but it’s taken many more years than anyone thought likely to finally begin to make strides in an area we once thought would be bigger than the automotive industry.

Perhaps the years have shaped our expectations a little and we no longer expect a 50s style cubic housekeeping-bot…


Flying cars are one thing – but we’ve seen working jet packs for decades without anyone actually managing to produce one that worked in the way we wanted.

Although James Bond and that bloke at the Olympics wowed audiences, what you didn’t see was the months of training, the need for a huge team of mechanics and the horrifying chance that if you move your legs wrong you’ll fire yourself directly into the ground.

Fold up screens

Although the likes of Amazon’s Kimble are promising a world of books and newspapers that you can take anywhere and at any time, what we really need is something that acts like paper but is actually a screen. Authors like Harry Harrison have been talking about this for years, but although there have been tantalising glimpses of what could be, we are still not getting the e-paper we wanted.

Living under the sea

Homer Simpson isn’t the only person to harbour a longing of an under-sea society but our exploration of the oceans is still in its infancy and the costs of actually having an under-sea society have, as yet, meant that mankind has not retreated back to the seas that its ancient progenitors crawled out of all those millennia ago.


“Beam me up Scottie.” Let’s face it, for sheer laziness the transporter knocks all other forms of transportation into a cocked hat. Fed up of the British winter?

In 10 seconds you could find yourself on an idyllic beach without all that fuss of flying. The downside? You could pretty much guarantee that the whole population would leave at the weekends for sunnier climes which could make it hard to do your shopping.

We could pretend that the transport industry is deliberately keeping research on this one down – but the truth is it’s probably just not that feasible.

Embedded computers

Wouldn’t it be great if being lost was a thing of the past, where touch screens are unnecessary and mp3 players cannot be lost? This is a glimpse of a world where we have computers embedded in our head.

Streaming videos into our eyes, never letting us go without detailed knowledge of the where the public conveniences are and giving in depth medical readouts when we are hurt. Oh and you could play tetris in your head whenever someone was boring you.

Unfortunately, despite being a major theme in fiction, this seems unlikely for a generation or so. Bah!

Time Travel

I have to confess I was relatively sure as a kid that we would have nailed the whole time travel thing by now. I expected to have a small dinosaur as a pet, to have witnessed first hand the Roman Empire and uncovered just exactly WHO shot JFK.

But with the world’s greatest physicists continually rebuffing my hopes I’m beginning to think that this will never happen. Not least because I haven’t discovered a note from my future self telling me which side will win the World Cup in 2010.

World peace

I’m relatively sure that I expected there to be an end to all human war by this point.

Surely, I figured, the futility of conflict would have allowed the world to come to gether and work for a unified future. Nope. I blame the politicians…

Cloned people

When Dolly the sheep was finally produced I thought it would only be a matter of time before we were merrily cloning people for body bits a la Michael Marshall Smith’s ‘Spares’ or transferring ourselves into clone blanks like the Schwarzenegger film The 6th Day. However, none of these (admittedly dystopian) futures has been realised and even Jurassic Park remains the stuff of the silver screens.

Virtual worlds

Maybe we’re all just acting out a part in a computer game. Or maybe the promise of virtual reality worlds where we can partake in anything we want unbound by the laws of physics remains rooted in fiction at the present time. Although worlds and role play are becoming more accepted, we are still not close to creating a true virtual environment that people can move around in as they would in reality.

Instant knowledge

“I know kung fu”. Actually I don’t, because presently I have to go through the laborious task of actually training and learning things.

I was so sure that instant knowledge would come about that I spent my French classes at school cynically laughing at those battling through verbs, safe in the knowledge that it would all be easier in the future. Unfortunately, “je ne l'avais pas de la raison.”

Alien invasion

Be it being ruled by alien overlords or living peacefully alongside another sentient species, it seemed absolutely impossible that we could fail to find some kind of intelligent life by now. Despite sending off probes and the eager watchings of thousands of UFOlogists we are, so far, very much alone.

Space travel

Even without the moon colonies, if you had suggested that space travel was still, pretty much, as novel in the 21st century as it was 40 years ago, many would have laughed in your face.
But the sheer cost allied with many countries’ focus elsewhere means that the space race has become a marathon and not the sprint it used to be.

Universal Translator

I’d suggest that a good percentage of conflict stems from a lack of communication but despite the increasing power of the computer, we are still yet to have a translator that can cope with real time languages. In the meantime we are stuck with bad voiceovers and subtitles on films and the hilarious translators that pick up some of the slack online.

Zombie nation

Perhaps my visions of the future were all too affected by the films I watched, but with all the medical research going on I figured that something would have gone awry by now and we would be facing an increased threat from a zombie nation. Why would this be a good thing? The undead would at least have less of a carbon footprint…

Artificial intelligence

Last but not least, one of the major steps that we still haven’t taken is the creation of genuine artificial intelligence.

Although there are inevitably potential problems with having sentient machines, the prospect of having another intelligence that could help us with the problems of modern life is certainly enticing. Now those clever scientists just need to get on and sort it out…

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