Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Future is Getting Old

Recently at a family occasion my 84 year old grandmother had a little moan about the future, she said that when she was a girl (in the 1940’s)she imagined that the years 2010 was going to be space stations and robots. She did not think she would still be living on the same plot of land in the countryside and she certainly didn’t think she wouldn;t have a robot servant to help her with the problems of being old. To her the year 2010 is a big disappointment and apart from mobile telephones and computers the world hasn’t really changed much in her eyes.
So I spoke to my mother and asked her what she thought the world in 2010 was going to be like when she was a young girl in the 1960’s. She also rather surprisingly said – “yeah I figured that there would be a lot more Space travel and Robots”. Again apart from Mobile Phones and the Internet the world isn’t much different to when she was growing up. Skipping my generation (who also dreamed of robots and space in 2010) I asked my 12 year old neice what she thought the world would be like in 2050 say – and guess what she said, yes Robots and space stations will be normal by the time she’s nanny’s age!
Its not that the ladies in my family lack any imagination, the idea that we will all be living in space with robot servants has been a favoured prediction since the Victorian age with each generation believing that the next will make it possible. However as each generation tackles the problem - Space has shown itself to be prohibitively expensive and friendly helpful robots are still virtually impossible to build.
One of my favourite predictions about the future was from a man of senior years who drinks in my pub (I guess he’s about 80) He said there are two things about predicting the future that you shouldn’t forget: the first is barring any big wars 70% of the building you see will still be here in 100 years time and people will still be using them for their intended purpose. He then added that no matter what year it is we will still have to put our trousers on one leg at a time. 
The future is a exciting unknown world where anything can happen - but if you are realistic about it even in 100 years things will still be largely recognisable as today. I can imagine the world of 2110 will still not have robots, cheap space travel and flying cars - The changes will be largely invisible and probably based on tried and tested late 20th/early 21st century technologies which are then robust enough to trust.
Be wary of futuristic predictions that seem like their will be massive upheaval and change in the basics elements of human life – they are the most unlikely (what are called Wildcards in the futurology trade). No matter what comes with it -  we will always need houses to live in, clothes to wear and food to eat.  Bob Seidensticker: former Microsoft employee writes in his book  FutureHype,  how Technology is no inevitable neither is it exponential . If anything most modern technology is in fact invisible and the stuff we use is tried and tested Gas Light Era technology from the Industrial Revolution.  Technology isn't just about computers, its also about Food, Transport, communications, Water, Buildings and  Medicines. If anything Technology doesn’t even move as fast as it did in Victorian times and apart from the Digital Computer most technology is barely moving forward at all. Even our advanced Computer network tech (the internet) is just a very advanced form of telecommunications  and yes even in 1845 you could play virtual games over the telegraph!

LINK: http://www.paleofuture.com/ (the Future that never was - other dreams of the past)

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