Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Sci-Fi The Media Technology

Why Our "Amazing" Science Fiction Future Fizzled 499

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-schools dept.
An anonymous reader sends in a story at CNN about how our predictions for the future tend to be somewhat accurate (whether or not we can do a thing) yet often too optimistic (whether or not it's practical). Obvious example: jetpacks. Quoting: "Joseph Corn, co-author of 'Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future,' found an inflated optimism about technology's impact on the future as far back as the 19th century, when writers like Jules Verne were creating wondrous versions of the future. Even then, people had a misplaced faith in the power of inventions to make life easier, Corn says. For example, the typical 19th-century American city was crowded and smelly. The problem was horses. They created traffic jams, filled the streets with their droppings and, when they died, their carcasses. But around the turn of the 20th century, Americans were predicting that another miraculous invention would deliver them from the burden of the horse and hurried urban life — the automobile, Corn says. 'There were a lot of predictions associated with early automobiles,' Corn says. 'They would help eliminate congestion in the city and the messy, unsanitary streets of the city.' Corn says Americans' faith in the power of technology to reshape the future is due in part to their history. Americans have never accepted a radical political transformation that would change their future. They prefer technology, not radical politics, to propel social change."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why Our "Amazing" Science Fiction Future Fizzled

Comments Filter:
  • Ego (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:32AM (#28157731)

    Today's "exciting new technologies" are all based on exploiting people's egos. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, mobile devices allowing you to do all of these things on the move—this is what people would claim is revolutionary and liberating use of modern technology—but in reality it is a massive trap, and fantastically annoying for those of us who can shut the fuck up.

    (The captcha required for posting this message was "contempt").

    • easy solution (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jandoedel (1149947)
      maybe you should stop visiting their blogs then...?
    • Re:Ego (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:27AM (#28158097) Journal
      Maybe today's "exciting new technologies" will create programs capable of telling when a lazy ass reporter is lifting entire paragraphs straight from Robert Heinlein's Expanded Universe.
      • Re:Ego (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RDW (41497) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @01:20PM (#28159827)

        'Maybe today's "exciting new technologies" will create programs capable of telling when a lazy ass reporter is lifting entire paragraphs straight from Robert Heinlein's Expanded Universe.'

        Well, it makes a change from lazy ass reporters lifting entire articles straight from Wikipedia. Of course, anyone wanting to write a piece about 'Why Our "Amazing" Science Fiction Future Fizzled' would probably be better off stealing their material from William Gibson's 'The Gernsback Continuum':

        http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/1988/1/1988_1_34.shtml [americanheritage.com]

        'The books on Thirties design were in the trunk; one of them contained sketches of an idealized city that drew on Metropolis and Things to Come, but squared everything, soaring up through an architect's perfect clouds to zeppelin docks and mad neon spires. That city was a scale model of the one that rose behind me. Spire stood on spire in gleaming ziggurat steps that climbed to a central golden temple tower ringed with the crazy radiator flanges of the Mongo gas stations. You could hide the Empire State Building in the smallest of those towers. Roads of crystal soared between the spires, crossed and recrossed by smooth silver shapes like beads of running mercury. The air was thick with ships: giant wing-liners, little darting silver things (sometimes one of the quicksilver shapes from the sky bridges rose gracefully into the air and flew up to join the dance), mile-long blimps, hovering dragonfly things that were gyrocopters...the Future had come to America first, but had finally passed it by. But not here, in the heart of the Dream. Here, we'd gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose.'

        • Re:Ego (Score:4, Insightful)

          by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @04:55PM (#28161495) Homepage Journal
          I don't think a person from the 1930s would be disappointed by 2009.
          • by DesScorp (410532) <<DesScorp> <at> <Gmail.com>> on Monday June 01, 2009 @12:54AM (#28164707) Homepage Journal

            I don't think a person from the 1930s would be disappointed by 2009.

            No, but a person from the 50's would. And maybe even the 40's. Look at the 39-40 World's Fair. Much of it actually came true in function... interstate highways, every home with a washer and dryer, etc... but humans are kind of funny when it comes to wanting things. Once we get them, we're bored. "Been there, done that" is human nature. But even more than that, we reached the future, and even though we got much of what was predicted, we didn't get it in nearly the kind of beautiful forms we imagined. Our buildings don't look majestic like the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building. Now they're either plain, steel and glass boxes, or twisted grotesques like Frank Gehry's works.

            We reached the future, and it was ugly and soulless and boring.

            And the people of the 50's? Where are our moon bases? Where are our ships patrolling Saturn? The answer is, we got to the moon, and then said "been there, done that".

            Humanity has a tendency to imagine either wonderful, Utopian futures, or horrible, hellish futures. And usually, neither are correct. We live somewhere in the boring middle, because that's what reality is.

    • Greed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by h4rm0ny (722443) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:49AM (#28158233) Journal

      Ego might be basis greed, so maybe we agree, but I'd say it was Greed that messed up our "future." Look at the example in TFS - motor vehicles cleaning up our cities. Well the thing is they could have done a lot. Why hasn't this happened? Because instead of moving from some people having horse-drawn carriages or draft horses and wagons, we've moved to every person having a car. Am I arguing that only a few people should have cars? No, of course not. I'm arguing that there should be more public transport. Buses are much faster than horse and carriages, they carry many more people. We could have moved from horse and carriage to a decent bus service and taxis as needed. And if we had done en masse, they'd both be much cheaper than what we pay for a journey today. But no - there was big money to be made in everyone having their own car and the public lapped it up. The invention of the tractor could have meant much more leisure time for a society that had a large agricultural base, but instead, due to unequal wealth distribution, it just meant one person working even longer hours and a lot of people desperately trying to find something else to do. That pattern has been seen again and again, resulting in increasingly pointless jobs as surplus labour attempts to justify an income. Am I arguing against progress? Of course not - I'm arguing that everybody should get some of the benefit of it so that they can direct their energies to something more profitable to all of us rather than becoming telemarketers.

      Modern society should be directing its energies toward achieving better things and then we would see some of the promise of new technologies better realised. Instead, society directs much of its energy toward stopping progress by trying to keep as many people as possible as busy as possible whether that has a purpose or not.
      • Re:Greed (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @10:38AM (#28158571) Homepage

        Despite of what all the tree huggers would have you believe, automobiles
        did infact achieve their promise. It's just that most people have no clue
        what the alternatives are. They have no real frame of reference. They just
        examine things in terms of their limited experiences. This whole current
        whining is really nothing more than "taking things for granted" and is by
        no means a thoughtful analysis.

        For those of us that can, it's pretty easy for us to imagine the alternative
        that motorcars saved us from. It could have been better. Although we never
        need the internal combustion engine for that. That's rather the point. You
        never needed cars for the sort of mass transit utopia people are whining
        about now.

        The real point of all this nonsense is how this stuff is more about
        politics than technology. You can't have jetpacks, and robocars and
        flying cars because people are idiots that can't even be trusted with
        regular cars and lawsuits would follow the inevitable chaos.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jadavis (473492)

        Look at the example in TFS - motor vehicles cleaning up our cities. Well the thing is they could have done a lot.

        They have done a lot. You can argue about whether cars have done as much good as can possibly be done (nothing achieves that ideal), but cars have accomplished a huge amount for this country. Take any city (even small ones), look at the traffic, and imagine if it was entirely horse traffic. There would be more pollution (although it would take a different form), more traffic (because horses are s

        • Re:Greed (Score:4, Insightful)

          by FiloEleven (602040) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @11:33AM (#28158985)

          Take any city (even small ones), look at the traffic, and imagine if it was entirely horse traffic. There would be more pollution (although it would take a different form), more traffic (because horses are slower), more maintenance, and it would take people longer to get where they are going.

          You're neglecting the effects that the automobile has had on the growth of cities and even the entire human population as well as our perception of travel. I don't think we would have had such a growth explosion without the ability to move people and goods quickly and in bulk.

          I have read (probably here, actually) that the average person with a car today spends more time in transit than did people of antiquity, and this fits in with the general rush of modern life. So you can say "if we replaced cars with horses now, it would be a mess," and you're be right, but it is a meaningless assertion.

          • Re:Greed (Score:5, Insightful)

            by timeOday (582209) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @12:21PM (#28159333)
            It is not a meaningless assertion. If you took modern society and jerked the rug of technology out from under it, the majority of people on earth would die, until the population fell back to what it was a couple hundred years ago. Contrary to the article blurb, the promises of technology have largely held true. Life is now relatively abundant, easy, painless, and long. So much so that we look in horror at places on earth where it hasn't taken hold yet.

            As for why sci-fi of fifty years didn't come true, why would it? It was just made-up ideas. Science fiction is just that, not a guarantee of anything.

          • by westlake (615356) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @01:02PM (#28159705)

            I have read that the average person with a car today spends more time in transit than did people of antiquity

            Well, of course he does.

            There is an old saying - Indian, I believe - that language changes every twenty-five miles.

            Unless you lived as a nomad - followed the herds of elk or buffalo - you lived and died within that fixed twenty-five circle through almost the whole of human history.

            The average person of antiquity couldn't afford to keep a horse.
            That put you in the Equine class. The minimum financial requirement for entry into the Senate.

            The average person of antiquity didn't have the right to travel. He was bound to the land or to his craft.

            The road is a military road. The rider an imperial courier.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sjames (1099)

        That's a very important and widely ignored point. We have forgotten that the economy is supposed to serve the people, never the other way around.

        It's truly amazing how much energy our current economic system obligates us to put in to entirely unproductive (or even anti-productive) activities such as convincing people they cannot live without products of dubious value that ultimately bring little satisfaction to their owners. We spend truly gigantic amounts of energy and cash moving people around every day s

      • Re:Greed (Score:4, Informative)

        by sesshomaru (173381) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @01:31PM (#28159917) Journal


        Buses are much faster than horse and carriages, they carry many more people.

        Actually, buses are a kludge, and not a very good one... I'm going to quote Judge Doon from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? now:

        Judge: "Of course not. You lack vision."

        "I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day and all night!"

        "Soon, where Toontown once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food, tire salons, automobile dealerships, and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see."

        "My God, it'll be beautiful."

        Eddie: "Come on! Nobody's going to drive this lousy freeway when they can take the Red Car for a nickel."

        Judge: "Oh they'll drive. They'll have to."

        "You see, I bought the Red Car so I could dismantle it."

        If you go back, before the rise of the automobile, you'll find trolleys in many major American cities. Check the history of your own town. Did it have trolleys [phillytrolley.org]? If so, where did the go?

        Why did the Federal Government decide to commit it's resources to an Interstate Highway System [wikipedia.org] rather than an Interstate Rail System?

        Why do passenger trains criss cross Europe [eurail.com] and Japan [japanrail.com], but not the United States?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by westlake (615356)

        We could have moved from horse and carriage to a decent bus service and taxis as needed. And if we had done en masse, they'd both be much cheaper than what we pay for a journey today. But no - there was big money to be made in everyone having their own car and the public lapped it up.

        The cost of owning and operating a Model T Ford was about 1 cent a mile.

        The token cost 5 cents.

        The transit services were in huge, huge financial trouble before World War One.

        The product they were offering was not want people w

    • Re:Ego (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:56AM (#28158277) Homepage

      Those are NOT exciting new technologies. NOTHING about Twiiter, facebook or blogs is a new technology but a different use for an old one.

      NEW Technologies right now are being hindered by Greed and control. I should have a Box in my living room (well I do, but it's illegal) that I can turn on the TV and get all the info I want, wathc the TV show I want, or watch the new program I want. Listen to the new music, or old music, etc...

      I can build this box, and have the future of media and news, but I'm breaking federal laws to have it work. Greeedy asshats want to keep their old business models so they fight the windows of change. My newspaper, last news broadcast, TV, music should all be 100% on demand on my TV. I'd even GLADLY pay for it. But I cant. The "free stuff" is either locked to being viewed on a PC, or so low resolution that it's not worth watching.

      The Panacea of information that is seen in every star-trek tv show and movie CAN be a reality today. but rampant greed and control-mongers make it impossible.

      TV channels are a stuipid idea now. I dont want to watch ABC, I want to watch Lost and the Office. I dont want to watch Sci-Fi I want to watch specific shows. The ONLY Television source that make any sense for the old tv channel model is CNBC news type channels and Sports channels. Everything else needs to be on demand files I can download and watch at my leisure. This is just for information access, Look at stem cell research, and many other technological advances being hampered or beaten down for no real reason.

      This is not the future, this is the NOW. and we are not allowed it because of really really stupid reasons.

      Human progress is not hampered by technological problems, it's hampered by stupidity and greed. This has ALWAYS been the case throughout history.

      I am certain that OOgh was exiled over his wheel thingy because it would have hurt the drag sled industry and it was considered a heresy against he popular religion.

      Today, we simply pass laws to limit technological advances and progress. And if that does not work, Uninformed masses afraid of the bogeyman will work just as well... Ooooh Nuclear energy OHHHHHH!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I can build this box, and have the future of media and news, but I'm breaking federal laws to have it work. Greeedy asshats want to keep their old business models so they fight the windows of change. My newspaper, last news broadcast, TV, music should all be 100% on demand on my TV. I'd even GLADLY pay for it. But I cant. The "free stuff" is either locked to being viewed on a PC, or so low resolution that it's not worth watching.

        I've been watching my TV shows on a 32" LCD TV for about 3 years now powered by a Mac Mini hooked into the TV's DVI port. Quality of the SD programming was acceptable. The new HD versions look great. Even better than some of the expanded basic channels I had. I'm sure if I had an Apple TV it may even look better via HDMI, but the current quality is more than acceptable to me.

        About a year ago I knew I'd be spending 15 hours days at work on a project pretty much 6 days a week. I was spending about $15

    • Twitter, Facebook, blogs, mobile devices allowing you to ...

      They don't count until they've been around for 1 generation or more.

      Until then, they either count as fads or don't count at all as they won't have or have had a lasting effect on the world.

      As an example, 8-track stereo doesn't count as an "exciting (new) technology" except in the minds of the marketing departments as it had no effect on the world as a whole, and didn't change our society. A.M. radio, however did make changes and is still around 70, 80 years on.

      The only thing that will move these toys fr

  • I want my flying car, damn it!!

    Actually, I'll "only" be 25 next month, so I don't really remember being promised flying cars and all that jazz. I remember being promised the internet, and we got that. The future actually seems a little mundane, at least any future I'm likely to live to see. Star Trek, maybe, in another 200 years, but we're not going to get the Jetsons.

    At least no one told me I'd be getting all my meals in pill form, although that's probably fairly close to reality in a "Flintsones (chewa

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jcr (53032)

      I want my flying car, damn it!!

      It's getting closer. Back when Moller started out, we didn't have GPS, for one thing. In the meantime, computing power increased enormously. An iPhone has more computing power than a typical autopilot does. Today, robotic helicopters are routine undergrad engineering class projects.

      What will make flying cars feasible is making them fully robotic, so that they can be safely used by a drunk or a child. Get in the vehicle, and just tell it where you want to be; leave it up

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by wisty (1335733)

        Better still, they could put autopilots on normal cars, and eliminate the shitty drivers. Of course, Fisher would object, as it would make it easier for unfit people to reproduce, but I think that natural selection in the human race is a lost cause anyway.

        • by jcr (53032)

          Better still, they could put autopilots on normal cars

          Navigating on the surface is a far more difficult problem than navigating in the air. Adding a dimension gives you a lot more room to maneuver.

          -jcr

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kohath (38547)

        Additionally,

        - they'll have to know how much fuel they have and refuse to go anywhere out of range of a filling station.
        - They'll have to know the weather everywhere along the route and refuse to fly in certain conditions, including many conditions you'd be OK to drive in. Any time it's near freezing or snowing, they'd have to know the temperature and humidity at all altitudes to be certain that ice buildup would not cause a crash.
        - Every active system and instrument would have to be electronically monitor

        • Re:Flyin Cars (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jcr (53032) <jcrNO@SPAMmac.com> on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:39AM (#28158181) Journal

          We're a long, long way from flying cars.

          There's quite a bit of work to do yet, but my point is that we're rapidly approaching that tipping point. Surface cars are inefficient and dangerous, and roads are unbelievably expensive to build. We drive along very narrow channels with other vehicles coming towards us at fatal closing speeds, typically with nothing but a painted line to separate us. Daily fatalities in any average city's highway system are routine.

          when you consider how much they're going to cost

          They'll follow the same cost curve as automobiles did. Only the rich will be able to afford them initially, and they'll sell in the thousands. Then, they'll get cheaper and sell in the hundreds of thousands, and so on. By going robotic, they'll also be more feasible to share than present-day cars are.

          -jcr

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Lumpy (12016)

          If you want a flying car, go get your pilots license and buy a nice used Piper Comanche.

          Drive to airport, get in plane, fly to destination airport.

          It's a lot cheaper than the cost and cost of ownership of the first flying cars will be, and you dont have to wait.

          $50,000 will buy you a very VERY nice plane. Another $3500-$4500 for your license and you're in the air and flipping a bird to everyone in the boarding lounge as you take off. You will be in and out of airports faster than anyone on a commercial je

    • by goombah99 (560566) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:55AM (#28157869)

      The future is not flying cars or gee wiz, it's about changes in productivity.

      Cars did change things drastically. In particular they allowed both suburbs and concentration of commerce centers people could travel to. Trucks could now go to stores as well lessening the importance of trains and hubs. It impacted things you don't think about as well like farming.

      so did steam boats. You have the whole development along the missiispi for example. It's worth noting that just before the revoluionary war with "america" in england there were two IPOs offered: one for steam troop transport development and the other for the development of a machine gun. Both IPOs failed due to the South Sea stock company (a ponzi scheme) offering better terms (leading to the first stock market crash later). But if there had been military steam ships in 1776, the queen would be on our money.

      progress is about changing scales that create new organizational paradigms. eventually each new growth opportunity saturates and becomes yucky in a new way. look at coal polluted cities. at the start coal was a miracle comapred to wood heat or no heat. Look at the productivity created by assembly lines then think about the pre-union industrial working conditions that shortly followed.

      Consider the height to which buildings could be built and how that has also led to crowding. instead of hobo housing for the poor we now have low cost housing in high rises--- and the stagnating socio economics that result from that.

      basically progress is: innovation creates new paradigms for growth which then satrurate and become bad in new ways.

      • by benjamindees (441808) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @10:20AM (#28158431) Homepage

        basically progress is: innovation creates new paradigms for growth which then saturate and become bad in new ways.

        I take issue with this. There are two types of technological innovation, those which enable more efficient collectivization, and those which enable more efficient individualization of society.

        All of your examples of things "becoming bad" involve the (over-)application of the former type, collective technological innovations. I would argue that the second type of individual technological innovation is immune to this type of obsolescence. Individual technological innovations merely involve a trade-off in labor for capital. Once a particular technology has improved to the point that this trade-off becomes acceptable to the individual, the technology finds widespread use. Since it is an individual trade-off, there is nothing but individual preference or resource exhaustion that will ever change this dynamic. Collective technologies, on the other hand, also involve a trade-off in individual rights to the rights of the collective. Given two equally efficient technologies, a person will always choose the individual technology over the collective one. As technologies improve, collective technologies will tend to be replaced with more individualist technologies due to this defect.

        Laundromats, for instance, have "become bad" and been mostly replaced with individual washers, even though laundromats are more efficient. Suburbs, perhaps, you may argue, are an individualist technology that has "gone bad". But I think that is more due to a failure of (collective) energy production technologies. And I would argue that the same type of individualized technological innovation is currently under way in the energy field in order to make up for collective energy production having "gone bad". Barring complete breakdown of collective energy production and failure of more individualized technologies, I don't see automobiles ever being replaced by more collective transport methods. So I will concede that energy production will likely remain collectivized until Mr. Fusion is produced. Other than that, I believe all other production technologies will tend to follow the path I have outlined.

        Ultimately, while you may see a cycle of boom and bust due to technological innovation, I only see a cycle of boom and bust in technological innovations that require collective ownership and use, such as high-rises, assembly-lines, and fossil fuels. These technologies are subject to monopolization and negative externalities that offset their benefits. In individual technological innovations, I believe there is more steady improvement.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by h4rm0ny (722443)

          There is so much repetition on Slashdot. It's great when I read something that gives me a new viewpoint on something. Thanks for posting this. I think your view might be a useful model of a lot of technological progressions.
      • by Dun Malg (230075) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @10:26AM (#28158489) Homepage

        But if there had been military steam ships in 1776, the queen would be on our money.

        And if a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his ass a-hoppin'.

        The state of the art for steam power in the 18th century was not adequate to significantly revolutionize travel. 19th century steam power was built upon advances in machine tools that simply did not exist in the 1700's. A workable machine gun also depends on similar manufacturing capability. Unless you can accurately machine the brass cartridges, you simply cannot build a useful machine gun. Unless you can accurately machine the cylinders and pistons, you cannot make a double-acting externally condensing steam engine. The existence of IPOs back then doesn't mean jack shit. The fact that the IPOs collapsed because of a Ponzi scheme isn't some unfortunate tragedy that delayed science--- it's evidence that the IPOs themselves were bullshit as well.

    • Re:Flyin Cars (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alcoholist (160427) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:13AM (#28157981) Homepage

      I don't know about you, but I don't ever want to see flying cars. Most people can barely figure out how to safely operate a wheeled car in two dimensions. Imagine how nuts it would be if we added a third.

    • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:23AM (#28158061) Homepage
      I want my flying car, damn it!!

      As a SF writer, let me point out that the "predictions" of SF are very often more about what makes interesting storytelling, and not accurate predictions of what real life is going to be a hundred years from now. If the choice is between putting a "gosh, wow" element in the story, or putting in a boring element-- well, it's a story. If you want predictions, you should be writing nonfiction.

    • by The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:25AM (#28158085)

      At least no one told me I'd be getting all my meals in pill form

      I remember being told that our lunches could eventually come in pill/wafer form in health class when I was in high school. We had an exchange student from Hong Kong who misunderstood this and thought it was going to happen in the next couple of weeks. He was almost in a panic about whether or not the price for lunch was going to go up.

    • by nido (102070)

      Actually, I'll "only" be 25 next month, so I don't really remember being promised flying cars and all that jazz.

      Back to the Future part II [imdb.com] (which promised flying cars in 2015) was released in 1989, which was a little before you'd remember. We still have 6 years left - maybe someone will figure out how gravity and electromagnetics interact by then.

      Or maybe the military-industrial complex will let the secret out - if the B2 bomber really did use anti-gravity technology, would they let anyone know?

    • Re:Flyin Cars (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EdZ (755139) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @10:08AM (#28158351)
      Mundane? I can watch, for free, a live stream of astronauts in orbit, repairing the delicate internals of a space telescope, with the information arriving via a worldwide network of computers. On my phone.
      We're already living the the future.
  • have faith (Score:5, Funny)

    by psyklopz (412711) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:39AM (#28157763)

    We still have about 5 and a half years to fully set up the back to the future 2 future.

    i know i'm saving up for my hoverboard right now.

  • The real reason. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gerafix (1028986) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:43AM (#28157789)
    Because humans are obsessed with bureaucracy and pointless endeavours like greed. You can bet if our species was as fanatical about science as it is about religious bureaucracy we would be in a better world.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:24AM (#28158073)

      What? The streets are allot cleaner now than they were 100 years ago. We still suffer from congestion, but the streets have a hell of allot better throughput. I can eat almost any food all year round by walking down the street and buying it from the same supermarket that I buy a mortgage from. I have instant access to almost all publicly available knowledge and a reasonable chance of living over a century, and after I post this it's likely to be seem almost immediately by many people from all over the world.

      When I'm bored I can go anywhere in the world by flying there, and when I'm sick my doctor can build an extremely accurate 3d model of my insides and probably help me. Culturally religious magical thinking is becoming a niche in much of the developed world.

      Things may not live up to the wildest dreams of people from Jules Vernes day, but much of our world must seem pretty incredible.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Belial6 (794905)
        Hear, Hear! The present is an amazing world of fantastic technology. To add to yours...

        I had detailed moving pictures of my son months before he was born and those in 'poverty' live better than kings and queens of 200 years ago.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Narpak (961733)

      You can bet if our species was as fanatical about science as it is about religious bureaucracy we would be in a better world.

      Or we would have wars over the "right" research subjects to focus on. Especially the wars between the Cybernetics and the Bio-Engineered would be fierce.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by corbettw (214229)

        the wars between the Cybernetics and the Bio-Engineered would be fierce.

        And highly entertaining to the spectators!

  • Um? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by viyh (620825) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:44AM (#28157791) Homepage
    It's "science fiction", not "predictions of the future". These are creative and imaginative writers. They aren't trying to predict what is going to happen in the future. Besides, there are plenty of sci-fi stories that are about "radical political transformation" as well. "1984"? "Brave New World"?
    • by CRCulver (715279)

      It's "science fiction", not "predictions of the future". These are creative and imaginative writers. They aren't trying to predict what is going to happen in the future.

      Come on, it's obvious to even casual readers of science fiction that SF authors enjoy dabbling in futurism. One example is the afterword of Larry Niven's short story collection Flatlander [amazon.com] , about a future so full of organ transplanting that even minor crimes get the death penalty so that your organs can be distributed to a greedy public.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by viyh (620825)
        Sure, but that's not the point of them doing their writing. They are not writing their stories simply to be a prediction of the future. They are trying to entertain and use their imagination, first and foremost. It's fiction, i.e. not real. If it happens to come true then of course they have the right to boast that they were "right". Larry Niven was especially great. His stuff was based on mostly real science and he had a great way of mixing that with his imagination. I like his "flash mob" idea. :P
  • by jcr (53032) <jcrNO@SPAMmac.com> on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:46AM (#28157805) Journal

    They made it possible for us to travel in all but the worst weather, they don't leave piles of shit behind them to feed flies, and they're far less labor-intensive to operate. Horses have a certain nostalgic appeal, but we're a lot better off with them relegated to a hobby.

    -jcr

  • DNF (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    My belief in a bright future was destroyed with Duke Nukem Forever.

  • And? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    'There were a lot of predictions associated with early automobiles,' Corn says. 'They would help eliminate congestion in the city and the messy, unsanitary streets of the city.'

    Okay, so how well has it done? Obviously we still have congestion (better than it was? worse? I don't know) and obviously we have pollution problems associated with cars but how does that compare to the problems we had before? Have they been a big step forwards or not? I don't see how the article can use this example to mock people's ability to forecast the effects of technology when it doesn't comment at all on whether cars have in fact resulted in more sanitary streets. I don't know how bad the horse shit

  • by joelholdsworth (1095165) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:56AM (#28157873)

    It seems to me these days (certainly here in the UK) we have almost no sense of optimism about progress. In the middle of the last century when so much SciFi was created, there was this grand humanistic notion, that one day technology would solve all the wrongs of the world, and we'd all live in peace and harmony e.g. Star Trek.

    These days our optimism has shriveled and died, so that now we no longer dream of a utopia - we just dream of getting by without too much discomfort, and it seems to me like modern SciFi (where it exists) reflects this.

  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:57AM (#28157881) Homepage

    Look, I didn't read this book, but if the capsule is even remotely accurate, I'm glad I didn't. The capsule claims that Corn tries to equate the cities of 100 years ago with today's and suggest that cars didn't _really_ change anything for the better, just changed which pile of crap we had.

    I have lots of photographs of Toronto from the turn of the last century. For instance, the photos of people getting rid of their garbage by dropping it off at the dump - the end of a pier on Lake Ontario. Cities, in spite of being much smaller than they are and thus having to deal with a much smaller problem, were smelly, dirty, disease ridden dumps.

    If anyone thinks the city of today, even with all of their very real problems, is anything even _remotely_ like the city of 100 years ago, they're idiots.

    You get this all the time in anti-progress screeds, the "well we traded one problem for another", and then they just leave that hanging, like one problem is exactly the same as another. As Azimov noted, however, this ignores any change in quality. For instance, people used to think the world was flat like a pizza, then they thought it was a perfect sphere. They were wrong too, but, and this is the critical point, a sphere is "more right" than a pizza. THAT is how science works, approaching the asymptote.

    And that's what technology is doing to. Yeah, cars running on gas suck, but only because we have three times the population and everyone's got one. If the world population was still only 1 billion and 99.9% of them could not afford one, then cars would be see as the miraculous inventions they said they were going to be. It took 50 years before anyone realized they might even have downsides, and another 50 before we've started getting seriously about fixing them. That's because of how amazingly great they are, not the other way around! And just for the record, I don't own a car, I bike to work or ride the subway.

    Maury

    • by the phantom (107624) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @10:28AM (#28158509) Homepage

      For instance, people used to think the world was flat like a pizza...

      I get so very tired of this canard. For centuries, if not millennia, before Columbus sailed to the Americas, educated people knew that the world was not round. The idea that folk in Medieval Europe believed that the world was flat is a misconception that was invented some time during the 19th century (Russell [asa3.org] blames Washington Irving).

  • by Gorkamecha (948294) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:58AM (#28157887)
    I have a device in my pocket that will give me the answers to most questions, show me moving pictures with sound, let me talk to people on the other side of the planet and take pictures. We have machines that can scan the inside of our bodies without cutting us open. Satellites that help the device above tell me where I am at all times. And of course cable with 9999 possible channels. Look at an old episode of star trek, then look at the new movie...compare the bridges....How much stuff was "updated", because it would look old fashion and junky today?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Gorkamecha (948294)
      Sadly, I still can't spell.
    • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:05AM (#28157927) Homepage

      I think you've touched on the real problem... the rate of change is so fast now that no one even notices. In Future Shock Toffler talked about how there are people that just can't deal with the rate of change of the 1960s, and they suffer from a form of disconnection similar to Culture Shock - but with no way to escape from it except drop out of society.

      But those people have dropped out of society; they're in their 80s and 90s. Devices that my father looks at in bewilderment and refuses to even think about are instantly picked up by my daughter who never gives it a second though.

      Progress is so rapid and all-encompassing that we just don't even think about it any more. People talk about the missing future of flying cars, telling us about it in articles they wrote on a computer and uploaded to the internet. *sigh*

      • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @10:27AM (#28158505) Homepage

        The difference is that your Father wanted to know how things work because he was used to fixing things.

        your daughter is happy with being oblivious and treating technology like a magic box, and if it breaks, we throw it away.

        THAT"S the big difference between luddites and the future embracing people.

        Most of the time Ludddites see the disadvantages of the new "technology" that is being sneaked in under the radar.

        iPhone? no thanks, I cant replace the battery.
        New Hybrid car? no thanks I cant work on it as I cant buy the tools needed for the Electric side.

        I Understand how an iPhone works, and I could fix it, but they intentionally design it to keep me from fixing it. That sends alarms to my luddite side.

        My grandfather was a Genius for cars. He could do anything with them, he even embraced electronic ignition. He HATED the Computer controlled cars of the 80's because you could not buy the tools to work on them. GM and Ford refused to release info on how to tune the ECM in the early 80's cars so you were stuck. He hated computer control on cars and would rip it out and switch it to a simple Fuel injection system or even Carbeurated.

        If progress is coupled with DRM or thing to block you from working on it fixing it, it's not progress.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Shihar (153932)

          The difference is that your Father wanted to know how things work because he was used to fixing things.

          That really is not true. The teenager with an iPhone is just as much as an expert on the iPhone as your farther was with a car. You farther might have known how to replace various components, but dump him into a factory making engine parts and he is helpless. He certainly couldn't make a simple rubber gasket and wouldn't even be able to tell you where the raw materials to make it come from.

          We tend to work on the surface of things because that is where we get the most rewards. Your farther doesn't know h

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jcr (53032)

      We have machines that can scan the inside of our bodies without cutting us open.

      I've got an image processing textbook around here somewhere that explains the math of generating images from projections (as CAT and NMR scanners do), and even twenty years later, it still impresses the hell out of me that anyone ever imagined it, let alone actually got it to market.

      -jcr

  • Amnesia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crmartin (98227) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:59AM (#28157893)

    See, the real issue here is that the guy doesn't actually remember, say, 1960. We may not have flying cars, but we have cross country plane trips for $14 (in 1960 dollars). We don't have videophones, but we've got Skype with video on computers -- and it's free. We're very rarely arrested for being queer, we're rarely getting arrested for voting while incorrectly complected, no one anywhere in the world has smallpox, and hardly anyone has polio. Famines are the result of political disruptions and the thuggery of Mugabe and his ilk, not lack of food.

    • by Epistax (544591)
      That's nothing. Don't forget the universe was rather dull before we invented color.
    • Re:Amnesia (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rbphilip (530254) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:18AM (#28158023)
      Don't forget that I carry a communicator in my pocket smaller than Captain Kirk's ever was and I can communicate with it to my friends over the world. I'm going to take a quick trip to Sweden to visit friends next month that'll cost me about $110 in 1960 dollars and take less than a day of travel time in each direction. I'm typing this on a computer more powerful than could have been imagined in 1960, while listening to music streaming over an equally unimaginable network from somewhere - and I don't even need to know where the music is. I take my hyper-reliable 2000 model year Acura in for oil changes and regular servicing at most twice a year, and I get about 35 miles per gallon of gas that costs about 6 cents per gallon more than it did in 1960 (in 1960 cents). I have all the music I own on a tiny iPod in the car that is hooked to my stereo, so on a road trip I have 30 years worth of accumulated music to choose from. Unlike my parents in 1960 today's dentists have kept my teeth in perfect condition. The ceramic crowns and fillings are stronger than the teeth they are attached to, and replacing the 1970s metal fillings with custom-made crowns designed on a cad/cam system sitting beside me in the dentist office took about 60 minutes. The new crown was epoxied in place before the anesthetic for the drilling had worn off. Life *is* much better today, even if we don't have flying cars.
  • After a minor shipping delay [today.com], flying cars have arrived for all. As of today, all major cities also feature moving pavements and weather control and commuter flights to the Moon will be commencing tomorrow.

    Earth President Barack Obama welcomed the representatives of the Galactic Brotherhood to Washington, assuring them that the many wars on Earth were now to be conducted entirely by robots, though the robots would be carefully monitored and pulled out of battle and granted citizenship the moment they achie

  • As the name "horseless carriage" suggests, technological evolution is as much - or more - about subtracting things from society as about adding them. The Popular Science [typepad.com] view of a jetpack in every garage and a submarine in every bathtub also neglects the layers of infrastructure needed to make a new paradigm work.

    Combine these two and you must face dark economic wizards like Malthus, and evil powers like the Tragedy of the Commons [garretthardinsociety.org]. James Bond (or rather, Q) can employ a single jetpack. But a Robert Moses [nytimes.com]

  • Why deliver the future when the past keeps paying those who control the ultimate delivery of technology? If a corporation posses a technology that gives them an edge over everyone else, why would they deliver that to the general population and disrupt their market? Why do you think companies like West ing house and Tex as In stru ments are still around, because they *already* own the future, and *they* will choose when it is deployed.

    Business is war, power over ideas is money and a lawsuit is a pretty effe

  • Two words (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Twinbee (767046) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:14AM (#28157985) Homepage
    Happiness economics [wikipedia.org].

    Instead of basing how rich we are on money alone, we would do far better to increase the levels of the one thing that really matters for all people, by experimenting, researching, and modifying various aspects of towns and cities the world over.

    This way, we can expand and refine cities until they converge towards the ideal (whatever that may be).

    Still one of the most interesting diagrams on the internet [wikipedia.org] ever.
  • Never? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tukang (1209392) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:18AM (#28158021)
    Americans have never accepted a radical political transformation that would change their future.

    Sorry but I think Corn is dead wrong on this assertion. America was founded on a radical political transformation and the abolition of slavery and the end of segregation are both radical transformations that have arguably changed the future of all Americans more than any single technology.

  • The only things we haven't got are the stupid things like flying cars. No one in their right mind wants some soccer mom flying her little precious in some tank-like flying SUV.

    But for things that matter, like growing body parts, we're coming along just fine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzcEWmstN7U [youtube.com]

    The internet alone has changed so too. But people need to get it out of their heads that we'll all of the sudden, one day, wear nothing but white and fly around in cars.
  • by DragonTHC (208439) <Dragon@NosPAM.gamerslastwill.com> on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:32AM (#28158139) Homepage Journal

    1. stupid people who can't figure out how to use technology. This is the cause of the "easy to use" revolution.

    2. religious zealots who find technology to be "indistinguishable from magic" and therefore "against god".

    3. government who chooses not to invest in new technologies and continues to utilize old technologies due to budgeting priorities.

    4. industry as a whole who buys and buries new technologies until they can no longer sell old technologies.

  • Never? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MaggieL (10193) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:40AM (#28158187)

    "Americans have never accepted a radical political transformation that would change their future." Apparently Corn flunked American History in high school.

  • As technology progresses some jobs are destroyed while others are created but need more education and training to qualify for.

    Automobiles made the Buggy and Buggy Whip jobs go away. When robots replaced people on the assembly line, there was robot repair jobs.

    Before the Word Processor and Laser Printer, companies used to hire a room full of a hundred typists to type up copies of memos and letters. But now one person can print out 100 copies with a Laser Printer. But there needs to be an IT staff on duty to fix the Laser Printer or Computer that the Word Processor is installed on.

    All politics has done is limit what we can and cannot do with technology. Real change does not come from technology or politics, it comes from people deciding to change their ways for the better of the world. Technology was invented to make things easier to do, but it leads to sloth and greed and other negative things. You can get more things done with technology than you can without it, but people tend to get slothful or greedy. Technology companies have to keep coming up with new versions of technology in order to keep earning money, that is greed. Who says the 4.0 version isn't as good as the 7.0 version? Most likely the company that developed it. Meanwhile some people are satisfied with the 4.0 version and don't need to buy the 7.0 version, while others claim that even the 7.0 version isn't as good enough.

    When I was young I loved calculators because they made doing Math easier. My father called it a crutch, claimed that if I did Math via the calculator I wouldn't be able to do Math in my head and I used the calculator as a crutch. Technology is a crutch, we use it and sometimes it causes us not to be able to do things on our own. We become dependent on technology to get things done. If there is a crisis and we can no longer have electricity due to a shortage of fossil fuels, how can we function without technology? Maybe the Amish have a point that technology is idleness?

  • by tjstork (137384) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Sunday May 31, 2009 @10:27AM (#28158491) Homepage Journal

    10) We did not destroy ourselves in a holocaust by 1960, by 1980, or by 2000, as many sci-fi writers have depicted.

    9) In 'Future World" marketing shows, the man watched black and white TV or listened to the radio after he got home from work while the woman cleaned and made tv dinners. Now, men can play xbox 360 all day because the women cook and clean, AND have a job.

    8) The biggest alien species we have possibly countered so far is a couple of dents on the size of a martian meteor.

    7) Automation has made consumer products that we know better, and allowed for the use of new ones. Seriously, have you seen the documentary about the construction of an aluminum block for an engine? There's no way a human could cut with the tolerances and precision that these machines gave, and they didn't. Reliability is much, much better.

    6) Materials are better. Man, they thought the future of everything was going to be stainless steel. Now, we can consumer products made from titanium. How cool is that?

    5) Dual metal steak knives as seen on TV are frankly of a better quality than some of the finest japanese swords from the samurai era. The steel on the back is better, the forging is more consistent, the sharp end has a better grade of metal...

    3) We have more and better food than we could have ever had before.

    2) Our computers are hands down better than the computers depicted in the Star Trek, TOS, and in fact, are better than any computer depicted in any sci-fi medium or promise before then.

    1) This is a great time for whiskey. American and Scottish producers are producing wonderful, wonderful spirits these days.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @12:34PM (#28159459) Homepage

    It's worth comparing 1909, 1959, and 2009.

    Almost everything we have now existed in 1959, although more expensive and clunkier. Jet aircraft, nuclear power, rockets, transistors, computers, television, car mobile phones, solar cells, freeways, plastics, antibiotics, mass produced cars, shopping malls, and home appliances were all in existence by 1959. DNA had been figured out. Even e-mail [wikipedia.org] and computer networks [wikipedia.org] were starting to work. None of those things existed in 1909.

    What we have today are mostly improvements on those technologies.

    What didn't we get that was expected? Lots of things. A new source of energy. Strong AI. Antigravity. General purpose robots. Workable space travel.

    If you look at 50 year intervals since 1759, there's been less fundamental change in the last 50 years than in any of the previous five periods.

    This is a real problem, because we're stuck with a set of technologies that rely on depleting resources that won't last another 50 years.

  • What? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ghjm (8918) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @06:15PM (#28162033) Homepage

    Americans have never accepted a radical political transformation that would change their future.

    But what about:
        - The American Revolution
        - The Civil War with respect to slavery (Dred Scott, Emancipation)
        - The Civil War with respect to state's rights (or lack of them)
        - The establishment of Selective Service
        - The establishment of income tax and the IRS
        - The trade union movement
        - Prohibition
        - The repeal of Prohibition
        - The New Deal
        - The Cuban embargo of 1962
        - The civil rights movement of the 1960s
        - The Vietnam anti-war movement
        - The Reagan "Morning in America" movement of the 1980s
        - The gay rights movement of the 1990s-2000s

    Every one of these changed the future for vast numbers of Americans and arose through political means. So how can you say only technology has changed the future in America? Or are you saying something different from that?

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing. -- Alan Perlis

Working...