Saturday, August 21, 2010

Welcome to THE FUTURE

It's no secret that I love vintage science fiction. I love seeing how people in the past imagined the future, especially when their future is my present.

I found such a gem at the library, a children's book called Tomorrow's Home by Neil Ardley, published in 1981. I was nine years old in 1981, dreaming of the future.

How does 2010 stack up to what we envisioned back then?

Right in the foreword, we are told that "in the future the members of a family will spend more time together in their home than they do now. The reason is that computers and robots should give us more leisure time in which to be together . . ."

Ah-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa! Yes, that's true. This "leisure time" is called "unemployment."

(If you think I'm making a joke, check out "The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market" by David Autor of MIT. The report suggests that the decline of the middle class is due, in part, to automation. In other words, the jobs that used to provide a decent middle class living are now predominantly done by computers and robots.)

But enough about the depressing side of life in 2010. We're looking at THE FUTURE.

Well, they got the little robot vacuums right. The artist even imagined the robo-vac terrorizing the cat. I may not have a Roomba, but evidence on YouTube suggests that cats are not particularly alarmed by them.

But as for the rest of the household robots--well, that didn't pan out so much. Look at this little robot bringing this hardworking rancher a drink (while other robots tend his cattle). Where's my robot maid to bring me root beer and M&M's?

But sometimes they take the robot servant thing too far. I mean, look at this.

Is it really all that hard to pour a bowl of cereal? Do you really need two robots to do it for you? No wonder we have an obesity epidemic in the 21st century. We don't get off our butts to do a darned thing. (The book didn't mention that part. I don't think anyone in the past saw the obesity thing coming. If anything, futurists of the past imagined we'd all be skinny and starving from massive food shortages.)

The book hit pretty close on video games. Our games aren't 3D like this one yet (although the explosion of 3D CGI movies in theaters in the last year or so makes me think video games will follow sooner rather than later), but they did correctly predict that the games would be played online with many other players.

Then again, their view of technology was surprisingly limited in other ways. Check out this videophone computer. It's HUGE! This monster would take a whole room of someone's house!

Aren't you glad we got laptops and smartphones instead?

(Yes, I know that's just a static image of me on the computer screen. I don't have wireless internet in my apartment, so it's not like I could connect to Skype without going to the library. But you know what a videoconference looks like. Don't pretend you don't. And if you really don't, then just go watch a commercial for the iPhone 4.)

Overall, the predictions in that 1981 book were not entirely unreasonable. I was surprised at how close some of them came. I suppose the real barrier to every household having the things they describe is cost. That's one thing these futurist books never really seem to address, that some people will have these things, and others will be left wishing they could afford them.

I'm going to leave you with one of the more improbable things described in the book, the ability to watch a movie in your living room AND to act the lead role yourself, replacing the actor who originally starred in the role.

Wow, that sounds pretty farfetched . . . oh wait, it we have that. Yoostar is supposed to do exactly that. I've never had the opportunity to try it, so I don't know how well it works, however it does exist.

I think this pretty well proves that anything you can imagine will eventually come to pass. And I honestly do believe that many inventors are driven to create the sci-fi gadgets that inspired them as children. In fact, the website Technovelgy connects sci-fi ideas of the past with the technologies of today. Everything we have started out with someone saying, "What if . . ."

There are many more predictions in Tomorrow's Home than I actually scanned or mentioned. If you'd like to read it or see the rest of the pictures, check it out at a library near you.