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Musings On The Future We Imagined & The One We Got - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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June 8th, 2012

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10:54 pm - Musings On The Future We Imagined & The One We Got
Here's an interesting (if also quite problematic) article about the problematic difference between visions of the future and the reality of the future.

The focus of the article is that modern corporate capitalism sold out the future and decreased innovation. One of the primary bits of evidence is that visions of the future from the late 19th and earth 20th century looked a moderate amount like the actual 1950s & 60s:

" Those who grew up at the turn of the century reading Jules Verne or H.G. Wells imagined the world of, say, 1960 with flying machines, rocket ships, submarines, radio, and television—and that was pretty much what they got. If it wasn’t unrealistic in 1900 to dream of men traveling to the moon, then why was it unrealistic in the sixties to dream of jet-packs and robot laundry-maids?"

Thinking about this article, I find an interesting mixture of wisdom and utter cluelessness. The two most obvious being problems moon bases (and other off-world habitats) and flying cars.

The first is hard, inherently dangerous (swift death waits just outside every wall), and expensive – it didn't happen because you need strong incentives to convince people to do anything that is expensive, especially if it's also quite dangerous. Building a moon colony needs more reasons behind it beyond "It's really cool", a fact that fans of off-world colonization have wrestled unsuccessfully with for the last 40 years.

The second is quite simply an obviously bad idea. Without fully automatic cars that are exceedingly reliable, every flying car and jet pack is a horrible accident waiting to happen. Not only is flying inherently harder than driving, but engine failure or drunken idiocy results in impressively deadly crashes. In addition to being more deadly (a car losing power or control may be able to simply coast to the edge of the road, the same thing happening to a flying car is quite bad), accidents could result in flying cars ending up in the sides of apartment buildings or plummeting down on top of houses or hospitals. W/o total computer control, which could take away control from every driver about to do anything dangerous, I'd vote against any attempt to create flying cars.

OTOH, there also may be some truth in this article – while automation has become quite impressive in the past 40 years, people in the developed world have replaced some labor with automation and a whole lot more with poorly paid labor in the developing world. I rather suspect that if there had been better laws governing that sort of thing (mandating better wages, environmental, & safety standards in developing world factories making goods for sale in the developed world) we'd have more and better automation in factories in the developed world. Also, I suspect that we'd have far better batteries for electric cars if the oil and gas lobby hadn't been so powerful in the 80s and 90s.

That said, I also see a lot of impressive developments going on today – no, as the author mentioned sequencing the human genome didn't result in instant cures for diseases, but various gene therapies ( for both medical uses and athletic enhancement ) are in the early stages of testing or even use, and vaccines for cancer & for parkinson's disease are currently in development.

We have probes around most world in the solar system, which isn't bad at all. Also occasionally I see articles that utterly blow me away, such as this bizarre piece about artificially evolving proteins to create unusual materials - it seems like bizarre SF, and it happening today.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(4 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 9th, 2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the article. I would not be surprised if our neoliberal rulers did try to actively make sure that the status quo could not be changed by stifling innovation. Unfortunately, people who say that modern technology will certainly go down the tubes in the next 20-50 years because of peak oil, water, coal, natural gas, uranium, etc. are inadvertently contributing to this as well. If modern technology is doomed anyway because we are about to run out of everything, why innovate anything beyond the newest iPhone?
[User Picture]
Date:June 10th, 2012 03:19 am (UTC)
Speaking of off-world bases, some folks actually plan to colonise Mars by 2023 and pay for it by making it a reality TV show. I don't know if that can succeed, but I'm hoping so?

Edited at 2012-06-10 03:19 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:June 10th, 2012 04:19 am (UTC)
I've encountered that group before, they are essentially idiots. Using current technology, getting to Mars takes 6-9 months, almost all of which is outside of the Earth's magenetic field - the radiation dosage pretty much insures cancer at an early age, as well as serious bone density and muscle loss because of so much time in zero G. Also, Mars is very far from habitable and we honestly have no clue how to make a remotely closed ecosystem that is stable. If this happens (and I assume it won't because this group is overly optimistic about pretty much everything involved in space travel), they'd all likely be dead by 2030, if not earlier.
[User Picture]
Date:June 10th, 2012 09:43 am (UTC)

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