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Why Our "Amazing" Science Fiction Future Fizzled

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the i-blame-the-schools dept.

Sci-Fi 499

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."

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Ego (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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").

Re:Ego (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28157809)

How about you shut the fuck up, then? God dammit, I hate you fucking caucasoids, always prattling on about "exploiting people's egos" and "liberating use of modern technology" and "Get a job, nigger." It gets so fucking old after a while.

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

easy solution (2, Insightful)

jandoedel (1149947) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157825)

maybe you should stop visiting their blogs then...?

Re:easy solution (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158087)

Sorry, have you ever used a search engine and tried to filter through the utter fucking tripe from morons who have no clue about anything but will happily talk about it as if an expert?

Re:easy solution (3, Insightful)

MaggieL (10193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158177)

Since he claims to be able to shut up, maybe he should. :-)

Re:Ego (4, Interesting)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158097)

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 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158101)

ironic idiot is ironic. and an idiot

Re:Ego (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158215)

Perhaps after digesting 4chan wholesale and regurgitating it up without discrimination you will have room for a small bite of dictionary, Alanis.

Re:Ego (1)

BradleyAndersen (1195415) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158159)

Here, here!

These things are all just advertising and datamining traps.

In other news, I used FB briefly at the request of a friend. I had people coming out of the woodwork I had not heard from since high school (~15 years ago for me) sending me friend requests, but no messages. These were the same people who had paid me no attention in high school. Fools simply wanted to increase their friend counts. I de-activated my account after about five days, and guess what? That data does not belong to me and will never go away.

Despite my career as a coder, I prefer to keep a very small online footprint. Try to find me online somewhere (slashdot doesn't count)

;)

Greed (5, Insightful)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158233)


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:Ego (1)

acedotcom (998378) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158253)

Perhaps then you should find another place to speak then, honestly. Whats the point of coming to a website that allows feedback, and then providing feedback, and then complaining about being able to provide feedback?

Flyin Cars (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157755)

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 (chewables) Meet the Jetsons" sort of way.

Re:Flyin Cars (2, Interesting)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157853)

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 to the car to get you there. If it comes close enough to any other vehicles, they'll negotiate collision avoidance between them. When you get there, tell the car to go find somewhere to park and wait for you.

-jcr

Re:Flyin Cars (2, Funny)

wisty (1335733) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157983)

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.

Re:Flyin Cars (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158127)

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:Flyin Cars (2, Interesting)

Kohath (38547) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157999)

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 monitored somehow, and any warning would have to be an automatic no-fly. And the instruments would have to self-calibrate somehow.
- And the car would also have to refuse to fly if regular maintenance hadn't been done on schedule.

.
We're a long, long way from flying cars. And, when you consider how much they're going to cost, the real-world advantages of a flying car might not be worthwhile. Do I really need to be stuck at home every time it snows (or is forecast to maybe snow)? Or every time any little mechanical problem occurs? My current car has a lot of little tiny, non-critical mechanical issues because it has 100,000 miles on it. It's still a good reliable car that should last me another year or three. If it was a flying car, every single problem would have to be fixed and the systems overhauled.

Re:Flyin Cars (4, Interesting)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158181)

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:Flyin Cars (1)

Kohath (38547) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158263)

Surface cars are very efficient and increasingly much, much safer. Roads are not expensive to build in comparison to anything else. And much of the cost of roads is not road-building, it's all the fluff that's built into government projects: environmental impact studies, prevailing wage laws, endless legal fees and expert analysis, minority set-asides, political wrangling over routes, and on and on. Cars and roads are still by far the cheapest, most efficient, and most convenient mode of transportation of individuals.

They'll follow the same cost curve as automobiles did.

That's plausible. But they'll start out at a much, much higher price. Like $10-20 million each. For a car that refuses to function when it snows.

Scaling is the future (4, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Flyin Cars (5, Insightful)

Alcoholist (160427) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157981)

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.

Re:Flyin Cars (1)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158221)

Until flying vehicles have zero input into it's in-flight profile, no one is safe.
It has to offer the functionality of a taxi.
The question is:
Do you trust something you can't control?
Do you trust cab drivers?
Sounds like a recipe^W business plan
for another wave of anti-anxiety drugs from the pharma overlords.
 

It's not about prediction [Re:Flyin Cars] (5, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158061)

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.

Re:Flyin Cars (3, Funny)

The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Flyin Cars (1)

nido (102070) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158115)

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?

have faith (4, Funny)

psyklopz (412711) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Does that mean...? (1)

iCodemonkey (1480555) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157767)

So when do we get our flying cars, FTL intergalactic ships (with sexy alien women) and all the other cool stuff they promised.

Re:Does that mean...? (2, Funny)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158009)

Actually, you know what... forget the cars and ships.

Re:Does that mean...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158211)

Futurama reference for the win!

I still prefer technology (1)

Bill Dog (726542) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157771)

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

Until now.

Re:I still prefer technology (1, Insightful)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157879)

I think they were hoping for a change for the better, not the worse.

Re:I still prefer technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28157901)

Americans have never accepted a radical political transformation that would change their future. They prefer technology, not radical politics, to propel social change.

.

Maybe that's because they realize that the promises of politics/politicians are even less trustworthy than the promises of technology.

Re:I still prefer technology (4, Insightful)

Deag (250823) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157915)

Does the American Revolution not count as a radical political transformation? Federal republics were not common in 1776.

Re:I still prefer technology (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157959)

Sure it does. It just doesn't count as placing faith in politics to make life better. More the opposite.

Re:I still prefer technology (2, Funny)

sidyan (110067) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158047)

You mean, placing politics in faith?

Re:I still prefer technology (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158091)

Americans have never accepted a radical political transformation that would change their future. They prefer technology, not radical politics, to propel social change.

Does the American Revolution not count as a radical political transformation? Federal republics were not common in 1776.

Yes, but at the time the American Revolution started, we were Brits.

Re:I still prefer technology (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158235)

Americans have never accepted a radical political transformation that would change their future. They prefer technology, not radical politics, to propel social change.

Does the American Revolution not count as a radical political transformation? Federal republics were not common in 1776.

Yes, but at the time the American Revolution started, we were Brits.

How about the "civil war" / "war of northern aggression"? No fair saying the confederates were no longer americans, since they still resided on the N.A. continent.

Re:I still prefer technology (1)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158001)

What? Do you have some grievance you're attempting to point out, or are you just trolling?

Re:I still prefer technology (2, Funny)

jo42 (227475) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158179)

Someone tell the politicians that George Orwell's 1984 was NOT meant as a guidebook.

The real reason. (5, Interesting)

Gerafix (1028986) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:The real reason. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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:The real reason. (2, Informative)

Narpak (961733) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158123)

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:The real reason. (1)

Gerafix (1028986) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158175)

Wars are not logical. Instead they would probably combine both cybernetics and bio-engineering, I mean why not. Why can't I BE a shark with a laser on my head?!

Re:The real reason. (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158205)

Exactly. Look at how heated people get on here. Imagine Microsoft vs Linux with real weaponry.

Um? (5, Insightful)

viyh (620825) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157791)

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"?

Re:Um? (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157935)

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. Though forty years ago harvesting organs from prisoners was a pretty out there concept, Niven points to contemporary China and says "I told you this could happen."

Re:Um? (2, Insightful)

viyh (620825) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157967)

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

Re:Um? (0)

wisty (1335733) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158041)

1984 was basically a rip-off of the earlier and better written "Darkness at Noon" by Koestler (except Orwell added in telescreens, moved it from 1930s Russia to 1980s England, made the timeline linear (rather than flashback based) and changed the toothache to a varicose vein). Orwell was a bit more popular though, because Koestler had, shall we say, "character issues".

Re:Um? (1)

viyh (620825) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158113)

Not true at all. Blair's (Orwell) influence was the book "We" by Zamyatin (1921). I have a copy of it, good stuff, but much more similar to "Anthem" by Ayn Rand if you ask me. It's widely known and he has mentioned that fact himself quite a bit. Dystopian lit was my forte a while back.

SPOILER! (1)

Zero_Independent (664974) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157797)

FUCKING SPOILER ALERT! Article gives away ending of Battlestar Galactica. Goddamn it! I mean that shit hasn't been concluded for more than a year or two. What the hell?

political change is stopped via constitution (1)

cryophan (787735) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157801)

No, it is not that we WANTED change only by technology, it is that our Federal Constitution was designed by the rich aristocrats to STIFLE political change and to DISEMPOWER the voters. Americans have no option to change america politically because our Founding Fiends illegally installed a federal constitution that would thwart political change. To quote James Madison, "the father of the constitution, the constitution would not allow the voters to "unite and discover their common interest." Madison et al did this by creating a governmental structure that would increase the number of factions in the political districts by enlarging the political districts.

Cars *are* a great improvement. (4, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157805)

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

Re:Cars *are* a great improvement. (1)

JPortal (857107) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157837)

In addition, cars *are* much faster, traffic jams or not. Just because they appear to have similar problems (pollution, traffic jams) doesn't mean it's not a huge leap forward.

Re:Cars *are* a great improvement. (0)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157871)

In addition, cars *are* much faster, traffic jams or not.

That, too.

-jcr

Re:Cars *are* a great improvement. (5, Interesting)

Yacoby (1295064) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157931)

In cities roller skates are one of the fastest methods around. Followed by push bikes (even if you follow the laws exactly). Folding bikes are even better as you can also use public transport when needed.

Re:Cars *are* a great improvement. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28157865)

Shhhh, you're not supposed to say that here!

When I see Obongo and his Secret Service detail rolling around in a fleet of armored Priuses, then I *MIGHT* consider getting one for myself. Call me old fashioned, but I was taught to believe that leaders should lead by example. If every single politician and their security detail can drive an SUV, then so can I. If you don't like it, then you can lick my ball sack. Unless you're Barney Frank, in which case you might actually enjoy that.

DNF (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28157815)

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

And? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28157827)

'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 and carcases problem was but by the sounds of things, the cars are an improvement and the prognosticators of the time were broadly right.

An alternate theory (0, Troll)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157841)

We have all kinds of technology with the power to make our lives better. For the most part it is being used to make rich people richer.

Re:An alternate theory (5, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157933)

For the most part it is being used to make rich people richer.

Exactly! Compared to 100 years ago, most people living in western nations are richer than their grand/parents. Standards of living have improved hugely. See issues like antibiotics, refridgeration, ubiquitous electricty, satellite television, long distance phone calls for pennies (or less), instant access to enourmous troves of information, lives that are decades longer, births that are far less fatal to mother and baby...

"Rich" is and always has been relative. Even lower-middle-class folks today enjoy personal amenities and creature comforts that some proverbial, rich, artistocratic Duke of Earl would have considered god-like magic only a few generations ago. The child of a wealthy industry magnate, only some years back, couldn't - for any ammount of money - have had a cochlear implant as now seen in plenty of average (but hearing impaired) kids today. It's absurd to compare one person's cash on hand with someone else's (as a measure of wealth) and to ignore comparisons to the vast reach of human history... compared to which billions of people live like kings.

Re:An alternate theory (3, Insightful)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158025)

Today, even a poor man today can purchase strawberries in the dead of winter. And they are larger, sweeter strawberries than any that could be had at any other time in history. Magic.

Re:An alternate theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158199)

and everyone here has their own computer. at least one. THEIR OWN FUCKING COMPUTER.

Re:An alternate theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158213)

yeah
I have a device that when you push a button - frozen water comes out!
and I can lie on my back all day eating grapes and other exotic fruits (actually I prefer Cheeto's)

even in the height of Rome this would be considered decadency
nowadays nobody even cares

I have a very easy life (I sit around infront of a display for most of it) yet I would be considered "poor" by a lot of people as my income is only £15,000 ($25,000)

Re:An alternate theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158007)

... and "poor" people richer as well. Other than the United States, where else do you see homeless people with cell phones?

Re:An alternate theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158079)

China.

Re:An alternate theory (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158059)

I doubt that. Two hundred years ago, rich people lived in mansions with indoor stoves, plumbing, and central heating. They had private coaches. Poor people had outhouses and fireplaces, and traveled by foot. Now, rich people have the same air-conditioning, refrigerators and automobiles that you have. Theirs are just slightly fancier and more reliable. Most of them travel on the same airplanes as the middle-classes. Granted, the truly-rich have yachts too; but I think the truly-rich have had yachts for quite a while.

Re:An alternate theory (1)

jruschme (76180) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158093)

I'm reminded a bit of the classic WB cartoon where the elves describe mass production to the shoemaker. What people couldn't foresee what the idea of transportation becoming so cheap (or labor remaining so expensive) that you could actually make the product half-way around the world and still sell it cheaper than if you made it in the US.

Similarly, the 1960's cartoon "The Jetsons" envisioned a future with a 3-day work week, most of which involved having to periodically push "the button". By the 1980s, though, we began to see new office technologies such as the fax machine not as the means to decreasing work, but as the means of expanding the work day to having more time to do the same work. The same can be said or the Blackberry which provides such a level of connectivity that one never has to let an employee "stop" working for the day.

Hmmm.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28157843)

They prefer technology, not radical politics, to propel social change.

Tell that to the current president...

We're much less optimistic now! (3, Insightful)

joelholdsworth (1095165) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Pfft, give me a break (5, Insightful)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157881)

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

Re:Pfft, give me a break (1)

Gerafix (1028986) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157939)

People still dump garbage into large bodies of water. I think Victoria in BC still dumps all its raw sewage straight into the ocean, as well as garbage. Pretty sure the Newfies do it too.

I *am* living in the furture.... (5, Insightful)

Gorkamecha (948294) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:I *am* living in the furture.... (2, Funny)

Gorkamecha (948294) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157895)

Sadly, I still can't spell.

Re:I *am* living in the furture.... (5, Interesting)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157927)

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*

Re:I *am* living in the furture.... (1, Interesting)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157929)

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 (5, Insightful)

crmartin (98227) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Amnesia (1)

Epistax (544591) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157937)

That's nothing. Don't forget the universe was rather dull before we invented color.

Re:Amnesia (5, Insightful)

rbphilip (530254) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Amnesia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158147)

Don't forget that I carry a communicator in my pocket smaller than Captain Kirk's ever was ...

And we now have viagra to fix that too....

Twenty-first century arrives with slight delay (1)

David Gerard (12369) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157909)

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 achieved sentience. He also offered the galactics free access to Google, with only the requirement for tasteful contextually-attuned text advertising to be imprinted on their DNA.

The reactionary forces of the twentieth-century United States finally conceded defeat and shut down the Five-Year Plan Tractor Plants of Detroit, where ridiculous oversized transport was bashed together by semi-literate peasants between fifths of vodka from the nerve gas factory next door, and the Five-Year Plan Software Plants of Redmond, where ridiculous oversized operating systems were bashed together by semi-numerate fresh graduates between fifths of Red Bull. The record and movie company back catalogues have been placed into the public domain for the preservation of human culture and the comic-book capitalists of Wall Street have been sent to calming, soothing, humanistic re-education facilities. "We'll teach them to love again," said Mr Obama.

Robot housecleaners are now universally available at quite reasonable prices. The robot companion for your child, designed to say "I LOVE YOU" while the child hits it repeatedly, was an early release for Christmas 2007 [vtechuk.com] . The new model features the voice of Justin Fletcher from CBeebies and is designed for parents to hit repeatedly.

Future innovations for the century include the rise of the Great Old Ones from their eternal sleep to take back the Earth and consume the souls of all humanity, first driving them slowly insane. The citizenry is being prepared for this eventuality using repeated broadcasts of In The Night Garden [inthenightgarden.co.uk] .

Re:Twenty-first century arrives with slight delay (1)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158195)

Of course future fact might be a lot stranger than future fiction. Aren't we due for our next 20,000 year ice age, so a future with decidedly more icy overtones. Struggling for control of strained resources, adapting to civilisation changing climate change, conflict over changing zones of habitability and the future direction of greed and selfish venality.

Can capitalism and ruthless exploitation survive or is it ultimately self destructive upon an extinction basis, where technology deployed to feed the ego of the minority at the expense of the majority ends up extinguishing both. Can humanity create more socially conscious technology distributed upon a basis of need rather than greed and balance out it's use of finite resources where those who consume it beyond any reasonable or even sane measure are reviled rather than celebrated.

I would hope that future forecasts would focus upon a cleaner and healthier management of our civilisation, of putting the increases in human productivity to better use than glorying the excesses of the rich and greedy, perhaps a society that makes using of increasing rather than decreasing leisure time to enhance knowledge and understanding across not only via the internet but also by direct qualitative education ie. learning as a desirable and popular leisure activity, a step back from societies that consider education to be restricted and privileged resource than a fundamental part of being a fully functioning citizen.

It's about subtracting things, not just adding (1)

rlseaman (1420667) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157923)

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] is needed to bring us all to the promised land of some new visionary technology (casually crushing the South Bronx [mcny.org] along the way, of course).

Vested interests (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157953)

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 effective weapon against *any* innovation. You can't build the future while it is locked up in some patent vault somewhere.

The future is now but the implementation is delayed by patent litigation.

Re:Vested interests (2, Insightful)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158069)

Because if they don't deliver the technology to us, then China will.

Wrong. (1)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158231)

Because if they don't deliver the technology to us, then China will.

Oh, good. So we can be expecting the Chinese Electric Car/Geothermal/Solar/Ocean power to replace world oil dependence any day now?

Get back to me when my food isn't deliberately toxic and money can't be made from selling medicine.

The West will nuke China before they are allowed to alleviate world slavery through the capitalist nonsense dogma kids are fed in their first year college! Fucking mind-mold factories with ivy and buildings which are SOOOO big and overwhelming and home is SOOOO far away; dazed as such, any shit which sounds Smart and Strong, delivered by a Charismatic Leader, (with no prevailing counter argument to be seen or heard), goes into a kid's head and sticks to the gray matter like super-glue. No matter how obviously stupid it is.

Heck, China loves slavery even more than we do, and that's saying something. It would be insane to think that the version of the military industrial complex which comes with Chinese "Stop or We'll Shoot" warning labels doesn't extend to hyper-paranoid control over technology distribution in the land of the Rising Sun. Just like it does here.

-FL

Cars DO improve (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28157977)

its just there are alot more of us using them in cities than there ever was horses. Can you imagine if every car in Manhattan was replaced by a horse and cart, things would be much more congested and polluted

Two words (4, Interesting)

Twinbee (767046) | more than 5 years ago | (#28157985)

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? (5, Insightful)

tukang (1209392) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Technology Hype Cycle (1)

Trip6 (1184883) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158051)

Gartner has published a great curve that largely explains this phenomenon. We start with a new technology (trigger), and it's promise is almost limitless. It rises rapidly until it peaks at the height of inflated expectations. Then people realize the hype and we slip into the trough of disillusionment and many times this kills the technology, but if it's viable, it then settles into a steadily rising slope of enlightenment that, over time, becomes the broad productive deployment of the technology. Classic case: the internet, that went through this cycle through the 90s, hit the trough in 2000/2001, and is now broadly accepted as a part of life. Every new technology experiences this cycle to some extent. Wiki has a piece on this.

I think we're doing better (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158083)

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.

radical political solutions... 1776 called (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158095)

i dont know if you remember something called the 'american revolution', but it was fucking revolutionary. and radical.

why can't "science" people seem to so often make horribly incorrect statements about history?

is it because it is a 'evil liberal art', they feel no need to check facts or reign in their tendency for hyperbole?

Re:radical political solutions... 1776 called (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158165)

But they weren't really Americans until AFTER the revolution. Before that they were British colonists living in the Americas.

Failure to invent Bloodwine (1)

assemblerex (1275164) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158109)

my greatest regret from of our lost future. That and painsticks, but I hear Dick Cheney is working on that as we speak.

the 4 barriers to progress (2, Interesting)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158139)

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.

Re:the 4 barriers to progress (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158225)

5. Governments who use technology against their own (or other governments') people thereby alienating them )or those left alive) from future advances

6. Technologies that demonstrate just how wide the divide is between those who "can" and disenfranchised many who "can't" use or afford them.

Time travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158153)

So we can go back in time and dup2 this story!

Article is garbage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28158183)

"Americans were predicting that another miraculous invention would deliver them from the burden of the horse and hurried urban life â" the automobile"....and they were CORRECT. Your typical 19th-century American city was crowded and smelly, by 19th century standards. The entire population of the largest 19th century cities (at the very end of the century) in the world was between approximately 1 and 3 million. Modern cities with automobiles and similar populations would be considered pristine paradises by our 19th century friends.

Technology has allowed populations of 10's of millions of people to coexist in areas where that simply would not be possible. Can you imagine Los Angeles today with horses? REALLY?! It's ok to knock futurists and state they had "inflated optimism", but support that idea with some actual facts. All the examples I saw cited, actually did underestimate just how much of an impact technology would have on life, even when they were incorrect. Where have all the real journalists gone?

Never? (2, Insightful)

MaggieL (10193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158187)

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

SF is about what we want or fear, not predictions (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158201)

SF writing has to be popular. Either to get readers or to get sales.

That means it's got to strike a chord with the readership (or buyer) and either play on their desires or, provoke their fears. If a writer was to extrapolate the future, they'd end up with a rather boring SF piece - because tomorrow tends to be a lot like today and because most of the changes are social, not technological.

There are no radical shifts (call 'em paradigm shifts if you must) that society goes through. The only two current major tech. shifts are both to do with communication - either internet or the ubiquity of mobile phones. Thtey've both been around for about 20 year and will take at least that much more before the full effects are established. Plus, when the efects are known, I'd be willing to bet that they won't be the ones everybody is predicting.

Since the (social) changes aren't predictable, they don't make for great SF as the readers / buyers wouldn't expect or believe those outcomes. As has been said many times, SF has got to make sense, whereas real life doesn't have to. That's what makes writing SF hard.

What hasn't changed is.... (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 5 years ago | (#28158271)

sales hype and market competition...

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