By Ron VandenBoom
It was a colorful book that captured my attention years ago as I sat at my parents' kitchen table.
It contained pictures of rocket planes that shuttled passengers between the Earth and the moon and of cars that floated off the ground as they transported families to and fro. There were pictures of jetpacks that lifted people off the ground and of televisions worn on the wrist that served also as telephones.
These were just a few of the images prognosticators of the 1950s thought would become reality by the turn of the century.
Well, unless I miss my guess, very few if any of the things these futuristic thinkers claimed would come to pass are actually a part of our lives today.
Sure we tinker with the idea of wearing TVs on our wrists and we do have a space shuttle that almost routinely enters space and returns to Earth, but the pictures painted by the misguided minds of 40 plus years ago are still years in the future.
This is not to say that tremendous strides in science have not created a different world than we had 40 years ago. Medical advances alone have created a different world and the development of things like computers, the Internet, and even the common music CDs have pushed the envelope forward. But the fantasy world depicted in books and science fiction movies is still far from reality.
Why is it that soothsayers and prognosticators of the past have fallen so far short of the mark? Were they living in a dream world of fantasy plus or did they not feel it necessary to be accurate in their predictions?
I'm sure that eternally optimistic writers were part of the problem. You know, writers who believe knowledge will expand at an ever increasing rate, doubling and even tripling the knowledge we already have in less and less time. They might also suffer from a belief that "social man" will develop as quickly as his technology -- that man will accept scientific advancement with open arms and have the wisdom to know how to use it wisely.
Well, maybe we've learned something from this. Maybe it's not mans' best intentions that drive technological advancement. Maybe futuristic dreams are just that -- dreams, and should not be associated with the real world except in that context.
The truth of the matter is that economics and consumers drive the engine that leads to the conversion of scientific knowledge into practical use.
All the scientific knowledge in the world means nothing if there's no market for its end result -- a usable, viable, and economical consumer product. Sure, the military can afford to use your tax money to pay $1,000 for a specially designed toilet, but you and I can't. No one is going to build a spaceship to take passengers into space unless there is a way to make the experience economically viable.
That means there not only has to be an economical way to turn knowledge into a product, but a consumer who is willing to pay for the product once it is produced.
This puts the consumer into the driver's seat regarding the use of knowledge.
Computers, and the development of the Internet, did not become popular until the combination of computer prices and a demand for what they could do for consumers began to merge.
So will go the future. Technology 50 years into the future will be whatever consumers are willing and can afford to pay for. If that includes travel into space, jetpacks, or flying cars, so be it.
I personally predict that the medical field will see the greatest advances with new cures for disease and the wondrous world of bio-genetics leading the way. It may well be the one area most talked about at the turn of the next century.
Computers will continue to gain importance in our lives, but the Internet will quickly burn out and mean a whole lot less to us in as little as 20 years.
Nuclear fusion may finally become reality within 50 years and electric cars will be popular and common within 20 years -- their wheels will still be on the ground however.
TVs and computers in the home will be one within 15 years.