I was writing a check yesterday when I came to a starling revelation: We are living in the future! The employees at 7-11 didn’t seem too impressed by my insight and furthermore, they don’t take checks. So after digging in my pockets for change to buy the hotdog that will eventually kill me, I sat outside and thought about it. It’s that date that was boggling me. 2011 is only 4 years before the future predicted in "Back to the Future Part 2." It’s a full 10 years AFTER the world predicted in "2001: a Space Odyssey," and almost 15 years after the world suggested in "Escape From New York" (yep, that movie is set in ’96). And every moron from here to FOX NEWS Headquarters has made the crack about "1984." So the big question is, if we are living in the future, where is all my fun future tech stuff? Me? I’ve been waiting, and waiting. Let’s take a look at some of the technology I feel science fiction promised us, and how close we’ve gotten to making it happen. More-over lets ask ourselves if its even technology we event want.
#10 FLYING CARS:
Here’s one right out of "Back To The Future,’ and countless others. So why does Marty get a flying Delorean and all we have are fruity-looking hybrid cars? I don’t like the idea that when we do get flying cars they might be PT Cruisers and Priuses. That’s just gross. So who’s holding back the flying car? Well, mostly physics, it seems. Because there ARE flying cars coming to the market this year in the shape of “Roadable Air Vehicles” like the Transition from http://www.terrafugia.com/ . This is not the flying cars we dream about however; as these are more like normal airplanes you can drive home on roads. Its convenient and neat, but having to drive your flying car to an airport, file a flight plan, and take off on a runway is not the flying car (or train) that I feel like we’ve all had in our heads this long. Plus the gas costs are probably huge, maybe it should be a Prius. Still even if we invented them, we may not want too. There are about 10,000 drunk driving deaths a year (or more), now imagine that with things flying around in the sky!
“You hear about Dave?”
“Some drunk hit him with his car, killed him right there.”
“Oh crap! Was he driving?”
“No sitting in his 9th floor office.”
Furthermore, I live in a major city where there are more cars than people, and nobody can figure out that you don’t cross a double-yellow line. Can you imagine the mess idiots behind the wheel now would make if they suddenly had the ability to be stupid in ALL directions, not just forward and backward?
#9 JET PACKS:
This is the same thing as flying cars, only easier to fit in a garage. But unlike flying cars we’ve had this technology for a long time, it’s just really really lame. It turns out that you need to carry fuel with you when you fly one of these things, and if you want your flight to be longer than five minutes, your jetpack starts to look like a flying car very quickly. Still it’s good for flying in and interrupting a boxing match, or a single stunt, or ruining the movie Kick-Ass. Or, y’know, being Johnny Socko. Still, it would be kinda fun, until you tried to use one untrained. Here’s a video that explains it far better then I could.
#8 FOOD IN PILL FORM:
Here’s one I’m not begging to have invented. What a horrible invention! The thing we were annoyed with regarding food was all that taste, and ability to fill us up, right? I suppose its good for storing food on long trips, but is that what science is for, to make less more efficient and less fun? (Actually, it might be. Power Bar, anyone?) But the point I am making is food-pills seem boring, unless it’s the Violet Beauregard-killing 3-course dinner chewing gum, but that’s gum, and I don’t think it actually fed you.
While science has still not provided us with this “miracle” of invention, I’m content if they stop trying. What I really want is that crazy super-freeze-dried food from "Fifth Element" when Milla Jovovich puts essentially a tic-tac in a microwave and out comes a whole cooked chicken, now that’s something I can get behind.
Now, where did I leave that leftover Soylent Green.
#7 LIFE IN SPACE:
In "2001: A Space Odyssey," Stanley Kubrick suggested that in his view of the future there would be so much space travel, that a visit to a space station would be as common as spending time in an airport. As un-charming as life in an AIRPORT makes space-travel seem, I’m still waiting for my space station. Sadly, while Kubrick promised us giant ringed habitats orbiting the earth, all we got is a Mir with its few cramped Russian residents all desperately trying not to fart. That said, I’m all for a blue collar space future more like James Cameron than Richard Branson. Sorry Dick, but $200,000 for a short flight on Virgin Galactic seems more like a half completed hand-job than a real trip into space. I can half-complete my own hand-jobs, thank you.
That’s not even really the point. I wasn’t promised space-flight, I was promised SPACE LIFE. Where is the universe of space truckers and floating globes of habitats lush with hydroponic growth? Well, it’s probably not coming because of how much fuel it takes to get anything out of our atmosphere. Branson may not even be making much profit on the whole deal. When we do get out floating cities in orbit, I suspect it’s going to create a new level of elitism.
“Where do you live?”
“Oh I have a very nice penthouse in LA.”
“Oh you don’t live in space? Get away, Morlock!”
#6 TIME MACHINES:
I am not sure I can suggest anyone promised we’d have time machine technology at this point, but I still think it’s late to arrive. After all, if we did have time machine tech, wouldn’t we know by now because people would have traveled back? I like to think the reason there are no time travelers in our lifetime is because our time is so boring and stupid. It’s like taking a vacation to Detroit. Yeah, maybe during Mo-Town! But now… no dice. Anyway, time machines are something I’ve wanted for a long time. Still, can you imagine what they would do to time management?
“Oh… sorry, I got held up in traffic.”
“Well why don’t you go home, hop into your time machine, and leave earlier.”
Of course, as soon as you realized that you could always be on time every time, then you’d be adding several month long benders to every work-week. Other then aging rapidly, you’d at least be having fun. The problem, of course, is one of responsibility. Give people time machines and before you know it someone has gone back to the Jurassic period and stepped on that one magical butterfly that was going to teach the world about peace or however that works. Or they’ve gone back to make sure their now ex-wife was never born. You’d need a “time cop” and that movie was horrible. Incidentally, "Timecop" is set in like 1996, and has cars in it that drive themselves. Just saying.
#5 VIDEO PHONES:
Ok, wait… stop panicking, I KNOW you have a video phone right now. I know this technology has been realized. But that’s not the point. If your ability to video chat hinges on both of you owning an Iphone 4, then the technology is not actually fully implemented. Skyping and video-conferencing are still very much in the nascent stage compared to what was promised in nearly every science fiction movie every created. Trying to get a video connection over your neighbor’s purloined wireless is not quite “Put it on the main viewer, Number 1”. Plus, not everybody has Skype etc… and if you can’t call your parents and watch them fumble with the new video phone then why did you buy it? Personally, I want the phones on every available surface ala Star Trek or Spaceballs. More like Spaceballs.
#4 ROBOT SERVANTS:
Who’s afraid of a robot uprising? Not me, not if it means having a robot that can go do my errands for me. I mean, until our soon-to-be robot masters finally break their Asimov programming and take to the streets with laser pistols (speaking of which, where the hell are laser pistols?), I would really love to have a few extra metal hands around the house. We’re very close to making this one happen, but honestly I don’t think we’ll do it. This one isn’t a technology issue, but a monetary one. Who wants to hire a robotic servant when an increasing amount of disenfranchised peoples will do it cheaper? In a world where the idea of a butler is going rapidly out of style, the idea of a robot butler is just an excuse to spend way to much on maintenance. Plus, if these robots ran on anything as spotty as our current computer operating systems, I’d be worried they’d catch a virus and put the cat in the oven or something. Regardless, I’d prefer to be dictating this article to Electro rather than typing it on a laptop.
#3 SEX ROBOTS:
Give a man a robot and the first thing he’ll be thinking of is how to bed the thing. Or, at least teach it how to talk dirty. If every science nerd wasn’t thinking of how to build a sex robot from the start, they certainly were after "Blade Runner." Face it, it might be the only time Daryl Hannah was hot. (Well, that, and maybe "Splash.")
So how far are we from our own little pleasure-bots? Not as far as you’d think. The emergence of Realdolls (Google it, please) makes you wonder if we aren’t almost there. Hell, put an Asimo inside one of those things and I think we’ve got a winner. The strange thing is that despite the dozens of robo-gigolos and cyber-hookers that we seem to be ok with in fiction, Realdolls (like the one in "Lars and the Real Girl") make us realize these things are really creepy. What’s even stranger is that there are people out there who do a lot to dress like lovedolls now. For all the work we’re doing to simulate humanity, leave it to humanity to simulate whatever that is. The final question on Sex Robots is if we had them, would we ever go back to that real thing? I mean after I got my computer I haven’t given that typewriter a second look. Or that issue of "Playboy."
#2 Computer AI Assistants:
This one isn’t that far off from Robot Servants I’ll admit, but so many movies have useful, talk-to-able AI’s that it’s the thing I find I want most. If watching "Iron Man" didn’t make you want your own Jarvis running your house, you’re dead inside. So why isn’t this happening? Well it might have something to do with the fact that the voice recognition software on my phone thinks my boss called me to ask me "If I know the names of many fish." I have no idea what he was really asking.
So asking for the weather might get you electrocuted, or signed up for spin classes, or some other fate worse than death. Still, it’s better than keeping up with your own schedule. This, unlike robotic servants, is not cost prohibitive because I would rather spend thousands on an AI than whatever an out-of-work actor would charge me to keep track of my affairs. Plus, they are snarky and self-absorbed, and not in the charming way Jarvis is in those movies.
#1 VIRTUAL REALITY:
One of my favorite movies is "Strange Days," which suggests we’d have VERY realistic virtual reality in 1999. Shame it didn’t pan out that way; it’d be nice to jaunt off to some virtual vacation on the weekends. But it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve tried countless VR sets at science museums but they all end up like the world was out of the Dire Straits “I want my MTV” video. I even bought a Virtual Boy from Nintendo, but reality is not nearly as monochrome. So with the rise of 3D movies, are we on the verge of this final frontier of dream wanking and ignoring your 9 to 5? Probably not. The technologies in "Strange Days" and "Star Trek" are fully immersive in a way we probably won’t ever be able to replicate. I did attend a great immersive experience at Comic Con last year that put a whole bar into the "TRON" universe by way of LED wall screens and some clever architecture. That was a great experience, but the secret to falling into the world it created was to let yourself go in much the same way we get lost in a movie. If you can allow yourself to let go virtual reality is as close as a cardboard box and some imagination. I doubt most of humanity has that power after the age of 12. If you think humanity doesn’t take itself seriously you haven’t accidentally watched any Glenn Beck recently.
So there’s the 10 things we were promised that we didn’t get, at least in terms of Science Fiction. If I made a list of promises that weren’t kept in all cases it’d be a top million, and that’d just be politics and dating. (Rimshot) Did I miss anything? Tweet me at @SaxCarr with some technologies you wish we had already, or a month ago when it would have saved your job, or your relationship. Stupid scientists, get off your butts, we have lives to live here.