Visions of the future: What we were promised versus what we got
Paul Stachniak • May 11, 2020if( has_post_thumbnail( $post_id ) ): ?>
For those of us who grew up on Star Trek and the adventures of Marty McFly, the future looked bright indeed. From space colonies and super-intelligent computers to flying cars and teleportation, Hollywood promised us an exciting, glimmering world of gadgets that would make our day-to-day lives easier.
And yet, here we are in 2020 and technology hasn’t exactly lived up to the promises made in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, in the two years since this article was originally published, not much has changed. And that’s before a certain virus put the halt on things.
With all that said, here’s a few visions of the future that didn’t quite materialize in the ways we had hoped.
The future of home living
What we were promised: Robot helpers (of the maid and butler variety) who would tend to our every need. Think Rosie from 1962’s The Jetsons.
What we got: Well, so far, there’s the Roomba if you need your floor vacuumed and its cousin, the Braava, which mops the floor. Oh, and if you have $980 lying around you can preorder this laundry folding machine. Mind you, it’s been on pre-order since we published this article. Even the future of 2018 has lied to us.
Most “robots” today are in-home, single-function, task-based machines. Those that have been given a more humanoid form are generally pretty creepy, living somewhere in the deepest and darkest crevices of the uncanny valley.
What we were promised: A super-smart operating system that can make intelligent decisions and anticipate our next response, like the computer from Star Trek: The Next Generation or HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey… without all the murder, of course.
What we got: Amazon has Alexa, Apple has Siri and Google has Google Assistant. If you’ve used any of them, you’ll know they’re far from sentient, or reliable for that matter. Unless you like having your voice requests misheard.
At least they haven’t tried to murder us. Yet.
The future of transportation
What we were promised: In 1989’s Back to the Future: Part II, Marty McFly used a skate-board/jetpack hybrid and nothing was the same again. Since then, wheel-based skateboards felt like unnecessary punishment. Skaters were meant to fly.
What we got: Sadly, October 21, 2015 passed without a real hoverboard in sight. The closest thing we got is self-balancing scooters that tend to catch on fire. Not a great sign.
What we were promised: This one stings. A helicopter-car hybrid that can take off and land anywhere has been the most agreed upon staple of science-fiction/fantasy. From 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 all the way back to the aforementioned Jetsons, whenever you saw a flying car in a movie, you knew it was the future.
What we got: Nothing. It’s 2020 and not one car has yet to take off deliberately. And it’s not as if there haven’t been attempts. It’s just that none of them have, pardon the expression, taken off. A shame, really. Since you’d think we’d be halfway there since the invention of the airplane.
The future of reality
Living in VR
What we were promised: Speaking of The Next Generation, how about that holodeck virtual reality system for creating artificial environments? That seemed pretty cool, no?
What we got: Holodecks are, sadly, far from reality. The best we have are VR headsets, which (truthfully) are only marginally better than the VR headsets of the 1990s. So while you can goof-around as a photorealistic Darth Vader for a few hours, it will cost you north of $2,000 for the full experience and will include lots of vomiting.
What we were promised: A device that goes on your face and provides you with all sorts of high-tech features. The most famous example is Geordi LaForge’s VISOR from Star Trek. But there are other notable examples, including True Lies’ video-signal receiving glasses and Marty McFly Jr.’s TV headset from Back to the Future: Part II.
What we got: Here’s one area of science-fantasy we desperately tried to will into reality with little success. Remember Google Glass? No? Google would probably prefer you didn’t. Practically speaking, it worked, but any information displayed was confined to a small square in the corner of your eye. Microsoft’s Hololens allows for a slightly larger field of view, but still far from the full-vision view of Geordi’s VISOR. Both have since become enterprise-only products.
And as for Marty Jr.’s TV hat. Well, believe it or not, that’s kinda become a reality with TV Hat. Emphasis on kinda.
What we were promised: Star Trek promised us food replicators and Back to the Future: Part II had food dehydrators. In either case, if you wanted a pizza, it was seconds away.
What we got: Hot dog stuffed crust pizza and astronaut ice cream is the best we’ve come up with. That, my friends, is the taste of true disappointment.
The future is …when?
What vision of the future are you still waiting for? Let us know in the comments!