Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The World Of Tomorrow

I liked to explore the property across the road from my house when I was growing up. This was OK because my favorite aunt & uncle owned the place, but they lived in Chicago and the place across the street lay vacant. There was a fallen down barn, a basement-house, and a couple out-buildings. I was poking around the loft in one of the out-buildings and I found some old books and magazines. The books were Hardy Boys and Tarzan and I devoured them. Then I turned to the magazines.

They were Popular Mechanix magazines that dated from the early 1950s. I found them quite interesting and read them intently. Thought of those magazines makes me feel quite nostalgic.

Thus, I was amused when I saw that someone had linked an article they'd scanned in from a 1950 Popular Mechanix entitled,
"Miracles You'll See In The Next 50 Years."
I was surprised and pleased to see that I actually remembered reading this magazine when I was a teenager. At that time (the early '70s) the predictions were a little funky, but nowhere near as odd as they are today.

When I was a kid I read all the Science Fiction I could get my hands on. And I knew that the future would be full of cool stuff like nuclear powered flying cars and jet packs. No mention of personal computers or the internet, though. That's the problem, back in the 50s and 60s a Science Fiction writer had a pretty good chance of making some really accurate predictions as well as some really unrealistic ones. People remember things where SF got close, like the Apollo project. People forget where SF really missed the mark, like flying cars.

The things that made such dandy plot devices for the SF of my youth have proven fairly intractible. And other things the Golden Age SF writer found unthinkable are widely deployed. For example, we have computers all over the place, but does any of them do speech recognition like you see Mr. Spock talk to the ship's computer on Star Trek? Here's an example: When I answer my telephone, I say, "Steve Poling speaking." The more advanced telemarketing systems are built to automatically dial and then listen for someone to say, "Hello." When they don't hear "Hello" they hang up and go to the next number without enqueueing a telemarketing person to take the call. By saying, "Steve Poling speaking," I defeat the technology by saying something unexpected that any human can readily understand.

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