A decade ago, I wrote a story titled, “Where’s My Gyrocopter?” It looked back at what futurists predicted for the 2000s – what panned out and what didn’t – like the famous Gyrocopter that premiered at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Much has changed since then and what matters most may be changing. The story began:
“Did you fly to work today using your personal jet pack after swallowing your breakfast pellets? Did you choose the option on your computer that changes the color of your living room walls to a warm summertime yellow? Just a few decades ago, those and other daily routines were predicted for life on the threshold of the millennium.”
Virgin America Airlines does have mood lighting on its planes that chills out passengers. And we may be closer to commuting in spacey driverless vehicles sooner than we think. At the ’62 World’s Fair, GM proposed automated highways (which Robert Heinlein wrote of in 1940) -- magnetic lanes attached to cars that maintain traffic flow. Ford’s exhibit at that Expo showed the train of tomorrow, Levetrain -- a high-speed, electronically controlled railway with vehicles moving on air from 200 to 500 miles per hour, like the bullet train.
“Though predictions at that time claimed that wheel-less super-speed rail systems would be a fantastic alternative to car travel, it hasn't caught on, and congestion mounts,” I wrote. But the auto business is catching up. Ford’s new SYNC system will guide drivers with allergies to alternate routes along less pollinated roads, to avoid congestion that wastes gas, and warn diabetics of low blood sugar problems, recognizing more than 10,000 voice commands.
At the "Forward With Ford" conference this summer, a project was revealed with “intelligent” vehicles communicating wirelessly, warning of dangers to prevent crashes. Ford and other automakers are introducing “blind spot systems” and motion sensors that warn of potential collisions with brake support. I rode in a vehicle equipped with alarms that prevented accidents, including one with a truck obstructing the view of car careening through a red light. The Department of Transportation will be testing the system in a city.
Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating keynote at the conference referred to past significant power shifts in social dynamics and predicted of a coming change in which corporations will be subject to customer demands due to transparency and social media. I hoped it would happen but wondered. But within six months his foresight come to fruition with Bank of America rescinding its debit card fee, bank customers move accounts to credit unions, Netflix membership bailing due to missteps and most recently Verizon backtracking on its online payment fee. All because the consumer "occupied" the power.
Showing how much has changed since 2000, my story referred to predictions of PC wallets (as in smart phones), paperless offices and e-books. "Electronics continues to reduce drudgery," allowing people to pursue creative endeavors and giving us more time to get more things done. We wish. Speculation has abounded over the last 100 years of a perfect modern world under control: nuclear energy would make electricity too cheap to meter, rockets would protect us from aliens, robots would do our dirty work, and leisure time would increase.
Standard Oil’s pavilion suggested the imminent creation of weather-controlled domed cities and farms, allowing more crops to be produced to meet world food needs. “In this vision, weather could be modified to eliminate smog and crop damage. But in fact, while we have more mastery over crops today, world hunger persists,” my story explained.
Al Gore sent out a notice today, expressing his view of the future. “We have seen very significant change in many parts of the world -- from a new climate change law in Australia, to a price on carbon in the state of California,” he wrote. “These signs of progress give me genuine reason for hope.” Gore asked for just $5 for his Climate Reality Project to continue to help shape a greener tomorrow.