Looking back at the Future

The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings recently got me thinking about how I imagined the future would be then and how it actually turned out.

One of the highlights of my childhood was the Apollo moon program. Whilst I am not actually old enough to remember President Kennedy pledging to put a man on the moon before the end of the 60s and, for that matter, I don’t know where I was when he was shot (I was probably throwing my toys out of my pram), I do distinctly remember both the actual moon landings and the various missions that lead up to them.

When an Apollo mission was in progress it would be the main topic of conversation and conjecture at school and must see TV in the evening. When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon we all wished we were there with him.  When the Apollo 13 mission went wrong we felt that we had a personal stake in getting them back to earth – even though allow we could do was watch and wait.  If you had told me then that we wouldn’t go back to the moon after 1972, I would have assumed that it was because we had gone to Mars and then on to other galaxies!

It is hard now to convey the excitement that surrounded the Apollo program and the prevailing optimism about the future of technology that it was a key part of.  Our teachers used to tell us that  our main problem when we grew up would be how to fill up all our leisure time.  Everything would be automated and we wouldn’t have to work more than a couple of days a week (I wish!). We believed that domestic robots would do the housework; we would get cheap, clean power from nuclear energy; food would be in pill form (I can’t imagine why I found that attractive!); personal transportation would be via jet pack or flying car; and medicine would have cured all disease.  Also, I would have confidently predicted that by now we would have worked out how to teleport and to travel through time!

I may have been naive as a child but at least some of my optimism was well founded.  A lot of technological advances have been made that have vastly improved both our quality of life and our life expectancy - some predictable, some not – and many technologies have been applied to things that they were never intended for!  Despite all this there is still a part of me that feels a little bit cheated by how technology has developed (admittedly, mainly about the jet packs!).

Here are some of the things that we didn’t get and what we got instead:

  • We didn’t get personal jet packs but we did get the Segway
  • We didn’t make contact with extra-terrestrials but we did have to wonder whether the contestants on Big Brother were from another planet
  • We didn’t get unlimited cheap nuclear power but we are able to buy our electricity from a gas company
  • We didn’t get holidays on the moon but we did get Ryan Air flying us to places never visited by mankind before
  • We didn’t get time travel but we did get UK Gold endlessly repeating the past
  • We didn’t get food in pill form but we did get snail porridge from Heston Blumenthal

To provide some balance here are some technological advances that I think have improved our quality of life:

  • Personal music players – I can now carry my entire record collection in my pocket
  • Mobile phones – remember what is was like when you had to find a working phone box to call someone and then when you did they weren’t in?
  • GPS and satellite navigation – mind you I know people who still get lost when using their sat-nav
  • Super glue
  • Smoke detectors – making our houses, workplaces and places of leisure safer.
  • Lasers – we all thought that they’d be used as weapons but they are used for everything but – from eye surgery to scanning groceries!

To finish off here are some future technological advances that I am looking forward to (in descending order of likelihood)

  • Replacement body parts will be grown in the lab – allowing acute conditions to be cured and opening up endless possibilities for plastic surgery
  • Virtual reality will produce worlds that seem so real that real reality will seem less than real
  • Cars will be fitted with fuel cells – they’ve been working on them for years so they must get them working soon!
  • A manned mission will land on Mars
  • The secret of eternal youth will be discovered – probably by Tom Hanks in a film based on Dan Brown book
  • Someone will build a time machine out of a De Lorean …..
  • I will get my jet pack!

Well I am an optimist!

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