Saturday, 7 March 2009

have we reached the future yet?

I watched "2001: A Space Odyssey" tonight, for the first time in years. I think it's a great piece of cinema, but also it's a wonderful insight into the optimism of the 60s - it seems laughable now that at the beginning of the space race people genuinely believed we'd have both space travel and artificial intelligence "sorted" inside forty years.

We don't really have that promise-of-technology excitement any more, and that's a shame. While the expectations of the 60s were somewhat unrealistic, science and technology do enrich our lives - but I think perhaps we take them for granted. The film made me think about the cool stuff 60s sci-fi promised, like robots and hovercars, and wonder that if the year 2001 didn't bring superintelligent computers or artificial gravity, what did it bring? Put another way, what technology does exist today that makes me think "that's the future - right there"?

So far I've only thought of two examples. The first is Google Earth, which I sat and played with for hours when it launched. I learned more about the geography of our planet in that one night than I ever did at school. It made the world seem.. not small exactly but.. somehow closer together. I just wish it were realtime! The second is the iPhone - simply because it is the first real demonstration of mobile internet. The Internet is the sum of all human knowledge (leaving porn and nazi forums to one side for a moment) and having it available at all times, in all places, I think will make a great difference to society. Remember - there was a time back in the dark ages where you had to go home or use a phone box to make a phone call, and I think our static use of the Internet will soon be remembered the same way.

I'm sure there must be many more. Any suggestions?

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