6 technology predictions that didn’t come true
They were such good ideas on paper, these sparks of brilliance that kept prospective tech inventors up at night. Imagine the initial meetings, the frenetic email exchanges and media attention that these prophesied trends stirred up. The trouble is, they never came true – not a single one of these technology predictions came true.
On the other hand, there have been some highly confident speculations about what will fail in the future that have fallen spectacularly flat.
1. Flying cars (and teleportation)
For as long as we can remember, humans have wanted to fly. The 20th century dream evolved to include cars, too. From Ian Fleming (yes, he of the Bond franchise) and his much-beloved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Marty and Doc’s time-travelling car in the Back to the Future films, we’ve wanted nothing more than to have our fine four-fendered friends to take to the skies. But for all our dreaming and promises made by Terrafugia to have its own model off the ground in 2012, it still hasn’t happened, just like Marty’s hover board.
Driverless and electric cars are making great strides towards mainstream availability, with Google and Tesla leading the way, but we don’t seem much closer to getting our wheels off the ground. No plans to change our Annual Rail Card, then… And don’t get us started on teleportation – workers to the office, products and customers to shops, and replacement parts to factories – it’s too much to bear.
2. Actually delicious food rehydration
Sure there are pot noodles, freeze dried mushrooms and rehydratable tofu, but can any of these foods really be called an ordinary and immediately delicious eating experience? Although it would be lovely to be able to turn something the size of a cracker into a four-cheese pepperoni pizza, we’ve not yet mastered the technology to bring gourmet foods back to life. The potential for this is huge, and success would change the way we eat both at home and in restaurants, but for now these dreams are the province of chemists and people who really enjoy health food shops and Asian supermarkets. Don’t bother checking with your office canteen any time soon.
3. Robots performing human tasks with true artificial intelligence
Technology is evolving faster than we can truly comprehend, especially when it comes to computers. But we’ve yet to see robots integrated into society, or those that can fully perform the everyday tasks and chores that seem to take up so much time. Notable exceptions are the Roomba vacuum cleaner, robot-assisted surgery and the Henn Na Hotel in Japan, which is partly staffed by robots. But none of these wonders can walk dogs, make beds or brew a cup of tea just the way you like it. We’ve been promised a multitude of robotic hands to accomplish all the mundane tasks that clutter our human lives but there’s no one to file those reports, take your mug back to the office sink or drive you home at the end of a busy day. We should enjoy the autonomy while we can, though – just watch an episode of Humans on Channel 4 to see how badly things might go wrong when humanoids take control.
4. Digital manipulation of time and weather
Never mind life-saving robotic surgery or driverless cars, what we need in the UK is a permanent solution to the grey skies and rain that last from October to May. There are weeks when the sun doesn’t show its face and our Vitamin D reserves are so low that Seasonal Affective Disorder and rickets seem inevitable. Now and again some bright spark suggests that we create a pervasive environment of digital escapism by replacing the view from the window with an electronic screen showing only sunshine and summer scenes. For those who never seem to have enough time in each day these screens can extend the ‘daylight’ hours and keep us refreshed. Casinos are brilliant at creating these artificial environments, and some hotels let you program the window blinds and lights to minimise jet lag. But actual warmth and sunlight? We’re about as far from harnessing them as Mars is from the Sun.
5. Interactive, self-care clothing
Imagine a shirt with fibres that automatically ‘iron’ themselves after a wash or dissolve a stain on impact. You’d never be stuck with the ironing board on a Sunday night, looking at the week’s business attire with a grimace of despair. Gone would be the days of dry cleaning bills and frazzled spouses tackling a mountain of shirts (if you’re lucky), and you’d never have to guess if that old wives’ tale of sparkling water reverses a nasty tomato sauce stain.
Interactive clothes don’t just wick away sweat or resist wrinkling in the dryer, they’re supposed to actually do the work as the need arises in a much more proactive way. Unfortunately, we’re still stuck with expensive, gimmicky clothing made of synthetic fabric and broken promises until another bright idea comes along. Marty McFly’s self-lacing trainers, for all the recent Nike hype, are still a thing of the future.
6. Holograms everywhere
It’s early days for holograms to be widely used but it still seems to be taking forever to get there given how long the anticipation has been building. While Skype makes video chatting an everyday function, there’s something magical about the illusion of having something or someone right there in the room with you. Imagine how different a client meeting would feel if you could speak with potential backers face to face across a table while they were across the world. Goodbye grainy Princess Leia, hello Bob Roberts from ABC Hydraulic Parts – let’s make a deal and make it personal.
Think of the customer service and media possibilities. It’s easy to think of holograms as a novelty but they could be one of the best marketing strategies we’ve ever seen.
Maybe it’s best not to listen too devoutly to the tastemakers and trend spotters. As we’ve seen, not everything goes according to our plans or our desires. The internet hasn’t failed, cars have surely replaced horses for everyone but the Amish, and businesses will continue to thrive with whatever technology proves successful – and lasting.
Tread carefully, but with great anticipation – our future depends on it.