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Why Our Amazing Science-Fiction Future Fizzled

Mon, 06/08/2009 - 9:06am
John Blake

Editor's Note: There has been some good science fiction written about the "lost" golden age and the promised shining cities and vehicles of TomorrowTM. What trends and technologies do you feel are over-hyped today and will turn ouit to be a flash in the pan? I do believe that new technology always has the potential to remedy ills caused by older technologies, but falls short due to man-created issues.

(CNN) -- At the 1964 New York World's Fair, people stood in line for hours to look at a strange sight. They wanted to see the "Futurama," a miniaturized replica of a typical 21st century American city that featured moving sidewalks, computer-guided cars zipping along congestion-free highways and resort hotels beneath the sea.

Forty years later, we're still waiting for those congestion-free highways -- along with the jet pack, the paperless office and all those "Star Trek"-like gadgets that were supposed to make 21st-century life so easy.

Daniel Wilson has been waiting as well. He's looked at the future we imagined for ourselves in pulp comic books, old science magazines and cheesy sci-fi movies from the 1950s, and came up with one question.

Why isn't the future what it used to be?

"I feel entitled to have all this technology that's been promised at a certain time," says Wilson, author of "Where's My Jetpack?" "I look up and say, 'Where's all this stuff?' ''

Some of that futuristic stuff, it turns out, is already here.

Visionaries actually invented objects like flying cars, but they could never work out the real world applications, Wilson says. Other inventions had the same problem. Ordinary people didn't want to have anything to do with them.

These futuristic follies include everything from "Smell-O-Vision," an invention that helped moviegoers smell as well as see movies; Sanyo's "ultrasonic ultra-squeaky clean human washing machine" (it was dubbed the "human washing machine," but wouldn't fit in an ordinary bathroom) and, of course, the jet pack.

"Scientists are OK at predicting what technology is going to happen in the future," Wilson says. "They're really bad at predicting how it's going to affect us."

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