Thursday, January 26, 2012

Welcome to the Future Again (Today)

We recently bought our first iPad. I wanted a lightweight, portable device for only two purposes, to watch streaming videos on something other than the desktop computer and to read e-mail away from home. My husband needed the iPad for navigational functions and other apps related to flying.

This wondrous gadget stimulated me to think about the technology in J. D. Robb’s Eve Dallas series, set around 2060. One thing I like about these mysteries is that they portray a future I can believe, for the most part, my grandchildren as middle-aged adults will live in.

I have no trouble believing in orbital space station colonies fifty years from now. We still don’t have the flying cars driven by Lt. Dallas’s police department and wealthy civilians (and would you really want them widely available, considering how much havoc some drivers wreak in only two dimensions?). But there’s no reason they couldn’t be built, and “smart cars” that drive themselves are coming soon. Experimental models already exist, whether they will ultimately need special highways (as in Heinlein’s “The Roads Must Roll”) or operate independently.

Eve’s almost magical handheld forensic gadget (similar to Dr. McCoy’s medical tricorder), which can even instantaneously read a precise time of death for a corpse, seems a little bit out there. However, the “link” that everyone in 2060 carries now looks awfully familiar. It’s essentially an iPad with a lot of futuristic apps and reduced to about the size of a phone. We’re almost there!

In Eve’s time people don’t watch TV. They watch “screen.” All their media access comes through the computer. Already in the present day, some people choose to get news, music, movies, and TV shows on their computers (and Robb’s novels started imagining this development decades ago). As hardware gets cheaper and the Internet more versatile, the routine integration of all forms of media into one outlet can’t be far behind.

One more futuristic invention in the Eve Dallas series, though, still seems fantastic to me: Robot workers (“droids”) that can converse intelligently and, at a glance, can hardly be distinguished from live people. I’m not so sure we’ll achieve those in fifty years.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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