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<   No. 3065   2011-06-18   >

Comic #3065

1 {scene: Head Death's desk}
1 Death of Choking On A Giant Frog: The job's done. The frog's dead.
2 Head Death: Excellent. What did you do with the eternal soul?
3 Death of Choking On A Giant Frog: Well, here's the thing. It died on the Infinite Featureless Plane of Death. I've never seen that happen before.
4 Head Death: What?! But that's impossible! You can't die in the realm of the Dead! That's...
4 Death of Choking On A Giant Frog: ... a paradox?

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I'm reading The Wonderful Future That Never Was, an excellent book containing a compilation of predictions of future technology, as published in the pages of Popular Mechanics magazine between the years of 1903 and 1969. It's compiled and introduced by astrophysicist and science fiction author Gregory Benford (and edited by a friend of mine).

It contains the expected sort of retro predictions: by the year 2000 everyone will be commuting in flying cars, using "television phones", and getting all their nutrition from food pills. But there are also some delightful surprises:

* Okay, well I guess they kinda got that one right, if you drop the "pneumatic" bit.

The interesting thing is that a lot of the technology is actually more or less correct, but the way in which we use it is completely wrong, because the writers of these predictions utterly failed to comprehend the social and incidental changes along the way. For example, there's a prediction that people will travel around the globe in large aeroplanes, accompanied by a lovely illustration. Sure, we do that now... but we don't sit in planes wearing tweed suits and hats or ankle length dresses with petticoats, everyone staring in wonder out the window at the passing scenery below. They predicted planes, but they didn't even remotely conceive of in-flight movies, or playing computer games to pass the time.

And those videophones. Everyone from about the 1940s to the 1960s was absolutely confident we'd have the technology to enable video phone calls soon, and that they'd become commonplace. But it turned out that once we had the technology, we realised we didn't want people looking at us while we talked to them.

I wonder what technology holds for us in the next 10 or 20 years. All I can say confidently is that we don't yet understand the effect it'll have on society.

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Last Modified: Saturday, 18 June 2011; 03:11:01 PST.
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