The Tech that Never Happens

Short musing about how sometimes great ideas get eroded away by the time they’re possible.

Flying cars. For years and years, the gold standard of the future has been flying cars. They’re a stupid idea, but they’re still what intrigues people when the future is brought up.

This isn’t a post about flying cars, but it’s about other ideas of the future that probably won’t happen.

Augmented Reality

Note: There was a neat post on Augmented Reality: Valve Software: Blogs: Ramblings in Valve Time by Michael Abrash: 20 July 2012: Why You Won’t See Hard AR Anytime Soon, which gave me a reason to think about this a bit.

Consider Augmented Reality (AR). The idea is that you’d have some way of manipulating your visual field with computers. A grocery shopper could easily see the nutritional contents and prices for items on the shelves. A doctor could see medical history for their patient without opening a file. A soldier in combat could easily pick out targets from civilians.

AR may happen, but it probably won’t be used for what we think. By the time a doctor could view the medical file through an AR setup, computers would be sophisticated enough to handle most of the legwork that the doctor would want the data for. We’re moving towards increasingly mechanized warfare, so the drones and warbots will probably preclude soldiers needing to see at all.

As for the grocery shopper, that’s already largely a problem of marketing/anti-consumerism on the part of food producers anyway. Either those market forces will eventually self-extinguish or they will be powerful enough to prevent AR disruptions (except for the few brave souls who roll their own AR software).

Flying Cars

Flying cars are supposed to eliminate traffic while allowing everyone to get everywhere all the time. Ignore the energy needed to overcome gravity. Ignore the traffic problems, the problem of vehicle failure (especially considering we already have major safety issues when we’re just rolling across the ground), and so on.

We’re moving toward a world where you don’t have to go there. That’s a huge step forward. One of the things you learn from software, one of the best lessons, is the cheapest thing to do is nothing. If you can not do something, you’re saving yourself a lot of trouble.

So it’s likely that by the time we have the energy problems solved. By the time we have traffic figured out, and we could build them safely, we won’t actually want flying cars.

That’s not to say we might not build a few just for kicks, but it is to say we’re not using bungee jumping for anything beyond recreation. We’re sure as hell not building giant towers with trebuchets and catch-arms to sling ourselves or our property vast distances, only to be caught and bounced a bit with a bungee jumping cord.


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