We’ve probably all seen it. The vintage, iconic images from the fifties and sixties showing the people of the future flying around using “rocket belts” “rocket packs” or “jet packs”, depending on when and who was talking about it. Take this snippet from a January 1969 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine:
“….the average commuter may, at last, have the long-awaited individual commuting vehicle that would whisk him from his front porch to his office entrance in minutes….”
Big claims, and sadly, ones that failed to come true… Until now:
The Martin Jetpack by New Zealand’s Martin Aircraft is the closest thing to bringing my childhood fantasies to life. If I place an order now and put down a 10 percent deposit, it could be mine in 12 months. The problem is coming up with the other 90 percent. No license is required to fly this in the U.S., though regulations may differ in other countries.
The jetpack itself is 5 feet tall and 5.5 feet wide and made of a carbon fiber composite with a pinch of Kevlar for the rotor. It uses regular gasoline and will travel a grand distance of 31.5 miles at a maximum speed of 63 mph, which should comfortably take you from home to office (and back) in a jiffy, and with a lot of noise.
Yes, you heard right, the jet pack has finally progressed from being a mere pipe dream to becoming a consumer-purchasable item. If you have $90,000 dollars, by next year, you could be flying around in your own personal jet pack.
How this impacts the technology of the future: While this type of technology is excessively cool, I don’t envision this being all that useful for most of us civilians. While it could have very specific purposes for certain jobs (imagine being a window washer and being able to use a jet pack instead of the rope and pulley system) by and large, it’s basically a toy. The eventual development of the hover technology in the stories will make turbine-driven devices such as the jet pack now for sale obsolete. With hovercars, hovertrains, and the PODS, transportation is pretty much covered, and any type of “hover pack” would be used solely for entertainment and leisure.
(Article thumbnail taken from the Martin Jetpack website.)
Today, whilst checking up on my favorite nerd news websites, I had a thought: it would be kind of cool to share some of these stories on my own site as well, but with a Strange Future twist… Thus, “Technology Time” was born! Occasionally, I’ll post a link to an interesting bit of technology and science news, share my viewpoints, and how it relates to the world of technology described in the book. This week, we have one of my favorite kinds of stories: X is dead, long live Y! This week, the role of X will be played by the desktop computer, and the role of Y will be played by mobile computing devices, such as smart phones. I happen to be very fond of these kinds of stories because more often than not, they’re utterly and completely wrong. Today’s article can be found at MediaPost. Here’s a quote from the article in question:
…Then consider this statement from Google Europe boss John Herlihy: “In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant.”
Google’s VP of Global Ad Operations says that cloud-computing will soon guarantee that every mobile device will be capable of handling the most advanced applications, thus demoting desktops to doorstop status.
Well, “If your data moves to the cloud, and most of your daily online activities are done on devices such as the Nexus One and the iPad … then yes, desktop PCs as we know them now will become a lot less important,” writes Mashable. “On the other hand, not many users are ready to ditch the desktop just yet.”
“Big bulky desktops are disappearing, of course, but that’s hardly a new development,” writes PC World, adding, “It’s likely the conventional PC will have a longer, healthier life than Google anticipates.”
So the death of the desktop has been predicted again, this time by Google. This isn’t entirely surprising, especially since Google has been pushing to enter into the mobile computing market with its Android phone operating system. I myself happen to own an Android powered phone, and from my point of view, it’s a very well made platform. (Though I’ve not had much experience with other mobile phone operating systems as my current phone is the first smart phone I’ve ever had.) And while it’s true that more people than ever are accessing the web and their data on the go via smart phones, netbooks, and other smaller computing solutions, I think it’s way too early to say that the desktop has a foot in the grave, let alone to call for its complete and total demise. The reasons for this are varied and many, but there are two primary reasons that I don’t believe this to be the case.
Corporate and Business Users: There are some situations where a mobile device simply will not suffice. Can you imagine trying to fulfill duties as a secretary, accountant, or, worse yet, a 3D modeler on a mobile device? It just doesn’t make any sense in those situations. So most companies are going to continue on, business as usual, on desktop computers.
Limits of Mobile Computers: I don’t necessarily mean limitations on processing power or bandwidth here, though that is a factor to consider as well. As time goes on, those limitations will be lessened. I’m talking about physical limitations, mostly connected with dimensions. The technology for touch screens is obviously much better than before, and it could just be me, but I find typing on a touch screen extremely difficult. The phone I have happens to have a full, slide-out QWERTY keyboard, which works much better. Still, I have difficulty, at times, typing on the thing because the keys are so small. Until we start implanting keyboards into our arms (which would have its own very interesting complications), I just can’t foresee people using mobile computing devices for much larger research, composition, and other projects simply because of this.
How this impacts the technology of the future: In the story, much emphasis is placed on the implants (basically smart phones implanted into people’s heads) that the characters use to communicate with each other and access the portal system (futuristic version of the internet). This reflects how I see mobile computing technology being used as time goes on. Instead of humans becoming cyborg-like creatures with powerful computing hardware built into every bit of their bodies, all fully interfaced with their brains, I think things will continue to remain much as they are now, for the most part, with voice to text technologies improving to the point where dictation for typing on mobile devices will be common. Obviously, based on the popularity of bluetooth headsets, people don’t have a problem talking into thin air (and appearing crazy). For those not comfortable with that, there are also keyboards (sold separately, of course) available for use with the implants.
Still, despite all the uses of the implant, desktop computers are still around in the future. At several occasions (the airport, hotel, bank, and others) the characters interacted with individuals who were using desktop computers. Darin himself has a computer that he uses on at least one occasion, though it is never actually described (it is kept in his room, and we never get the chance to “see” the inside of his room in the story).
I will admit that from a technological standpoint, at the current rate of progress and advancements anyhow, to have only gotten that far in two-hundred years seems laughable in a way. However, recall that Lyla explains the third world war set back a lot of the advancements previously made:
“Oh, no, the Internet was destroyed during World War Three,” Lyla explained. “The governments decided that it was a threat to global instability and dismantled it.”
“Don't you mean global stability?” Vera asked.
“Never mind...” Vera sighed.
“Anyhow, the Internet as you guys know it was destroyed but they began the Portal System in the 2050s after the personal computer made a comeback. There are quite a few different portals available, and most of them are fine tuned to work well on the implants since that's where nearly all of the traffic on the Portals comes from.”
Thus, in the 2050s, computing technology was basically reset to where it was a few years ago. Thereafter, the government would keep a much closer eye on technology and guide it the way they wanted it to go. So, that’s pretty much the state of mobile and desktop computing technologies in the world of Strange Future. Look for another one of these (probably much shorter next time! 😛 ) posts sometime soon!