If you’re a child of any decade in the latter half of the last century, you might be forgiven for wondering where the future went. We were promised much and I’ve been holding out for one of those flying cars George Jetson had, but I’m sure to be waiting for some time to come. While superconductivity is pointing the way to a breakthrough, it seems we haven’t cracked the levitation-at-room-temperature thing yet. And with deep respect to 60s sci-fi, we never actually got further than the moon, with warp speed apparently requiring more negative energy than exists in the entire universe (and the universe is very big…). The eggheads at the University of Sydney have also theorised that there would be devastating consequences for any civilisations at the star ship Enterprise’s destinations, because dropping out of warp speed would release lethal levels of solar system-wide gamma rays and high energy particles. So, not good then…
And before I chunter on too far, having just mentioned the moon, it might be an opportune moment to also mention that, thankfully our moon wasn’t flung out into deep space to serve as a vehicle for Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999. Much as I like Commander Koenig et al, I quite like the moon where it is, thank you very much…
Anyway, back to the exotic science: those shields Mr. Chekov thows up every time some ne’er-do-well fires phasers at the Enterprise, have more deflective power than the raging electromagnetic cauldron that is our sun, so it’s unclear what physics Mr Scott is using to produce such a protective force. Our 21st century physicists (arguably…) reckon they’ve pretty much sussed out what’s possible and what’s not and, they say “No” to dilithium crystal, anything… So it looks like we won’t be getting our starships any time soon. Oh well, I never really liked the sound of Klingons, anyway…
But wait a minute: have you ever stopped to marvel at that smartphone in your hand? (The odds are you do have at least some flavour of smartphone…) It kicks the butt of any communicator Captain Kirk ever had in his version of the 23rd century. Okay, video-calling under 3G might have been over-hyped, but those boffins have packed smartphones full of more functionality than the saner mainstream sci-fi writers ever predicted. Have you noticed what a significant number of people are doing when in any public space? They’re on their phones, often ignoring the flesh and blood companions standing right next to them. Today, we’re only slightly less device-connected than the Borg and all this is achieved without the benefit of sub-space communications!
Mobile phones are so pervasive and consciousness-affecting, it’s almost guaranteed that you know someone who will irritatingly switch between talking to you and texting, while you’re trying to hold a serious conversation with them. Some crazy people will think nothing of pausing an important in-the-flesh conversation to answer the phone from one of those irritating salespeople urging them to upgrade their phone contract! (Yes Suz, I mean you…)
These addictive fondle-slabs (with respect to theregister.co.uk) are quickly causing us to modify our social behaviour. It’s interesting to watch people dodge each other and street furniture while attempting to text and walk at the same time. YouTube has a number of painful examples of people who haven’t managed the exercise successfully… A recent news article revealed that a worrying proportion of people will interrupt recreational loving to answer the phone. Arthur C. Clarke was a major scientific visionary, but I’m not sure he saw that one coming (if you will pardon any non-intentional puns…).
A downside of having ever newer and faster smartphones is that they crave power. Mine could nearly replace my PC and a host of other tech besides, but has to be charged daily. Anyone who had a Nokia 6310i will tell you it was the nirvana of dedicated phone tech. It just worked and, seemed to work forever without a recharge. Sadly, fashion dictates that cool phones must have all the bells and whistles, so they consume more power. They’re so sophisticated you now need a PhD to switch them on…
Of course, phones aren’t the only remarkable new tech. Have you felt the amount of heat that pours out of a PS3? That heat is your power/money being thrown away, so it’s not all good!
Some futurists prophesied that we’d have licked the nuclear fusion problem by now and have cheap, clean, energy everywhere (even on our aforementioned starships…). The deserts were supposed to be blooming as sea water is plentiful and desalination plants would cost little to run. Well, it looks like we should have started building those fusion reactors 2o years ago, because despite some of today’s technology exceeding our expectations, our power grids don’t! If we’re to accommodate the continual power requirement rise through new tech, we’re going to have to do something quick. Add to the current woes, the move away from gas (because the Russians are holding us to ransom), the rise in electric central heating systems, electric underfloor heating, heat pumps etc. Power stations take an age to build, so any solution will be far off.
It’s not all gloom, though. Small inroads are being made against the looming power deficit with the push for solar PV, wind and wave power. However, the government seem intent on wrecking the solar PV take-up with the halving of feed in tariffs. (It’s the government after all, what did the industry expect?)
Seems to me,that it doesn’t take a genius to work out, that if you offer very clever people free money for 25 years, they’ll bite your arm off! The rush for solar farms and the rent-a-roof mobs doing free PV installs caught her majesty’s government on the hop. If they’d have asked me, I could have told them that would happen (for only a fraction of what the 2012 olympic logo cost…).
A few years ago, we saw stories coming out of California about continual power outages. In the 60s, who would have predicted that a first-world, technological behemoth like America would run out of power? Similar problems persist today throughout the United States. They are increasingly not alone.
It’s currently the Chinese at the root of much of the progress fuelling the growth in power-hungry consumer tech (not forgeting the Japanese, the Koreans, the Taiwanese, the Indians, etc). They’re also the nation that coined the phrase “May you live in interesting times”. And boy, are we living in interesting times. Sounds like a blessing, but it’s actually a curse!
This article, while ostensibly about technological progress and the failure of our power grids to keep pace, was inspired by the BBC News, science and environment website. There is absolutely none better. But they do have a tendency to provide articles telling us we’re all doomed, but never suggest solutions. Take a look http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science_and_environment/