“Hello Ipod,” said the girl beside me, “Load pokerface.mp3. Play pokerface.mp3.” This is what the year 2010 would be like if Gene Roddenberry had his way. Remember the talking computers from Star Trek? We have the technology now, and yet the talking computer somehow never caught on. Maybe that’s because talking computers would be incredibly awkward and clunky!

Again, take the jetpack. Everyone on the ground could look up and see your butt! High office windows and bedroom suites would offer no more privacy than a room on the ground floor. I’m as eager for my own personal jetpack as the next geek, but realistically, “The Jetsons” isn’t going to be reality any time soon. It would just be awkward.

It’s instructive to look at existing “futuristic” technology: the Segway. Why hasn’t it caught on? Paul Graham points out, in his essay on The Trouble with the Segway, the thing makes its user look smug. The difference between a Segway and a motorcycle is that with the motorcycle, you look like you’re doing some work, even though, really, you aren’t doing any more than you are on the Segway. Paul points out that Segways would be infinitely less risible if the rider just assumed a stance with one foot in front of the other, like a skateboard.

Similarly, some have predicted less centralized K-12 school attendance in the future. But K-12 plays the crucial role of society’s babysitter. The idealist in me loves and craves the idea of kids being liberated from their stultifying classroom prisons, if that’s to happen then something else must take the place of society’s public babysitter.

Some Predictions Which Could Benefit from a Form-vs-Function Analysis

  • Flying Cars. These have some awkward problems similar to the problems with jetpacks.
  • Dyson Spheres. It would take years or decades to get from point A to point B!
  • Uploadable Brains. Not saying it’ll never happen, but privacy issues are a real concern.
  • Earborn Translators. Breaking the language barrier would exacerbate more subtle cultural barriers, previously more excusable because of the different languages.
  • “Credits” replacing cash. As long as there’s a black market, there’s a need for cash.
  • LaForge Visors. Not exactly sexy. Blindness may be cured cybernetically, but why would someone want to broadcast it so blatantly?
  • That 3d Shark from Back To The Future II. In our litigation-happy world?

Of course, the one thing we can say for sure about the future is that there’ll be things which catch even the smartest futurist completely off guard. There’s nothing awkward about proving futurists wrong! ;)

FURTHER READING

Fixed Points and Future Prediction
Will the languages of the world ever merge?