I increment my age value by one this month, and the event, though unremarkable otherwise, has got me thinking about the world and how it looks. I’m roughly half way through my life now, with as much time behind me as there is in front of me. As I look in both directions I find myself thinking about how things have changed, and how they’re going to change.
You’re probably thinking ‘Well, don’t you do that all the time anyway? You write science fiction, don’t you? Surely that involves a certain amount of imagining the future.’
Yes, of course it does. But sci-fi – mine, at least – is usually set in a future far beyond my own life. I read too much Golden Age sci-fi where Bradbury or Heinlein or one of those guys imagined the human race living on the Moon in the 1980’s, flying cars and jetpacks and public space travel and such all within their own lifetimes. They were a bit too optimistic.
My lifetime, however, has seen some amazing things. Men walked on the moon the year I was born; today, in my pocket and likely yours, we carry more computing power than NASA could imagine during the late 60’s and early 70’s. Communication satellites litter the skies, giving us the capacity not only to talk to one another from anywhere, but also the ability to figure out where we are, what’s in our immediate area to eat/drink/see/do. We can watch nearly any movie we want to see, any time we want to see it, a pipe dream when I was a kid. LED light bulbs last 20 years and use less power during that entire time than a single incandescent bulb uses in a fraction of that time. Books can be read anywhere, electronically, and each of us can carry an entire library in our hands.
I can go on and on: medicine, construction, finance, every conceivable aspect of our world has gone through massive advancements. Here in Los Angeles, however, where the car is king, travel is seems to be stagnating. Traffic is choking our city, and though we spend billions on expanding our freeways that ultimately will not help us. An effective public transportation system will do a great deal, but our car culture is not going to vanish. Instead, the people at Google have come up with another solution, one that seems to me to have fallen right out of the science fiction stories I read as a youth: the self-driving car.
Many people are not going to trust cars like this at first, which is why the car industry is introducing aspects of it as ‘safety’ or ‘convenience features’ – the stereoscopic vision and automatic brakes on the new Subarus, for instance, or the automatic parallel parking assist on new Fords. Bit by bit, though, cars will become more and more autonomous.
Imagine a future where every car is electric, where every car is capable of driving itself around the city, and you’re just a passenger. Hard to do? It shouldn’t be. It’s right around the corner.