When will we have the technology that was envisioned for the 21st century?
As a young boy, I was influenced by various media for a vision of the 2000’s, including futuristic art scenes in magazines and animated cartoons on television. These scenes included robots, flying cars and all sorts of fantastic things.
Here we are in 2021, and although we’re still far from the vision of The Jetsons (a cartoon show—for those too young to remember it), there are several technologies on the verge of becoming a reality. For example, self-driving cars and trucks are being tested on the road in a few states, mostly in the Southwest. All-electric cars are being sold everywhere, and charging stations are popping up all around. If you’re rich enough, you can even book a trip to go up into space!
Robots have not come in the way that was envisioned last century. Instead of taking the form of humans, we have robot vacuum cleaners and inanimate smart speakers to answer questions about trivial stuff that we’re too busy to look up on the internet.
On the other hand, computers have met or even exceeded futuristic expectations. Computers can now beat humans at chess and at the game-show Jeopardy, among other things.
The world of artificial intelligence (AI) is making new breakthroughs every day, and medical diagnosis is one area where AI is having tangible benefits.
Flying cars, or rather personal aviation vehicles, are already available. One called the Terrafugia Transition (from a Chinese-owned company) was certified by the FAA as a Special Light-Sport Aircraft, meaning it can take off and fly like most small planes. It has retractable wings so that it can drive like a large SUV. However, you now need to order it from China.
Multiple companies are working on electric-power vertical take-off vehicles that will be available soon and could rival the price of a light plane in the near future. While it’s not likely that our cities will be congested with lanes of flying cars in my lifetime, it is impressive that the technology already exists for ultralight electric flying vehicles.
For space travel, we’ve already seen the first domestic trips by Virgin Galactic and Blue Horizon. Although you might consider it underwhelming to spend only about three minutes in space, soon it will be possible to buy a (very expensive) ticket to orbit the Earth with SpaceX.
This company, which already sends astronauts to the ISS, is planning a charity mission called Inspiration4 at the end of 2021 to send four civilians into orbit for a few days.
Who knows what technological accomplishments will be made by the end of this century? In my view, the start to the 21st century is looking pretty good.
Kenneth Hicks is a professor of physics and astronomy at Ohio University in Athens.