What happened to Robot Butlers, Flying Cars, & Holidays on the Moon?

Flying Saucers (or Cars) For EVERYBODY
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/3949834600

 

My parents were born in the 1960s, in the first and second year of that decade respectively in fact. Back then there were only two TV channels. There was BBC 1 although it was not called that back then because there was only one BBC channel. As a result it was just The BBC. And there was ITV and even that was not called ITV back then. ‘Wireless’ was something you would listen to, because of the lack of TV entertainment options, and there was a good chance that when you left school you would either work down some coal mine or end up in prison. Both of which would possibly result in a life shortening illness and/or injury. Those were the days.

Since then we have added lots of TV channels. There are now easily 7 BBC channels and ITV has three or four channels of its own, plus numerous others – basically too many to count, and new technology has meant that we have now changed how we watch TV, basically we watch whatever we want and whenever we want, and “wireless” is something you can access for free while sat on a toilet in McDonald’s. The term wireless can also be used to describe every device that we own that does not have a power cable or some other type of cable attached to it. And when our kids leave school today they can not work down a coal mine because there aren’t any but they could still end up in prison. That right there is what you might call progress!

Back in the 60s kids and adults of the time believed that by the year 2000 we would all have a robot butler, flying cars would be normal, and we would take our holidays on our moon. Today though kids and some adults think that 50 or 60 years from now we would all have a robot butler, flying cars would be normal, and we would take our holidays on our moon, or “Luna” – because that is what it would be known as in the future. That or Moon Base Alpha-tron, because of the influence of Japanese animation. So, why the lack of progress?

Well, it transpires that there has been a heck of a lot of progress when it comes to these technologies. Case in point ASK JEEVES even though it is not called that any more, but I called it that because in the past it used to be promoted as such and even had a cartoon character robot butler as it’s trademark/mascot/identity. And then there’s GOOGLE ASSISTANT. Granted these are basically a bunch of algorithms so not much help at all if you need help carrying a box of heavy stuff up to the attic (because they do not have arms…or legs) but in 1960 if you wanted to know what time the bus to the town centre arrived you would have to go to the bus stop and have a look at the schedule which probably would have been one year out of date and if not it probably would have been defaced by either a drunkard or a mischievous street urchin (we do not have street urchins any-more by the way). You couldn’t just phone the bus company because you probably did not have a phone at home and the nearest telephone box (yes – a box with a phone in it) was probably a bus journey away any ways. Now though you can ask Google and other bunches of algorithms pretty much anything you like and more often than not they will be correct with their answers. Seriously. This website will tell you how many calories are in a whole roasted chicken. And, as an added bonus, it will also tell you how much zinc is in it too, because it can and why the hell not? (It’s 9.9 mg BTW). Exactly why one would want to know this information is not clear. Its not as if anyone has sat down at the dinning room table with a whole roasted chicken in front of them, determined to eat it all, and then stopped themselves before even taking a bite and thought “Hold on. I wonder how many calories this dead bird has. I had better check this at once. OK Google “How many calories does this whole roasted chicken have?””. Back in the 60s to get this kind of information.. well, you couldn’t unless you had a laboratory at your disposal. Or knew a scientist. And given that most people did not have a phone at the time and worked in massive coal mines under the north sea for twelve hours ever day, this would not be a very likely situation. And you would have dived into the whole roasted chicken face first without fear of expanding your waistline drastically.

OK. So these are not properly robot butlers but they ARE kind of butlers and soon we will have properly robot butlers because no one really likes doing the types of manual labour that they do not want to do. If you hire someone to clean your home or mow your lawn, or clean your windows, do your laundry and so on – you right there are proof of that. ALSO, give your employee/contractor a pay-rise you lazy bastard. And when the technology arrives at a cheap enough price point you’d buy or hire a proper robot to do that work for you, rather than some random eastern European or Mexican human.

Our ancestors invented the wheelbarrow because carrying shit (not actual shit, I mean stuff in general, although one could use it for such purposes) was something that people did not want to do. The wheel barrow made it possible in fact to move more stuff and to move it in a less human effort intensive fashion. And if it were not for the invention of the wheel barrow we would not have invented the horse drawn cart/carriage, and then the auto-mobile, and of course aircraft too. See. Progress!

But how far away are flying cars? I would say that depends upon your interpretation of what a flying car is. If you are thinking about flying cars as in those depicted in the 2015 setting of the 1989 film Back to The Future Part II – I do not know. I mean, the film does not really delve into the technology at work there but Doc Brown does mention that the DeLorean, his time machine car, having had a hover conversion” at some point in the future, or past depending upon many mind bending variables. If you are talking about a car with wings on it then they already exist, sort of. There is the PAL-V Liberty which is, as far as I can tell, basically a car with bits of helicopter built into and onto it and you can buy one right now if you happen to have £500,000 to spare, and if they have any left to sell. They are only selling 90 of them.

Though the Pal-V Liberty is not entirely practical in the way that the flying vehicles from BTTFII seem to be. Firstly it takes the PAL-V Liberty ten minutes or so to convert from drive mode to flight mode and vice versa. And you’ll need a licence to fly it. And you would also need an area measuring 90-200×200 metres to take of and land from and on. So you can’t exactly take it to Tescos or drop the kids off at school with it. So, not practical at all really. But remember this is generation one. Technology will advance and other types, brands, manufacturers, and technologies will hit the market. Prices will drop and capabilities will increase. Just think, the internet in 1960 would have been pointless because, as mentioned earlier, no one had a landline. Or a computer.

What about holidays on Moon Base Alpha-tron, then? This stuff is coming. SpaceX through some kind of wizardry recently became the first people to reuse an orbital rocket. This is a game changer. Until that achievement rockets could only be used once. They’d send a payload into space, detach from the payload and either burn up falling back into the earths atmosphere or fall into an ocean somewhere. SpaceX though, they can land them and refurbish them for reuse at a fraction of the cost of building a brand new one. It had taken them a couple of months to refurbish the rocket they had reused but SpaceX insist that as they refine the technology they could, or at least aim to, refurbish them within 24 hours.

But why is this such a big deal? Well, when you went on holiday to Spain or the USA last year you went on an aeroplane, right? Now imagine we live in a world where aeroplanes can only be used once. In it after you landed in Florida or somewhere random with an airport in Spain, the aircraft was taken away to be scrapped. Or it disintegrated or exploded. It doesn’t matter. It simply could not be reused. Imagine how much that ticket would have cost you? Imagine how much the ticket to get home would cost. That, in a nutshell, was what was happening with rockets up until now.

Going forward the cost of going into space is going to plummet. More journeys into space are going to happen. We have essentially taken the biggest step towards holidaying on the moon since the first time man set foot on it.

Long story short, back in the 1960s the state of technology was nowhere near sufficient enough to match our ambitions. Today though it is catching up. It’s not quite there yet but all kinds of technology  is increasing in capability and sophistication at an exponential rate. The future really is coming.

 

 

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