The Future of the Past


Several Fridays ago I mentioned my aborted attempts at writing science fiction, which I am reminded about with this week’s news that the photo-snapping New Horizons spacecraft has reached, and even passed, Pluto.

Back in the 70s, when I was in grade school, I remember studying the planets. We had already reached the moon with Apollo and had sharp, clear pictures of it. And, other than earth, of course, we didn’t have pictures yet of the other planets. But, we had some fairly accurate depictions of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Pluto, however, was so far away and beyond even the most powerful telescopes available at the time that pictures of the then-“planet” were a bad guess. In fact, the diagram of planets that I had hanging in my bedroom showed Pluto to have surrealistic stone arches, similar those near Moab, Utah. And, who would have thought it would be binary and that such a small body would have moons. We didn’t have a clue.

Today, however, it feels as though we are living in a new age – a dramatically different age. In many ways, life today has surpassed our predictions and future perceptions from the 70s and 80s.

Digital photography, with this week’s flyby of Pluto, has brought home most of the larger bodies orbiting throughout our solar system. Notice that for Pluto’s sake, I didn’t use the word “planets.”

Short of “warp speed,” the velocity of space travel with New Horizons, according to NASA, has accelerated by eight fold since the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. Pilotless drones have lowered the costs, increased the efficiencies and reduced the risk of going to war. Cell phones have revolutionized communications, allowing teenagers and, yes, even adults, to never have to hang up on each other. Alternative energies, such as solar power, have gained efficiencies greater than we imagined 40 years ago.

I recall watching episodes of Star Trek, The Next Generation, where they used laptop computers about an inch thick that the show’s producers envisioned a couple of hundred or so years in the in space-flying future. It was amazing, I thought at the time, how small and thin computers could conceivably get. Of course, laptops now, barely two decades later are a quarter of an inch thick and have evolved, in many cases, into devises that easily fit into the palms of our hands.

The differences between now and 40 years ago are tremendous, which leads me to be overwhelmed as I attempt to predict the future 40 years and even just 20 years ahead.

So, what is next?


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