Technological advancements aren’t as exciting as they used to be

It was only last week that I was looking for suggestions for science-fiction technologies that could help to advance science actual. But upon reading the news on the front page of the PopSci website about an engineless blimp that moves like a trout, I felt compelled to write a related post.

Interesting technology begets interest

(Image: The U.S. Army)

While the technology behind the ‘airfish blimp’ is quite amazing, and I’m certainly not trying to downplay it in this post, it got me thinking about how unexciting, and dare I say, uninspired a lot of technological advancements are of late. Obviously, this isn’t in all walks of life, as the technological advancements in the military (for example) are ever providing new and interesting ways to neutralise opposition… but then, they do seem to have the budget that should reflect such new and interesting advancements.

Is this as good as it gets?

(Image: Brandon Blinkenberg)

Beyond the military and other related fields that have inflated budgets and massive teams of researchers, technological advancement seems to be less… aggressive. I find myself wondering as to why toilet paper is still the prevalent toilet-based tool, why the zipper or button seems to be the peak of clothing advancement and why we’re still driving gas-guzzling automobiles. Perhaps I watched one too many episodes of Beyond 2000 (more recently known as Beyond Tomorrow) in my younger years, or I simply have too-high expectations of a practical application of imagination in every walk of life, but I’m just not seeing enough boundary pushing to appease my curious mind.

Where are the hovercars and jetpacks to get me away from the traffic on the ground and join the congestion in the skies that such technology would inevitably afford? Why am I still using wads of toilet paper, buttoning my shirts or waiting hours for my roast meal to cook?

Steam-power: replaced by fuel-power

(Image: Library of Congress website)

I’m open to the possibility that because we live in a consumer-driven world, such advancements may not yet be a commercial reality. I’m also familiar with the (debatable) conspiracy theories surrounding the advancements of everyday technologies; particularly as it relates to automobiles. But surely there must be a niche of progressive minds actively working on advancing the little things in life to the next level. While the adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ may ring true for some, I believe that there are still some greater efficiencies to be unlocked in life… and we’re well overdue for seeing them!

What I want to know in the comments section below is where I should be looking to find inspiration for major advancements in everyday technology; am I missing some amazing things? I’d also like to hear what everyday items or processes you’d love to see radicalised to make them easier, or just that much cooler.


9 Responses to “Technological advancements aren’t as exciting as they used to be”
  1. Muffin says:

    Okay, something super-awesome would be like a total sensory virtual-reality game - I suppose kind of like Avatar - only hopefully if you die in the game, you just disconnect. But yeah, imagine being able to play like Prince of Persia only it feels like you’re actually leaping off walls and travelling through space and time. That would be ridiculously addictive fun.

    But yeah, I have to agree, where are all the cool inventions we’ve been waiting for, for decades?! I’ve seen those episodes of Beyond 2000 (aka Beyond Tomorrow) with all these energy-efficient cars and robots and stuff. Of course, I think one of the key issues with ‘flying’ cars is that they add a whole new dimension of horror to traffic congestion, which makes it somewhat impractical.

    Another invention suggestion: how about something like a sonic shower - that would address water shortages, and make cleansing oneself ten times more efficient? That’s another sci-fi gadget I’d like to see in reality! It’s practical AND cool.

  2. @ Muffin - I was once told about the military invention of ‘deep virtual reality’… a type of virtual reality that was like being in The Matrix… where you felt every bump and fall. I was ever so disappointed to discover that the friend who told me was pulling my leg! It’s interesting you mentioned Avatar as it reminds me of the interesting cases of depression that people felt when they realised they’d never be able to interact with 10-foot tall blue aliens in an Eden-like planet: perhaps your suggested virtual reality could solve such things? Then again, it might only serve to make it worse.

    I remember seeing a story on the 6 o’clock news, many moons ago, that said we were going to see flying cars by the year 2015 (or around about then)… from where we’re sitting now, I really don’t see that happening.

    The sonic shower sounds intriguing. If that means I could take a shower in less than 10 seconds, I’d be all for it.

  3. Muffin says:

    Well, yes - of course the problem with such a virtual reality system, would be the addictive nature of it. Nobody would want to disconnect from it, it’s the ultimate escapism!

    But yeah, in a lot of sci-fi books I’ve read, they just jump in the sonic shower, and within seconds they’re sparkling! I dunno if it’s a totally farfetched idea, but surely it’s worth looking into?

  4. David S. says:

    I think a lot of people forget that cars are slowly but surely going the way of automation. By 2030, it wouldn’t be too outlandish to think you could hope in your car, tell it where you want to go and it take you there, without accidents, congestion or traffic jams. From there, flying cars could be born, because they would the same AI system to prevent accidents completely. Still probably a good 50-60 years off though, maybe more.

  5. caretaker says:

    I have to admit I have had these same thoughts and am amazed at how technological advancements have seemed to peak in the past decade.

    But that just may be a western perspective. North America and Europe seem to be stuck on improving what is already selling or reninventing what was cool in the past (i.e. 3D). Nobody seems towant to push the envelope because that might mean a paradigm shift in consumerism, something our economy may not be able to handle because it has been so propped up on the status quo.

    But, there has been some cool stuff coming out of Japan in terms of robotics:
    And of course:

    Robots aside; I got a kick out of these when I was in Tokyo:

    You may have inspired a blog post of my own when I get home tonight. I will link this page to credit my inspiration if so.

  6. otoko_tenshi says:

    @Tesla Patent Pending you must be refering to this if you have $3M then you may CERTAINLY have your own street legal VTOL 300km ground 700km air, $200 a tank prototype electric-hybrid flying car by 2015
    @David S. you obviously dont put much faith in the singularity reported on here last year, with battery technology as it is that moller car could be taking you to japan and back for the soccer cup in 2022… of course, that is if it isnt projected in 3d onto the MCG anyway…

    i actually saw a bed yesterday that had microweave fibers that trapped heat in them until the body lying on top dropped below a threashold temp and they start releasing it so you can get a better sleep
    and how about those video recorder glasses? and and 6 core AMD processors for $200? and the PS3 pritien folding network recently cancelled by sony worth 10 Jaguar supercomputers? and have you see that human hamster weel (yeh $50K but so what) for video games?

  7. @ David S. - Welcome to the PopSci blog. I agree that automation is the next logical step for new model vehicles in a mainstream capacity. But I do wonder as to how quickly it will catch on. Excuse the stereotype, but we men do seem to take a sort of unspoken pride in our ability to choose effort for the sake of effort: manual cars over automatics, self-repair over mechanics, and I see the potential for choosing manually driven cars over automatically controlled vehicles. Some food for thought.

    @ caretaker - Hello and welcome to the PopSci blog. I totally agree that, as far as I’m aware from my news travels, a lot of the technology we’re supposed to be getting excited about is a lot of reinventing the wheel. It may be a much shinier and efficient wheel, but it’s still a wheel! I agree that Japan’s robotic research (to name one area) is amazing and I get the impression that we in the west are waiting to see how it pans out in a practical capacity, which is a shame. It’d be great to see some healthy competition in regards to robotic research across numerous nations.

    @ otoko_tenshi - Thanks for the heads up. I’ll have to add that car to my list of ‘things to get when I’m a millionaire’… I probably shouldn’t hold my breath though :) . It also sounds like your travels take you to far more interesting places than I; what an awesome wrap-up of some different and quirky tech.

  8. gasdive says:

    I don’t think humanoid robots will ever amount to anything. We’re already surrounded by robots, like traffic lights. Replacing traffic lights with a humanoid robot dressed in a cop uniform directing traffic would be just plain dumb. Same for every other robot application.

    What I’d really like to see in the 21st century is product design made for humans, not marketing departments. For instance my car has three pedals for two feet. It also has an electric motor and associated switch gear to save me from the task of moving the wing mirror which is 6 inches from my hand anyway and only needed adjusting once when I bought the car. Yet to change the oil every 5000 km I have to crawl under the car and undo a bolt only to be showered with hot oil!!! Changing the oil filter needs three arms with three elbows each.

  9. Antonio says:

    Excuse me, but in my opinion this post sounds absolutely retarded!
    It is just and only your problem that you do not know of any noticeable science advancement. Do you know anything abut things achieved on CERN`s LHC? Or the dangers of creating a black hole is all that reached your mind in this regard? Doesn`t Google Earth, the digital globe - completely amaze you? You can see any place in the world there!!!
    Are you aware of tricks DARPA Urban Challenge contenders were able to perform? Or maybe you somehow missed Raytheon`s exoskeleton?
    How about UNlimited manned flight on solar power? [Bertrand Piccard`s Solar Impulse] Doesn`t this thrill you?
    Even if your horizon is bounded by your toilet with it`s paper roll and some clothes on you, which it obviously is, didn`t The Internet in its broadband form come to you in your mobile phone in last couple of years??? Isn`t that a great achievement? (ask any 60+ year old if in doubt)
    All Apple fans say Yeah! What about iPad? :D A network connected, full featured computer in a form factor of a piece of cardboard? Yes, that`s not a teleport, but it does push the limits of possible both in terms of physical construction of electronics and interface software/hardware. (try to squeeze your laptop this small!)
    As we can clearly see, problem is with you. The Science is fine!
    And I will repeat myself - you sound absolutely retarded, taking anything modern world gives you for granted and imagining it could give you more. I guess your ideal world is like in Wall-e, where human race is like some brain dead jelly in their chairs…

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