This post has been inspired by my friend Steve. We were discussing the proposed high speed rail link between London and Manchester. The Government have announced that this will be completed in 2030.
Steve commented that he expected to be beamed around the planet instantly well before then.
Science Fiction writers have done a great job of predicting things like space travel and computers. Robots might not look humanoid, but we certainly rely on them to make Citroen Picasso cars and other things. We have mobile communication devices that make the ones in Star Trek look unsophisticated.
So, why didn't anyone predict that we would end up in 2011 hoping that by 2030 we will get trains that run a bit faster than the ones we had fifty years ago?
By now, it was also expected that our dependence on fossil fuels would have been long past, that power would be generated by fusion rather than fission.
Fusion power, for example, has been around since the 1950's and is expected to be developed on a commercial scale by about 2040 or so. That's about a century of development. Nothing takes a century to develop, for heaven's sake! In the space of seventy years we moved from the Wright Brothers to Concorde. Within fifty years we went from the Turing machine to a computer in every home.
In contrast, cars have remained essentially the same for a hundred and twenty years. Why?
Fifty years ago, the hydrogen fuel cell was well understood. I actually made one at school. It worked.
It is tempting to conclude that we develop the technology that we want rather than that we need. The question then arises: Who decides?
Well, development of new forms of energy is in the hands of the organisations that have a huge investment in oil and gas and coal.
The development of new forms of transport is in the hands of the car manufacturers.
Maybe, these people don't really want any change. Maybe, their vested interests are in stifling it.
Maybe, just maybe, the governments of developed nations don't think it would be in their interests if third world countries were spared the crippling costs of energy supply.
On the other hand, I am probably barking up the wrong tree. Of course the oil companies would love it if they didn't have to dig up the oil sands and drill under the sea.
Any way, it's interesting to speculate about these things. My novel Technical Difficulties touches on some of these ideas.
What it fails to do is predict the high speed rail link that will knock an hour or so off the journey from Manchester to London. Sorry.