What Do We Believe is Possible?
Technology Articles 3/14/11
By: Chris Capps
A recent study from Birmingham Science City quizzed people on their understanding of current technological levels. And their discovery was astounding. Many of those surveyed believed a number of magical technologies, such as time machines either existed or would exist in the near future while others, such as invisibility had not yet been developed. But where do we stand technologically, and how does this understanding compare to previous generations?
Shortly after the steam locomotive was developed, many people believed it was impossible and surely must be a hoax. Even several of those who ran across train tracks suggested the vehicles must somehow being pulled by horses. The idea of an engine pushed along due to forces contained within was simply preposterous to many who had been working with horse drawn carriages their whole lives. And even after the device was finally vindicated the skeptics still had their apprehension. Dionysius Lardner, upon hearing the steam locomotive existed famously stated, "Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia." He went on to write a book entiteled, "The Steam Engine Explained and Illustrated." Of course now we know not only is this false, but the speeds approached by locomotives are not even close to the true limitations of human endurance.
But the more recent survey may have put peoples' opinion of technology in a different light. Of those surveyed, 20% believed lightsabers actually exist. But while the prospect may seem ridiculous to the other 80%, devices such as the Spyder III have come out and been considered as laser based weapons. The devices have been criticized for their intense power and their ability to start fires.
Similarly, the public believed that memory erasing technology exists similar to that seen in the film series, "Men in Black." But research into the matter has been around for a while. In fact, in 2009 the periodical "Technology Review" published an article about a common blood pressure medicine that was being used to remove traumatic memories for testing purposes. While it isn't necessarily the same, scientists are homing in on the real technology that will let us select memories, but possibly also allow others to do the same.
Then there's the belief among 40% of people who are hopeful that hoverboards exist. While the technology itself doesn't necessarily exist yet, a series of prototypes each solving their own problems when tackling the "hoverboard" enigma have come about. And on a technicality, the hoverboard does technically exist already, although it can't really hold any additional weight. Nils Guadagnin developed the system for an art exhibit celebrating the film that made the hoverboard famous.
So technology isn't universally in science fiction territory yet, but there are scientists and developers working to make that a reality even now.
Maybe the best way to close an article about the future is to leave a quote from one of those skeptics who said the future as we live in it today was entirely impossible according to "reasonable" people of science.
"A man has been arrested in New York for attempting to extort funds from ignorant and superstitious people by exhibiting a device which he says will convey the human voice any distance over metallic wires so that it will be heard by the listener at the other end. He calls this instrument a telephone. Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires."
-An Unnamed New York Newspaper (1868)