In case you have not been counting, it is 2011. Back in the 1980s, which seems not so long ago now, we had grand predictions for the 21st century. Flying cars, robots that do our every bidding (or sometimes destroy us), interactive holograms, colonies on other planets, and many other high hopes. In 2011, ten years after the turn of the century, we still rely on the internal combustion engine that is slowly eating away at our atmosphere and seem to still be struggling with some fundamental problems like hunger and poverty.
The grand utopia or apocalyptic wasteland (depending on who you ask) does not exist as we expected. What follows are 9 inventions that should have been in mass production and wide usage by now. Instead most are just figments of our collective imagination. I am neither a scientist nor an engineer, so do not expect coherent details about any of these.
1. Self-sustaining electricity – If conspiracy theorists are right, someone somewhere has already discovered a way to power homes without the need to burn fossil fuels or depend on any other external energy source, but the oil companies quickly silenced him. At any rate, all the energy we exert, flushing the toilet, cooking, or exercising escapes into the void rather than being recycled back into our homes. The self-sustaining electrical system still eludes us.
2.The perfect battery – Batteries are still messy, and the best ones are downright dangerous. According to managed server host 34SP.com, Americans use and discard 3 billion batteries each year. We still have not found a way to even keep rechargeable batteries from degrading over time. If there is a way to make a perfect battery, it is either too expensive or too difficult to make at this time.
3. The self-powered water fuel cell – Again I am not a scientist, but would it not be cool to have a car powered by water (perhaps the hydrogen in the water), with a fuel cell capable of reusing the waste product, which of course is just water. At some point, your water would become dirty, and you would get a water change rather than an oil change. People have envisioned concepts like this for years, but they have yet to take hold.
4. Car force fields – The ultimate is automobile safety is the force field for cars. Accidents would be like two bumper cars bouncing into each other, rather than the cataclysmic metal carnage that we now see far too often. It seems we still struggle with the concept of the force field in general, something every practically futuristic Sci-Fi film predicted we would have everywhere.
5. True universal adapters – Not only is this one possible, it has already been invented. For computers we have USB (Universal Seriel Bus), but we still have tons of devices with their own proprietary power cords. Mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and every other device all have their own cords. When your device is no longer useful, you cannot simply use the same cord for the new one. This creates more waste.
6. Easy programming (no language required) – I am not a programmer but know enough to look at source code and know that we still have a long way to go in this department. By now, many of us envisioned we would have computers that could understand natural language and create new programs based on our rough descriptions. Such a day has not yet arrived.
7. Automatic ice melting streets, driveways, and sidewalks – If you live anywhere cold, you have seen salt trucks, ice scrapers, or even the huge sledge axe that I used to break the ice on my sidewalk. Whether you have a shovel or a snow blower, removing the white stuff is still a pain. By now, we would have thought we would have streets that make the ice quietly vanish, along with evenly-heated driveways and sidewalks.
There are many other inventions, like flying cars, that we expected to have by now. Many times it is not the lack of scientific ability or knowledge that slows us down but rather the lack of funding, resistance from large corporate stake-holders in the status quo, and senseless battles of trade secrets and patents that stifle innovation. Now that technology moves at such a rapid pace, the only way to achieve the results we expected is to work together.
Tavis J. Hampton is a librarian and writer with a decade of experience in information technology, web hosting, and Linux system administration. His freelance services include writing, editing, tech training, and information architecture.