Saturday, July 13, 2013

Predicting the Future Is a Small Matter of Imagination

Predicting the Future Is a Small Matter of Imagination

I’ve always thought that people can predict the future. That was influenced to a great deal by my stint with IBM in the 1980s. They sent me to a “Strategic Planning” class that had as its main objective teaching us how to predict change and the reactions to that change. The future, they showed, was just a matter of predicting the small steps.
I’ve written about event wheels, which is a process used to predict these changes, so I want repeat that here. Instead, I want to point to a recent article in a TGDaily, which showed one piece of technology that I  included in my future stories using this method — driverless cars.

Sure, it was an easy one to guess, but the trick in using this method is to guess the details. If you don’t need a driver, I assumed, you don’t need to configure cars the same way. Here’s how I envisioned the technology in my upcoming book, Hard as Roxx:
“It was a small cab, with the passenger cabin taking virtually all of the space, expect for a small compartment for luggage. As it used the same conductive plastic as Jazz’s bike, there was no need for a traditional engine, exhaust system, or drivetrain. Instead, there were small batteries mounted on the wheels, as hubcaps, which powered the vehicle.  The cabs followed tracks embedded in the roadway that connected to an assembly on its chassis. Being computer controlled, it required no driver and hence no front seat. Instead, there were two plush bench seats, each facing the other, and nothing else.”
Not bad, right? You don’t have to know the future, you simply have to think about the problem that future technology is trying to address. Did you recognize the basic design concept of the car above? Tram cars. That’s right — basic automated cars in the future the same function as automated tram cars do now. Why wouldn’t they look the same? Sure, Google is testing driverless cars that look like, well, cars, but why should that matter? Once the power mechanism changes and large engines are no longer needed, cars will look vastly different than today.

After all, what is a car? It’s an engine compartment, a passenger cockpit, and a storage compartment. Who says you need all three?
In stretching your imagination, once you have the basic concept, it’s easy to bend the likely into the fun, using just a bit of imagination. Here’s an excerpt from Roxx, where I imagination how driverless cars — the ones that aren’t fleet vehicles — might be configured in a tourist town.
“By eight o’clock, chaos had ensued. The once-empty street was flooded with automated taxis, all painted green. Most were teardrop shaped, but a few resembled boats, driverless rickshaws, and even a dragon or two. There was a throng of people four blocks from the hotel strip, crowding a line of small shops and tents set up along both sides of the narrow street. The open-air market extended two to three kilometers in either direction, with every bit of sidewalk, and all but a narrow lane for a single line of taxis, taken up by humans and bearer robots. It was a tourist-shopping mecca on one side, and the best place for local goods and commerce on the other.”
Again, even in imaging the future, you can nail some predictions. That’s because those who design technology are using similar processes. I thought that with driverless cars, you’d need narrower streets and there’d be more room for people. Here’s what the New York Times article says about the technology: “Th(e) city of the future could have narrower streets because parking spots would no longer be necessary. And the air would be cleaner because people would drive less.”
Here’s another excerpt, this time from Emprise:
“Sidewalks were packed with pedestrians, and vehicles blazed by at incredible speed, most mere inches apart. Robin raised one arm, flagging a yellow, egg-shaped vehicle, which pulled to the curb with a dim, electronic buzz. … There was no driver.
Most of the vehicles that whizzed by looked like the one they were in: small and driverless. Because they were self-guided, their interiors were configured differently than the cars back home. The cars’ seats were oriented toward the interior of the vehicle. The front seats could swivel and slide on floor-mounted tracks that allowed passengers to face forward. Some cars were equipped with low tables that featured spaces for beverages, or portals for information devices. Others, like the hourly rental Robin had flagged down, offered limited comfort, with just enough room for four adults.”
Again, my vehicles are egg-shaped, because I assumed energy consumption is still a concern; therefore, aerodynamics would play into design. It’s easy to extend the same method to other technologies; for instance, what if scientist can harness sonic energy as a weapon? Could you envision a time when warfighters use swords equipped with sonic resonators that are capable of cutting through artificial — robots — armies? I could.
The future isn’t as hard to figure out as you might think. It’s really a small matter of allowing yourself to understand the problems, and then to extend current trends to create imaginative solutions.

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