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When technology fails to impress, blame 'The Jetsons'
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by Ross Gianfortune

March 8, 2004

We live in an amazing society. Food science innovations have provided things like deli meat that looks nothing like meat and fake meat products (vegan riblets and fake bacon, for example) that look like meat.

Technology, on the other hand, has not worked out as well. We've come a long way from the steam engine and rotary phones, but not everything is wine and roses. Technological advances have failed us on three levels: flying cars, space expansion and the science of robotics. With all the technology and advances we've seen we're nowhere near space expansion or flying cars and I've seen virtually no robots.

I blame the Jetsons for this. Certainly, there are plenty of movies and television shows about the future, but "The Jetsons" was the most comprehensive look at the future. I used to watch "The Jetsons" as a child and imagine myself living the Jetsons' life in the future and they had it made.

The Jetsons supposedly took place sometime in the 21st century, but the show couldn't have been more wrong. All we've got, so far, is the Internet and phones that keep getting smaller and smaller.

Remember what life was like, say 10 or 15 years ago, when a cellular phone was the size of a brick? Heck, I remember a time when my mother's cellular phone was connected to a big bag with an antenna that sat on the passenger seat. Now, cellular phones are tiny. At this rate, cell phones in 2008 will be the size of a stamp.

That said, I still can't find a cell phone that's markedly better than the model I purchased six years ago. The only progress the cell phone industry has made in these six years is camera-phone technology. Could there be a more useless thing to put on a cell phone? Have you ever, in you life, been somewhere and just needed a camera so bad you wished your phone had one? Last time I checked, Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz weren't taking award-winning photos with a Motorola cell phone. Only one group of people actually uses this technology: Giggling teenage girls taking pictures of their friends on the Metro.

The Internet has, no doubt, revolutionized technology. I use the Internet as a means of doing just about everything. I shop online, I research online, I use e-mail to correspond with everyone about anything; I basically live my life online. I love the Internet. The Internet makes nearly all the information you need available to you in within seconds. But, after consulting the Internet I find only one company engineering commercial space flight.

But, neither the Internet nor the microchip has gotten us the Jetsons' lifestyle: flying cars, more space exploration, or personal robots.

The Mars rover Opportunity is ridging along the red planet, gathering rocks and searching for signs of life. Opportunity is not building a space station.

Also, NASA research has produced several triumphs and a few catastrophes, but one thing NASA has not produced is a flying car. "The Jetsons" not only perfected the flying car, but everyone in the show drove a flying car. According to "The Jetsons," the only car you can buy in the future is a flying car (plus, this car can fold into a suitcase, which you carry around with you).

I did a lot of research on current 2004 model-year cars and none of them fly. They do not fold up into a briefcase. They just roll on the ground, same as they've been doing for 40 years. Come on, Detroit, step up!

The Jetsons lived above the clouds in Orbit City and vacationed on Venus and Jupiter. Forget living above the clouds: Commercial space flight isn't even affordable. So far, only two people have taken a commercial space flight: 60-year-old multi-millionaire financier Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth. Each had to go through both the Russian government and a bizarre company called Spaces Adventures (www.spaceadventures.com) in order to get up to the International Space Station. It cost each of them reportedly $20 million dollars to take an eight-day trip to the space station and back. Needless to say, I don't think many of us are going to do that anytime soon.

So, we've got no flying cars, we're still here, rotting on Earth, at least we have some robots to make our daily lives easier, right? Of course not.

The Jetsons had Rosie the robot as their maid, and she was a used model. In "The Jetsons," robots made life easier. The family had a robot valet at their apartment building (although, with the cars all folding into briefcases, why would one need a valet?); the robot police would apprehend criminals, and robots worked with humans in the factories. So far, all we have is robot cameras taking pictures of us speeding. These robots are not giving us three-hour days in three-day workweeks (as George Jetson had).

In one episode, George and his boss, Cosmo Spacely, attend a robot football at Orbit Stadium. Despite my general distaste for football, I would really like to see a robot football game. Heck, I like other sports; I would absolutely love to see robots playing any game. All we've got is that stupid BattleBots show on Comedy Central. My idea of watching robot sports does not include RC-cars with knives on them. Those aren't robots; those are loser science projects.

The only country seemingly at work on robots is Japan. And I thank Japan for that. Even so, the only robot Japan has put out in the past 10 years is a huge white model that might be able to get you a drink and say hello. That's it. No cleaning, no cooking. Of course, the company at work on this robot is Honda, one of the world's leading car manufacturers. I think they've got some work to do. And while they're at, let those Honda engineers do something about flying cars, too.

Send comments to kschafer@gazette.net.


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