Of course SF mostly missed computing and computers. We do have a wondrous Internet, smartphones, and personal computers that run rings around the mainframes on which I learned to program.
Still: even the Internet/smartphones/PCs sometimes disappoint. How much Internet capacity supports pointless drivel? (I'm thinking: 500 *million* people on Facebook. Umm, why? Plenty o' porn. 99% of what's on YouTube. And don't get me started on Twitter.) And how many smartphone apps are totally trivial?
Although I buy a new PC every few years, always vastly more powerful than the last, it's hardly because of progress. Invariably the old computer can still process words, calculate spreadsheets, browse the web, and email to my satisfaction. No, the reasons to buy a new computer are (a) because the old bloated, unreliable, nonsecure OS will no longer be supported, so that Microsoft can make me buy a new bloated, unreliable, nonsecure OS and (b) to run a new generation of security software against the @#$%! who write malware.
And yet there *is* progress. Witness: the Global Positioning System. For not much over a hundred bucks (although you can certainly spend more, for more features), you can own a GPS receiver to locate yourself precisely anywhere in the world and plan your route to most anywhere else. For sure, the Golden Age prognosticators entirely missed that possibility.
I got to thinking about what the GPS entails. It's a very impressive list:
- reliable, portable, very precise atomic clocks.
- reliable satellites to host the clocks and transmit the time.
- reliable satellite-launching capability to build and maintain the GPS satellite constellation.
- physics knowledge to understand and correct for the effects of special and general relativity. (A clock zipping by in free fall does not experience the passage of time in the same way as does a stationary person on Earth.)
- bright, hi-res, color displays.
- powerful microprocessors and clever software to calculate (from the arrival times of clock signals from any in-sight GPS satellites) -- in nothing flat -- your position and and your alternate routes.
- high-density memory to store millions of points of interest and untold amounts of road topography.
- clever user-interface design to make it all intuitive to use.
(And yes, GPS on a smartphone *is* a practical, nontrivial app.)
Now there's a future I can get excited about -- in a good way.
If you're curious, here's the GPS receiver that I recently acquired and am so enamored of.