I grew up watching the Jetsons and imagining the world of the future. I often dreamed of having my own Rosie the Robot to do my chores. I remember how hilarious it was to watch Maxwell Smart talking on his shoe phone. I recall being astonished by a program with Arthur C. Clarke in which he predicted that one day we would all have the capacity to live anywhere on earth working from home if we wished. The predictions of life in the future seemed as impossible to me as the ideas of H.G. Wells must have been to people who read his books at the end of the nineteenth century, and yet I have lived to see the most amazing inventions becoming available to ordinary people like me.
Five days a week my Roomba, whom I have named Reggie, busies itself vacuuming the rooms in my home. My floors are dust free most of the time without my having to lug out my big Dyson. I listen with great joy to Reggie making my home immaculate and the only thing I have to do to keep the little machine happy is to regularly charge it with electricity and provide it with a new bag for trapping all of the dust now and again. I keep a few small spare parts on hand to do minor emergency repairs, but all in all Reggie quite independently and regularly completes the tasks without a fuss even when I am away on a trip.
As a youngster I took turns with my mother washing the dishes each day. Mama was quite fastidious and insisted that I perform my duties immediately after each meal on the days that were allotted to me. She insisted that I follow her strict guidelines in the art of washing and rinsing each item. It wasn’t the worst job I ever had, but I have to admit to enjoying simply placing my kitchenware inside a dishwasher, pushing a few buttons and walking away as I now do. The onerous task of handwashing is almost becoming a lost art.
I remember once having to walk for several miles to find a phone to call for help when my car broke down. I surely would have appreciated having my smart phone with me on that occasion. Like Maxwell Smart I might have called for help from the comfort of my car rather than searching for signs of civilization on a long hike across unsparing terrain. Who knew that I’d one day be able to carry such a powerful apparatus in my purse. How could I have guessed that it would become my map, my encyclopedia, my entertainment and my means of contacting people all in one tiny package?
My husband is determined to make ours a smart home that responds to our commands the way a highly professional assistant might do. We can turn things on and off without lifting a finger. Our assistant will fill our home with music if we request, or provide us with a recipe for dinner while keeping a timer going as well. We can wake up and ask about the weather and find out what has happened in the world while we were still sleeping without ever crawling out of the comfort of our bed.
Not long ago I had major surgery from a robot directed by my doctor. With only four small entry points that are hardly noticeable now I recovered much more quickly than I would have in an earlier time. I had no large abdominal scar that needed to heal, no major pain that prevented me from getting around. It was almost unbelievable.
Of course during the pandemic most of us learned how to work from our homes. I taught my small group of students from an upstairs bedroom for two years with my trusty laptop computer that is more powerful than the huge mainframes that guided humans to the moon. I realized that Arthur C. Clarke had been right when he predicted that we would one day be able to perform the duties of our jobs wherever we wanted to be.
Even though all of these things have become common place I still find myself being in awe of the advances that scientists and engineers have made in providing us with tools for taking care of tasks that once required our focused efforts. We have gone beyond the realm of George Jetson in so many ways. We have enjoyed the dreams of futurists of the past. Anyone born in the last two decades no doubt takes everything that I have described for granted. It is simply part of everyday life to have such conveniences in the modernized world, and yet there are still people who toil each day with old fashioned tools. They live in homes without the luxuries that I enjoy. I try to keep in mind how fortunate I am.
I look forward to watching the wheels of progress turn ever so much more quickly. I dream of the wonders that are still to come. Will I one day travel in a self driving car? (That’s a bit frightening to me.) What are the greatest minds in the world planning for us? Will people indeed live on the moon or Mars? Will someone find a way to eradicate mental illness with just a few adjustments to the brain? What lies ahead and how equitable will it be for all of the world, not just the parts that are wealthiest? I’m certain there is much more to come and I can’t wait to see it and to use it. The future beckons.