By Ron Young —
Step back for a moment from the madness, frenzy, and oft seeming futility of day-to-day life. Step way back. Enter the cartoon world of the not-too-distant past—the middle of the 20th century. Remember a Popular Mechanics magazine issue that showed a suburbanite stuffing a big yellow personal helicopter into his garage? Didn’t happen. In an earlier edition of that magazine, you see a prediction of clean car emissions in the odourless city of the future. Sort of happened, sometimes, some places. Another confident scientist in days of yore talks about heating and cooking by solar power and while that is definitely possible, it is not really a good use of the technology for the average western home.
While some visions of the future espoused by the magazine have come to pass, there are many others that have been sidelined by reality such as the claim in 1929 that we would all wear clothing made of a material with amazing properties called asbestos. Throwing your asbestos clothes into a fire would suffice for cleaning, claimed this pundit; but, as we all know now, although asbestos has some amazing properties it is extremely hazardous to human health.
A 1950 issue stated smugly that people would soon live in houses with waterproof plastic furnishings including floors, upholstery, and draperies. Housecleaning would consist of turning a hose on everything to wash it down with the water going down a central drain, cleverly concealed by a synthetic carpet; blow-drying your home with a big hair dryer would follow. My personal favourite is mail delivery by parachute. The mail by parachute prediction was confidently made in 1921, not long after the dawn of flight. In fact, it says two speed parachutes were being developed that would allow “airmen” to drop mail within a few feet of the intended recipient. Doesn’t that remind you of a recent Amazon marketing promotion saying your orders would soon be delivered directly to you via miniature helicopters?
A 1966 vision of the future stated that some exotic new compound would power cars in 2016 and gasoline “will have gone the way of the buggy whip.” Given the recent precipitous drop in gas prices, some might think that is about to happen and the oil producing countries of the Middle East are having a big clearance sale, cashing in while they can. We can only hope.
In these modern days of the 21st century, our predictions for the future are no less stunning, but if we learn one thing from our past attempts at crystal ball gazing it should be that all predictions have an element of truth and—oh, just a sec. I have a call coming in on my iWatch. it’s from Dick Tracy—Hey, Dick. I’m busy. I’ll get back to you.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about quantum entanglement and the possibility of parallel worlds that exist alongside our world. In the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics all possible worlds actually exist in parallel universes. That just about means that anything is possible. Wait. No, it was in the other universe where I was talking about that. In this one I was talking about Popular Mechanics not quantum mechanics. Geez, the future is really complicated.
What I know for sure about the future is this: solar panel prices are going up. I can only predict near field future and it’s not based on quantum or popular mechanics but on the sad fact that the Canadian Border Services Agency is investigating a complaint that certain Asian countries are dumping low-priced solar panels into the North American market, creating unfair competition in the market place. While increased adoption of solar technology has brought about a great price reduction, the other factor has been Chinese government-subsidized solar panels that have been sold at unrealistically low prices.
Unrealistically low prices are great for consumers but really hard on legitimate manufacturers and many well known established companies have gone under in recent years due to lack of profitability. If the Canadian government follows the lead of the U.S. Commerce Department, which has recently imposed strong countervailing duties from 30 – 250% on Chinese manufactured solar panels, then expect a possible dramatic increase in the price. What I’m seeing in my crystal ball is a potential 50 per cent increase and that’s not pocket change.
If I really want to get spaced out on the future without taking drugs or anything, all I have to do is think about what futurists are calling “technological singularity.” The “singularity” hypothesis is that our computers will become so good at thinking for themselves they’ll be capable of building even smarter computers that will then build even smarter computers and so on. Once this happens, it’s game over for us dumb humans. Break out the popcorn because we will be sidelined as …well, dumb humans. Maybe really lucky ones will have their consciousness absorbed into bionic machines and live forever—only the multiverse knows for sure.
(If you think I’m joking, it’s been confidently stated by someone who predicts the future that incomprehensibly fast quantum computers and a quantum Internet are just around the corner.)
Ron Young is a renewable energy professional that designs and sells solar, wind, and micro-hydro systems. He operates the earthRight store in Williams Lake, BC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Ron Young 2015