What the future has in store
I'm writing this drinking tea made with boiling water dispensed directly from a tap in my kitchen sink, having just returned from a meeting which I found my way to using a navigation app on my smart phone that worked out the quickest route based on instantly updated traffic data generated by other users of the app (it's called Waze by the way, and if you don't use it already get it right away. You'll wonder how you ever managed without it).
Later, I'll watch a film I've downloaded to my iPad, listening with my bluetooth headphones so I don't disturb my other half whilst he's transfixed by whatever sport happens to be on offer on the TV (sound familiar?) And in the meantime I'll ponder whether to go ahead and order a robotic vacuum cleaner as recommended by one of my friends, who's clearly considerably more house proud than me.
It is amazing, isn't it, how many design and technological advances we use and take for granted which, even five years ago, and certainly ten, would have seemed like science fiction rather than everyday fact.
I got to thinking about this after seeing a fascinating exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum called The Future Starts Here. It features 100 objects and projects that point to how society, and our lives, might develop thanks to both emerging and already existing concepts and technologies. These are a selection of the exhibits that caught my eye:
Electric muscles for the elderly. An exosuit designed to give the wearer extra muscle power.
A pedestrian footbridge spanning a highway and railway line in Rotterdam that was initiated and built, not by the government, but by citizens who crowdfunded its costs.
The bridge is made out of timber panels and each one is inscribed with the name of a citizen-donor.
A robot that can do your ironing. Unsurprisingly this one's still in development. Apparently it's tricky for a machine to work out the unpredictable size and shape of items. Who'd have guessed.
A beauty product designed to restore the beneficial bacteria to our skin that our cleanliness obsessed world has all but eliminated.
Aside from being a thoroughly engrossing, cleverly staged and enjoyably interactive exhibition which I'd heartily recommend (it's on until November 4th, so you've got plenty of time), it's a reminder - and not necessarily a reassuring one - about the speed at which change is happening in our world and our lives.
I would never argue that life was better before technology developed computers, the internet and smart phones, or that I don't welcome ingenious inventions like my sensor controlled heating, which switches off if it detects there's no-one in the house, and which I can control via an app on my phone.
But there's a growing concern (raised in the exhibition) that our ever more technology-connected world is actually making us less connected as individuals. That our brains are suffering from rarely, if ever, having any down-time. And that our planet is suffering from our lack of regard for its precious resources.
I look at how much has changed in my lifetime and wonder if the pace of change can continue, and that if it can and does, what the lives of my grandchildren and their children will be like. I admit that I peer ahead into the future with a mix of trepidation and excitement.
And not a little hope that they'll get that ironing robot into production eventually.
What are the inventions that have had the most impact on your life? And what would you like to see developed in the future?
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