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Don't look now, but the future is here!

Mike Elgan | Sept. 8, 2015
We didn't get the future that was predicted. We got a much better one.

future tech

In the first half of the 20th Century, a wide range of futurists, science fiction writers and others predicted what life would be like in the Year 2000 and beyond. Many of those concepts made such an impact that they left an indelible mark on the public's imagination.

In fact, many people assume that we're still slowly progressing toward that future. But I'm here to tell you that the real future has already arrived. More than that, the predicted future is boring and inferior to our amazing reality.

Let's compare elements of yesterday's future with what's actually happening now.

Pet robots

In the future-obsessed 1920s, '30s and '40s, futurists commonly believed that robotic pets would become normal. A few prototypes were even mocked up and displayed at World's Fairs. One robot dog called Philidog was created in 1928. The most famous was Sparko, a robotic dog created in 1940.

They were actually mechanical contraptions that responded in limited ways to various inputs. They achieved slow, clumsy movement with internal gears and wires. Futurists no doubt assumed that computers would eventually be involved, and that mechanical dogs would evolve into robot dogs.

But no futurist could have predicted the massive computer power controlling today's home robot pets. The most recent example is the BB-8.

Unveiled last week by Sphero, the $150 BB-8 is a pet robot modeled after a droid in the upcoming Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, which opens in December.

Sphero worked with Disney on the design of the robot featured in the movie, then got the rights to make a branded toy pet based on the movie character.

The BB-8 has a magnetically attached head. (Sphero's marketing material says the head is attached not with magnets but with "the force" -- or a "pseudo-inverted pendulum mechanism.") As the ball-shaped body rolls along, the head stays generally on top of the BB-8 while at the same time appearing to look around nervously and curiously.

The BB-8 rolls around on its own and can be remote-controlled or run through user-determined programs. It even responds to voice commands. (Hilariously, it runs away in a panic when you say, "It's a trap!")

Sphero's droid is also capable of simulated "holographic communication," which you can see as an augmented reality feature via your phone's camera and screen.

The "brains" of the BB-8 is your Android or iOS smartphone running the BB-8 app, which will no doubt gain new powers and abilities with each new update. The processing power for the BB-8 (your phone) vastly exceeds anything imaginable until recently.


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