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Touching the future

Thirteen years ago, the future imagined by Apple was a tablet computer called the Knowledge Navigator. Today, this vision became real with the iPad. And while the iPad lacks many of the features Apple first imagined, it represents an experience literally inconceivable in 1987.

After all, the metaphors used to describe future technology are often grounded in our current experiences.

The Knowledge Navigator, as an example, was positioned as a loyal, yet distant, personal secretary. In the mid-1980s, this suggested a level of prestige unreachable by most at the time. Using your fingers to manipulate the device would have seemed unnatural, almost offensive.

These shifting metaphors, though, often end up hiding the reality of the future.

Videophones, like those depicted by Stanley Kubrick in 2001, never have really arrived. Yet, personal video communication has been available throughout the world for five years thanks to services like Skype.

And although we will never likely be able to teleport and travel faster than light, we do have a permanent colony in space. We have universal translators and talking computers. We’ll soon have regular commercial flights to space.

The last generation’s future has arrived and we’re beginning to recognize how it manifested itself. The next trick will be identifying the current generation’s future now.