As a child growing up in the 1970s, lasers always seemed very exciting – but like so many views of the future from that period, the reality has been somewhat of a disappointment.
I will admit that lasers have achieved an unexpected ubiquity in our lives – though mostly reading spinning silvery discs (providing they are free of fingerprints) or used for pointing at rather dull business presentations (though, I still favour the stick or finger myself). The US Navy have recently demonstrated a laser “gun” firing on, and disabling, a medium sized dinghy – which is more in line with the promises of science fiction. However, the video for this is not wildly impressive: a small fire starts on one of the outboard motors and slowly grows. I think I could have disabled the boat faster using darts (or a sharp stick) despite my lack of skill with “the arrows” (never could manage to finish on a double, but this is probably less important in naval warfare). It certainly doesn’t look like the action surrounding the classic rejoinder, “No, Mr Bond. I expect you to die,” is going to become a reality anytime soon.
I have seen a laser mouse on offer – but, it was only a computer peripheral. On mature reflection, perhaps a laser-equipped version of Trixie (or Dixie) would be a bit of a problem around the house (and not just for Mr Jinks), at least until someone develops a fridge with shields so that I can keep my cheese safe.
I also fear the days of computer mice (laser or otherwise) may be numbered, now that the touchscreen has become so popular. Am I alone in rather regretting this development? In days of yore, one spent much time and effort avoiding fingerprints on the screen and cleaning them off should they appear. Now many devices can only be controlled by touching the screen – and none come with those white cotton gloves beloved of archivists which I would view as an essential accessory. I know the touchscreen has been in vogue in the science fiction of recent years, but I think that along with FTL travel and artificial gravity (or acceleration as I like to call it) we must assume that genetic engineering will produce people with grease-free fingers in the future (which may explain the lack of a Star Trek: CSI). Lump me in with the followers of Ned Ludd if you will, but I like a proper button (or preferably, more than one) and a screen viewable without the distorting patina left by sticky or greasy digits (even if they are my digits).
But I seem to have strayed from the path of my argument, like a modern motorist with a broken satnav. Earlier today I read about the final indignity for the laser: apparently, in future the spark plugs in our cars may well be replaced by lasers. It is claimed they will be more efficient than the current system – but, if science fiction was going to enter the world of personal transport, I have to admit I was hoping for something a bit more exciting than a spark plug replacement. Jet packs, rocket bikes, hover cars, cars that could travel through interstellar space and/or time – even the SPV, though I never understood why you drove it facing backwards – were what we promised, and all we get is a slightly better spark plug.
In so many areas, actual technology today far outstrips anything the science fiction of my youth could imagine (though, I think we should all be grateful that the forecast obsession with silver clothing (worn with a string vest?!) did not come to pass) but when it comes to transportation we are still pretty much using late nineteenth century technology. Perhaps the time has come to re-invent the wheel?