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Entries in wall street journal (4)


The Roads Not Taken

Readers of the Wall Street Journal may have noticed a familiar byline in the May 23rd edition of the newspaper. For their special report on the future of transportation I looked at retrofuturistic visions of how we'd get from Point A to Point B. It was a fun spread to put together and I'm only now finding the time to blog about it -- appropriately enough, from 30,000 feet in the air.

For those of you who don't know, my day job is in non-traditional marketing. We've hit our busy season, so my apologies for the lack of new posts. I rarely write about my job on this blog, but I'm currently headed to Bonnaroo, where I'm developing and managing a tent for Ford. I only mention this because the theme is "1950's sci-fi drive-in theater" so if you happen to be a Paleofuture reader and heading to Bonnaroo I can pretty much guarantee you'll love it.


Jobs Robots Will Never Do (1983)

The June 3, 1983 Wall Street Journal ran a short blurb about jobs that robots would soon do and others that robots would probably never do. Darning socks made the list of jobs they'd never do. They should have put it on the list of things humans wouldn't do either. Where's my Father McKenzie bot?!?!!

What distinguishes man from machine? The robot revolution is providing new answers as more robots take jobs that once only people could fill. But two Carnegie-Mellon University professors have made a list of what robots probably never will be able to do.

In the near future, robots will be able to shear sheep, scrape barnacles from the hull of a ship, assemble toasters or television sets. Some day, very sophisticated robots may be able to set a table, change a tire, pick fruit or do somersaults, say Robert U. Ayers and Steven M. Miller in their book, "Robotics," published earlier this year.

What will remain the province of man? Dancing a ballet, peeling a grape, darning a sock, playing championship table tennis, delivering a baby.

The robot image above is from the 1937 Donald Duck film "Modern Inventions."


Previously on Paleo-Future



Meet George Jetson (Wall Street Journal, 2007)

Jason Fry has a very interesting piece in today's Wall Street Journal about those who long for the Jetsons' version of the future. The November 15, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone also has an article about paleo-futurism, although I haven't read that one yet.

An excerpt from the Wall Street Journal piece appears below but just to clarify, there were only 24 episodes of the original 1960s version of the Jetsons. New episodes were produced in the 1980s.

I doubt the creators of "The Jetsons" ever imagined how they'd influence kids growing up in the 1970s. The last episode of the original "Jetsons" aired in the spring of 1963, but its real heyday came in syndication, with the show playing on what seemed like continuous loop in the late 1970s. Amazingly, there were only 24 "Jetsons" episodes --- it's a bit frightening to imagine how many times I must have seen each one.

And I'm not alone. Rolling Stone just released another anniversary issue, this one interviewing 25 big names about the future of the music industry, global warming, politics and the like. Turns out a fair number of Rolling Stone's famous interviewees spent their childhoods the same way I did: watching George and Jane and Judy and Elroy.

Kanye West and Bruce Springsteen would like their flying cars already. The future was "The Jetsons," George Clooney recalls -- it "meant getting into a silver costume with a ring around your neck and riding around in floating cars. It was antiseptic and perfect." Chris Rock also grew up expecting airborne cars and moving sidewalks. Mr. Clooney finds it "funny that none of it really came around," but Mr. Rock notes that flying cars aside, "The Jetsons pretty much came true. My kid even has a mechanical dog that does flips." (Who's right? I'll get to that.)

See also:
Paleo-Future in the Wall Street Journal


Paleo-Future in the Wall Street Journal

If you read today's Wall Street Journal you may have seen a piece by Lee Gomes, which mentions the Paleo-Future blog.

Another way to follow evolving social attitudes about computers is through the "concept videos" made by computer companies. Analogous to Detroit's concept cars, these videos are designed to show a company's visionary idea about what computers might be one day, without obliging it to actually build them.

The best place to look at these videos is at PaleoFuture (, which allows an amazing look back at visions of the future, starting back in the 1880s. The exhibit is curated with great wit by 24-year-old Matt Novak of Minneapolis. Most of these retrofutures are full of optimistic technology, like what you'd see at a World's Fair or Disneyland's World of Tomorrow.

Computer-company concept videos tend to be set in the immediate future, a happy time of well-dressed people who spend their days either running small businesses or preparing sales reports. PaleoFuture has two videos from the early 1990s, one from Sun Microsystems and the other from AT&T, telling us about life in 2004.

These videos avoid the silliness of similar efforts from the 1960s, such as the 1967 movie from Philco-Ford showing moms in 1999 pushing a button to make dinner. Still, they manage to blur easy engineering problems with very hard ones, which results in their being off by miles in some of their predictions. In most of these videos, for example, the computer understands casual spoken English well enough to be able to act as an ever-alert concierge, dialing up business associates on the phone and yanking reports on demand from its memory, then cheerfully saying something back to their owner after finishing a task.

Mr. Novak says that since then, the computer industry seems to have gotten smarter about how dumb computers can be and what they're really good for. "Computers of the future were to be artificial humans," he says. "At some point, we realized that we didn't care to talk with machines. We wanted to communicate with humans more efficiently."

See also:
Article for MungBeing
Sincerity and the Paleo-Future
Postmodern Paleo-Future