The future will be nothing like we can imagine it today

Image result for percival marshall flying machines

I have just picked up a second-hand copy of the third edition of Percival Marshall’s Flying-Machines – Past, Present & Future, as pictured above. It’s the first time I have ever heard of the book. Near as I can tell it was published around 1909-1910 and found it utterly fascinating. Since every book is written in the present, what it tells us quite a bit about is the time when it was just newly published and hardly anything else. What intrigued me most was the emphasis given to conjectures about the future. Here are the last three lines of the book:

The experience of the present development of the art of flying, and opinions expressed by aviators, seem to predict that aerial navigation will be the safest of all forms of mechanical transit. Many flights have been made after sunset, practically in the dark. Mr Cody has flown in moonlight, showing that flying machines can be used at night.

In 1909 even flying at night was only a conjecture, a possibility, an aspiration. The author was confident but could hardly be certain. It seems now, just as it was then, that as we try to look ahead, we cannot actually see very far at all. All one can say with certainty is that the future will be nothing like we can imagine it today and I don’t mean just technologically.

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39 Responses to The future will be nothing like we can imagine it today

  1. Biota

    In 110 years the development of flight has been exponential, and apparently without too much government subsidy. Compare that with the progress made in renewable energy over the last 50 years all with heavy subsidy; negligible.

  2. That reminds me of some decades past when I was tutoring air force junior officers, including pilots and navigators, and we had a session on looking towards the future in combat aircraft development. I posed the idea that in future we’d have unmanned combat aircraft able to undertake combat missions and be controlled from remote localities.

    The benefits were many. Not having to accommodate and supply a life support system for a pilot meant that these aircraft could operate in far more hazardous environments. They could have far more effective flight envelopes without a pilot. The cost of each aircraft would be significantly less. These aircraft could carry more munitions because they didn’t require a life support system or have a wider operating envelope etc.

    The push back that I received from the pilots and navigators was ferocious. They were adamant that this would ‘never’ happen, absolutely impossible. I encountered something similar on a related topic many years later. The experts had spoken once again.

  3. Is there any similar kind of book written about batteries?

  4. Nob

    hzhousewife
    #3285656, posted on January 8, 2020 at 10:01 am
    Is there any similar kind of book written about batteries?

    Made me laugh. Good one.

    I was just about to post something similar.

  5. Tom

    Woops. That story doesn’t relate to Australia, even though it was carried by local TV networks. It’s based on Uber’s presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

  6. Nob

    Biota
    #3285643, posted on January 8, 2020 at 9:53 am
    In 110 years the development of flight has been exponential, and apparently without too much government subsidy.

    I guess the exception is during wartime.

    Which would be why renewables shills always invoke the language of War and Emergency.

  7. calli

    apparently without too much government subsidy.

    War and the space race were a source of big government “subsidies”, and resulted in the innovations we take for granted today.

    I wonder though if we’ve hit a technological brick wall.

  8. Nob

    Kinda funny that the big advances now being made with unmanned aircraft relies on good old propellers and rotors, rather than the rockets and jets that were envisaged.

  9. Tom

    Nob, when Uber air taxis start buzzing around the suburbs, it’s going to be a nightmare for the sleepy (some say corrupt) government agencies like the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), which regulates air traffic. Imagine CASA regulating the taxi industry, after the debacle of the established taxi monopolies of the past decade.

  10. Rafe Champion

    George Orwell saw the future years ago.

  11. JB of Sydney/Shanghai

    I’m wondering what the rest of the world’s submarines will look like, 30 years after our solitary Pyne Class diesel powered French/Australian hybrid chugs around ours hores.

  12. I wonder though if we’ve hit a technological brick wall.

    Aaaah, those dratted Laws of Physics ! How Dare They !

  13. RobertS

    Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time in October 1947, the year I was born, when Neil Armstrong was 17 years old. Can you imagine going back in time and looking up Neil and saying “Wow! Did you hear on the radio what Chuck Yeager did? You think you’ll walk on the moon one day?”
    I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon from a RAAF crew room in 1969. I had Test Pilot’s Course at no. 1 on my “dream sheet”. I thought one day I might walk on Mars

  14. Leigh Lowe

    The benefits were many. Not having to accommodate and supply a life support system for a pilot meant that these aircraft could operate in far more hazardous environments. They could have far more effective flight envelopes without a pilot. The cost of each aircraft would be significantly less. These aircraft could carry more munitions because they didn’t require a life support system or have a wider operating envelope etc.

    The push back that I received from the pilots and navigators was ferocious. They were adamant that this would ‘never’ happen, absolutely impossible. I encountered something similar on a related topic many years later. The experts had spoken once again.

    Some of the things you can take out of a pilotless aircraft are obvious (pilot, seat, display screens), but you can remove a lot of duplicated systems included for safety purposes. In short, the aircraft becomes not quite a single use consumable, but a highly expendable piece of kit.

  15. Aaaah, those dratted Laws of Physics ! How Dare They !

    Yes, about once a week I read about another breakthrough that could improve solar cell efficiency. The efficiency has remained about the same for the last two decades, apart from relatively minor incremental improvements.

  16. Nob

    There’s always something going on while everyone’s looking the other way.

    Well, in a free capitalist society there is. What did we get from the USSR apart from Kalashnikovs?

    Sikorsky gtf out of there as soon as he could.

  17. Nob

    Sociologists and the like, full of their own importance, never see the engineering stories.

    I bet you think that the craft beer revolution came about because people’s beer tastes changed. Or were brainwashed, if you don’t like the stuff.

    But it was enabled by new types of storage technology that meant brewers and bars could make , ship and keep a large variety of tasty small batch beers without them going off.

    I spent a lot of time with an ex oilfield mate who got involved early on who explained how it all worked.
    That led to innovative approaches to distribution and so on.

  18. In short, the aircraft becomes not quite a single use consumable, but a highly expendable piece of kit.

    The interesting thing about combat drones is that when the US started using these, they had great difficulty getting pilots to volunteer for the task. Then all of a sudden it became a highly sought after job and there was no trouble filling positions. The operators are now considered somewhat of an elite group.

  19. Nob

    A bit like ROVs underwater then.

    North Sea divers were like kings for about 10-15 years in the 70s & 80s.
    They had the cash and knew how to splash.

    They disdained the robotic ROVs. You’ll never replace a real diver!

    Now the real divers are lucky if they can get a murky harbour police diving job for bus driver wages.

    Operators just built the environment more and more for remote control, and eventually even ROVs have a niche position.

  20. calli

    Aaaah, those dratted Laws of Physics ! How Dare They !

    Heh. When I was little, I thought I’d have a car just like George Jetson.

    Forget mobile flip phones and computer disks. Those Star Trek anti-gravs would be far more useful.

  21. Nob

    calli
    #3285748, posted on January 8, 2020 at 11:05 am
    Aaaah, those dratted Laws of Physics ! How Dare They !

    Heh. When I was little, I thought I’d have a car just like George Jetson.

    Me too.

    Instead I got like Fred Flintstone.

    An old EH with a hole in the floor and silver paper from a fag packet in the dipswitch. .

  22. lotocoti

    I guess the exception is during wartime.

    Not really.
    Other than the progenitor of NASA, NACA doing a lot of heavy lifting in aerodynamic testing, aviation companies were on their own, cost-wise, when it came to developing new designs.
    Even in krautland, companies would try (and usually fail) to bill the reich for prototype costs.

  23. Korong

    I remember reading somewhere that in the 1850s the pace of urbanisation gave rise to worries about what to do with all the horseshit in large cities.

  24. Botswana O'Hooligan

    Well, if you disbelieve the supposed feat of Gustave Whitehead in 1901 to make the first powered flight, and believe that Wilbur and Orville did in fact achieve that on 17/12/1903 then powered flight has been around for 116 years and not 110. The 17/12/2019 was also the 84th birthday of the DC3 and not one article about the Wright Bros or the DC3 of Donald Douglas appeared in The Australian aviation section or in other newspapers when one supposed it might. One very vital instrument that has been around almost forever, certainly since before I learned my trade in the fifties, is the “black” ball or skid ball that indicates yaw. It used to live at the bottom of the turn and bank indicator and one kept it in the middle at all times and if one lost an engine in a multi one “stepped” on the ball as it were with the rudder pedal on that side, ditto in a spin, but that too has been reduced to basically an unlit dust mote in the bottom of the glass attitude directional indicator because modern aeroplane engines do not fail until they do and then all hell breaks loose for no simulator can give the rush of fear and dread and trembling that an engine failure or fire gave when one did blow up, catch on fire, or bits fell off as was their wont.

  25. Frank

    All one can say with certainty is that the future will be nothing like we can imagine it today and I don’t mean just technologically.

    Amen to that, extrapolating from the present–in the sense of the social/cultural/political environment–you would be hard pressed not to make the lonely shuffle into the wardrobe with a necktie and a bottle of scotch.

  26. I_am_not_a_robot

    None of it would have been possible without the development of liquid fossil fuels.
    In fact that could be said about practically everything we use from day to day.

  27. what to do with all the horseshit in large cities

    Australia solved that problem by creating Canberra.

  28. Nob

    I_am_not_a_robot
    #3285795, posted on January 8, 2020 at 11:41 am
    None of it would have been possible without the development of liquid fossil fuels

    There’s my man.

    There’ll likely never be storage medium as cheap, portable , energy dense and efficient as the liquid sunlight of hydrocarbons.

    People who say it’s not sustainable have got it arse about.

    Healthy life for 7bn+ is unsustainable without fossil fuels.

  29. Pete of Perth

    What technological wonders came out of Australia when we had the 150% tax rebate for innovation in the nineties? I was working at a Brick factory at the time and much effort was expended in turning historical incremental manufacturing improvement into ground breaking innovation so as to be eligible for the rebate.

  30. RobK

    –you would be hard pressed not to make the lonely shuffle into the wardrobe with a necktie and a bottle of scotch.
    But the odds are, you’d be wrong.😀

  31. Nob

    Never even heard of that.
    Who was judging eligibility?

  32. Chris M

    the big advances now being made with unmanned aircraft relies on good old propellers and rotors, rather than the rockets and jets that were envisaged.

    Well in UAV’s there are both, but fuel efficiency and speed requirements dominate the choice. Props dominate as the small turbofan engines offer poor fuel efficiency besides being fairly noisy. The only way to make them more efficient is to increase the diameter and number of compressor stages (overall much larger) and run them hotter; then they become extremely fuel efficient. That’s why you have 737 Max8 with way oversized engines barely fitting under the wings and throwing the whole centre of gravity out – pretty much an economists design haha. Fuel efficient and way cheaper than designing a new model and re-certifying pilots.

  33. One very vital instrument that has been around almost forever

    There’s also the yaw string, which dates back to the very beginning of powered flight.

  34. The trinkets we use and abuse will change but one thing won’t and hasn’t for thousands of years….wisdom.
    We may have lots of trinkets, but we are not a jot wiser than the people of…say…3000 years ago.
    For evidence, I present to you, today’s yoof. They have trinket smarts, but are the least wise generation in memory.

    That means it’s irrelevant what fantasmagorical inventions abound in a hundred years or two. The REAL problems of humans will be the same as it always was.

  35. They have trinket smarts, but are the least wise generation in memory.

    I would say least knowledgeable. But I guess with knowledge comes wisdom.

    If you ever watch The Chase, it’s interesting to compare the older generation vs the younger generation. The former seem to know things dating back to before they were born, but the latter often don’t know about things from 10 years ago, they very often seem limited in their general knowledge.

  36. Roger

    If you ever watch The Chase, it’s interesting to compare the older generation vs the younger generation. The former seem to know things dating back to before they were born, but the latter often don’t know about things from 10 years ago, they very often seem limited in their general knowledge.

    Yes, I’ve noticed that too.

    And as BoN said yesterday, older generations did not have access to the educational benefits of modern technology and the vast amounts of information now available. The single resource in most instrances resource was the local, school or university library and the cloth bound volumes therein. TV documentaries didn’t really take off until Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation in the late 1960s.

    As for predicting the future, the failures of futurists of the past are salutary.

  37. Pete of Perth

    Nob, to clarify it was an 150 % R&D tax concession. See p33 of Auditor General’s report no 40, 2002-03 at link.

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