Ottawa Citizen

Looking back at tomorrow through X-ray spectacles

Remember ’67? What we now know about future discoverie­s that never arrived

- JULIE MASON

Whatever happened to the future? Remember all those scientific wonders predicted for the World of Tomorrow?

It’s 40 years after Expo 67, and we’re still waiting. I’ve been eager for the day when a robotic servant would do my housework; daily cooking would be supplanted by one fully nutritious food pill; and my pooping, shedding puppies would be replaced by furless, scoopless robo-pets.

I’m still dodging other drivers on the Queensway at rush hour instead of being chauffeure­d by my selfsteeri­ng car or teleported effortless­ly from office to home.

I can’t see through or into other people with X-ray spectacles or mind-reading devices; wars are still fought without ray guns; and the only person who still believed in cryogenics was baseball player Ted Williams — whose head waits on ice in a strip mall in Arizona.

If the 21st century isn’t all that you had hoped for, get a copy of Daniel H. Wilson’s

Where’s my Jetpack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived. Wilson, a robotics expert, explains the progress — or lack of it — toward our futuristic favourites.

According to Wilson, we’re doing well on the self-steering car, with a robotic Volkswagen driving a tortu- ous 211-kilometre road race in less than seven hours — if it’s a typical Volkswagen, the heater probably doesn’t work.

Teleportin­g has run into a few problems such as deconstruc­ting and reassembli­ng our particles. Sony has produced the AIBO robotic dog, and a Japanese company has created a robotic baby harp seal with hypoallerg­enic white fur (no, it doesn’t come with its own sealers’ wooden club and an inflatable Heather Mills protest doll).

The X-ray specs have been upgraded to the controvers­ial “backscatte­r” machines used in some airports to see through your clothing to all your lumps and bumps, including the Uzi hidden beneath your Old Navy sweatshirt. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is working on a device that uses facial expression­s and body language to tell if you’re lying — Dick Cheney, you’ve been warned.

Happily for mankind, we’ve still got a way to go on the death-ray gun, although we seem to manage lots of mayhem without it.

On the domestic front, the food pill is available, but no one wants to eat it when Taco Bell is just around the corner.

The Roombo robotic vacuum cleaners and Robomow lawn mowers are much loved by their owners, but the HUBO household robot with articulate­d fingers and opposable thumbs is the only robot to have a simulated human head made of Flubber, a synthetic skin.

According to Wilson, the head looks like Albert Einstein recently returned from the dead. Speaking of dead, Wilson also expects Ted Williams to have a long wait before science can warm him up.

In spite of this somewhat discouragi­ng picture, science has made many great advances that have gone unrecogniz­ed and unrewarded.

Take Pill Pockets, a pill delivery system for dogs.

Anyone who has tried to convince a reluctant Rottweiler to down some little orange pills will love these tiny squishy bags made of congealed chicken-like material. You pop the pills inside, squeeze the bag closed and offer it to the happy puppy.

Since your hands now have an unfortunat­e faux-chicken odour, you need the Blomus stainless steel soap. Just as it sounds, this is an elegant oval of stainless steel that is used just like a bar of soap to remove the smell of onions, fish, smoking or dog treats from your hands. And it never wears out. A Nobel Prize to the scientific mind behind soap without lather.

While we’re still in the kitchen, kudos to the genius who invented Al Dente, an operatic pasta timer.

Al is a plastic replica of a gangster that is dropped into salted water with your linguini.

After seven minutes, he emits the Triumphal March from Aida, at nine minutes he’s doing a piece from Nabucco, and at 11 minutes — worth waiting for — he performs La Donna e Mobile from Rigoletto. Al Dente is the perfect marriage of culture, cuisine and science.

We couldn’t have imagined that back in 1967. Julie Mason’s column appears regularly in these pages.

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