March 02, 2018

Google self-driving car is on exhibit at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Riseberg) 

If you could talk to some folks who attended the 1964 World’s Fair, they might be a little disgruntled. After all, they were promised jetpacks, flying cars, and vacations to Mars in the near future. Alas, we have none of those things, and yet we still expect transformative technologies like self-driving cars to be part of our lives soon. This week, we talk with robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks about the art of predicting when new technology will go mainstream.

Three Takeaways:

  • When it comes to anticipating tech, we should all just take it down a notch. A lot of people are making decisions based on when they think certain technologies are coming. But in actuality, advances generally take a lot longer than we think. So take predictions with a grain of salt. 
  • What's slowing down that revolutionary new technology we may have heard about? Often, the science simply hasn’t been proven yet. Brooks estimates that, for robotics, the average wait time between lab demo and everyday implementation is about 30 years.
  • Brooks says today’s innovators have a bit of a head start over their predecessors. Elon Musk’s self-driving car is impressive, but he didn’t have to invent the concept of the car, or the infrastructure to support it (Henry Ford, on the other hand, had to advocate for roads that could actually support cars, rather than carriages).

More Reading:

  • Take a look at Brooks’ detailed predictions here and his “Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions” here.  
  • The Pew Research Center polled a bunch of experts about what the future of robotics and AI will look like in 2025. Here's what they had to say
  • If we crushed your spirits about the future of robots (sorry!) go watch some videos from Boston Dynamics. That’ll cheer you right up. 

Web Extra: 

Rodney Brooks talks about his childhood in Australia, where he grew up loving space and science fiction. 

AI, technology, Rodney Brooks, predicting the future, flying cars, robotics

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