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Lost in the zeros

POSTED: January 7, 2009 4:00 a.m.

I remember going to Walt Disney World not long after it opened. There was just the Magic Kingdom and that was it.

  

But it was impressive.

  

If you went counterclockwise in the park, you went to Tomorrowland, which was supposed to be the way things would be in the  futuristic year 2000.

  

A few years later, they opened up EPCOT, which was also supposed to be a place of the future.

  

They promised things like flying cars and houses that cleaned themselves at the touch of a button.

  

We have now begun the ninth year of this century and my flying car has not landed at my self-cleaning house. The same is true for my jet-pack. When I wrote this, it was a nice day and I would have flown to work.

  

I’ve lived long enough to see that the predicted future hasn’t quite matched up with the real thing.

  

When I was 5, one of the hottest shows on TV was “Lost in Space.” It was a futuristic version of “Swiss Family Robinson.” Unlike the original, the daddy was a astrophysicist and his wife was a biochemist.

  

According to the story, the family loaded up in a flying saucer in 1997 and headed out for Alpha Centauri. This nut job named Dr. Smith sneaks onboard and programs the robot to kill everybody. But the saucer took off before Smith could get out.

  

In order to save his own hide, he has to wake the Robinsons up from their space-sleeping tubes and they end up, you guessed it, lost in space.

  

In 1965, it seemed plausible that we would have flying saucers and tin foil space suits in just 32 short years.

  

It’s been 12 years since the Robinsons were supposed to have left for outer space. I figured by now they would have some nice used robots on eBay. It was a model B-9, class M-3, general utility, non-theorizing, environmental control robot.

  

It was a lot more believable than Rosie the Robot on the Jetsons. It had a blinking light that flashed whenever he talked.

  

In Oakwood, we have the Center for Innovation in Manufacturing. They teach people how to operate robotic manufacturing equipment.

  

One of the demonstrations has a robotic arm picking up hockey pucks and moving them to another place.

  

I don’t own a hockey puck. I’m looking for a serious robot that can rake leaves, vacuum the carpet and whip up a batch of cathead biscuits. They haven’t gotten that innovative in the robot department yet.

  

And while I’m in the business of pooh-poohing the unfulfilled future, what will we call this decade anyway?

  

It’s not the 2000s. We could use that term for the entire next thousand years.

  

Do we call it the “zeros” or the “oughts” or something like that?

  

When we talk about the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s, everybody knows what we mean. I’m hoping that somebody will figure out what to call it, so that 20 years from now, when we’re in the late ’20s, we will know how to describe the first decade of this century.

  

By then we will have plenty of time to sit around, because you’ll be able to go down to the store and get you a nice blinking light robot to cut your grass and wash your flying car.

  

Just think what you have to look forward to.

  

Harris Blackwood is the author of “When Old Mowers Die.” His e-mail address is harrisb@forsythnews.com.

 

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