The future is here

Just a few observations from a recent bus trip to Washington, D.C.

First, there were a ton of schoolkids there the weekend that we visited, most appearing to be in the junior high age. And, like we were at their age, most were there for a good time, not learning about our country and its capital. Most seemed to be occupied with their smart phones and taking pictures or videos with them. But those kids weren’t the only ones. It seemed almost everyone was preoccupied with their phones. I wonder how many people miss something special because they are so consumed by taking pictures or videos with their phones so that they can let everyone else know they are in the middle of something special. So many, young and old, were so busy taking “selfies,” or getting someone to take their picture, that they hardly took time to turn around and actually look at and realize the significance of the sites before them.

There were two eleven year old girls on the bus with us. They were well behaved and enjoyable to be around, and seemed to enjoy the trip. But they did slip away with their grandmother and aunt from the rest of us on Saturday afternoon to go the American Girl store in Tyson’s Corner, near to where we were staying. I had never heard of American Girl dolls, but soon learned that it’s a pretty big deal with the young girls. The stores are in upscale areas, offering some unique and interesting shopping experiences. For example, you can get your American Girl doll’s hair styled or her ears pierced at the store. (I’m not kidding.)

The girls sat in front of Terri and me on the bus, and were showing us the doll one had gotten, with all the accessories. (Evidently, her doll had a broken leg. Her accessories were a pair of crutches, a leg cast and some bandages. I’m not kidding.) The other now had a pet stuffed kitten to go with her doll she had back home. As I looked at the kitten I noticed the tag on it. It said, “Made in China.” Now, suddenly more interested, I checked out the box the doll came in and it said, you guessed it, “Made in China.” That’s right, American Girl dolls are made in China. I haven’t decided whether that’s just ironic, or tragic. Whichever it is, it’s a reality of the world we live in today.

While in Washington, we ate lunch at the food court at the Ronald Reagan Building. It was the first time I ever had to walk through a metal detector to eat at a food court. While walking around after eating lunch, we saw signs promoting “The Future is Here Festival,” going on in the building. Having some extra time, we thought we would check it out. We saw some pretty interesting things.

We talked to a guy from IBM who was promoting commercial aspects of their “Watson” computer program. “Watson” is the IBM computer program that defeated past “Jeopardy” champions on the show a couple of years ago. It was interesting, but a couple of other items really got my attention.

The first was a three wheeled car from Elio Motors that will go into production next year. It’s small, it only sits two people, riding in tandem. It has all your basic features. But, it also gets 84 miles per gallon highway and only costs $6800. I sat in it and it actually felt comfortable, and seemed like it would be a lot of fun to drive. Did I mention that it gets 84 MPG and only costs $6800?

The next booth had a man wearing a metal contraption called an exoskeleton, made by Lockheed Martin. It’s basically a lightweight (27 pounds) metal frame that a worker using heavy machinery wears that transfers the weight of heavy loads from the worker directly to the ground. It really works. I told the guy who showed us the suit that I need one to use while cutting bushes. They are probably a little too expensive to use for yardwork at the present time.

I glanced over the program for “The Future is Here Festival.” Some of the topics that were to be presented caught my attention. Here are some of the topics from the brochure: “The Future of Mind Control,” “How to Grow a Human Arm in a Lab,” “How Humans Drive Evolution,” and “The Inevitable Leap to Love and Sex with Robots.” (I’m not kidding. I still have the brochure to prove it.)

So the future is here. I got a glimpse of it while in Washington. Some of what I saw was exciting, like the new inventions. But more was disturbing. Maybe one of the titles of one of the lectures at “The Future is Here Festival” best describes it. The topic was “The End of Time as We Know It.”

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