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Jenna Bennett | Let’s Invent the Future!

December 13, 2012

Jenna BennettFORTUNE'S HEROAt the risk of giving away my real age, I can remember watching cartoons on a black and white television.

I can remember using rotary phones and the excitement of having my father—who worked for the telephone company—bring home the first push-button telephone I’d ever seen.

I remember learning to type on an honest-to-goodness typewriter, and not an electric one, either.

I wrote my first—unpublished—manuscript on a word-processor.

I can certainly remember what things were like before cell-phones, when you took your life in your hands going on a daytrip in the car. What if you had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, and no way to phone for a tow-truck? You might be stuck overnight, miles from anywhere!

And you know what? I’m not as old as you think. That all happened within the past 40 years.

Hell, most of it happened within the past 20. Some of it within the past ten. I bought my first cell phone in 2005. Seven years ago now. Almost eight.

It wasn’t a smart-phone, either. It didn’t take pictures. It didn’t play music. I couldn’t surf the internet on it.

It was a phone. One I could use to call someone, from outside my house. Some of you will have no idea the amazement some of us felt at the idea of that.

And that’s just my lifetime.

If you go back a little further, it was only in 1893 that the first automobile factory opened in the US. Less than 120 years ago. By 1902, 110 years ago, there were 9,000 cars in the entire country. Now, there’s something like 260 million.

In 1945, commercial airline flights between the US and Europe began. Now, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of flights between the US and Europe every single day, from cities all over both continents.

The first successful orbital launch was in 1957, while the first artificial object to reach a celestial body was Luna 2 in 1959. The first human in space was Yuri Gagarin in 1961, while the first man on the moon was Neil Armstrong in 1969. All within the past half century, more or less.

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that things have changed considerably, and in a short period of time, comparatively speaking. Sometimes I think we don’t realize how short.

But that’s the fun part about writing science fiction. If we could do all this in just fifty or a hundred years, what could we do in another five hundred or a thousand? Especially when we’re not hampered by actually having to make it work anywhere but on paper?

Space exploration, certainly. Settling new planets. Planets similar to our own, and planets very different. Discovering new species of plants and animals. Spider-scorpions, poisonous water snakes, flesh-burrowing worms.

And new technology. New and improved ways to communicate with one another. Comm links and implants. Ways to keep tabs on people even when they don’t want to be kept tabs on. Along with new and improved ways to kill them once we find them. Can’t have science fiction without blasting away a few aliens with new and improved weapons, after all.

Hover-cars. Air-cars. Air-boots. (My kids would love that!) Trans-beams AKA “Beam me up, Scotty.” Moving from place to place independent of time and space, almost like magic.

There’ll be medical discoveries, certainly. Clones and gene-cleans. Bio-cybernetic humans. Hermaphrodites and quaddies. Surely by 3012, if the earth is still moving, we’ll have beaten cancer. We’ll have figured out how to grow new organs in vats—we’re close to that now—and while we’re at it, how to grow babies too. My favorite future invention—courtesy of science fiction writer Lois McMaster Bujold—is the uterine replicator, where the blastocyst can develop in peace and comfort while mommy, along with daddy, gets to go off on hair-raising adventures in space. Talk about gender equality!

The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades. (That’s from 1986, by the way, in case you were wondering.)

So what about you? If you could fast forward to the year 3012—or go there on paper—what would you like to see? How do think the world—the universe—will be different from today? And what would be your favorite future invention?

One commenter will win a copy of FORTUNE’S HERO in choice of format, so tell us about what you imagine the future or favorite invention will be!

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