Screen grab from a Jetsons promo that ran on ABC in 1963.

Credit: Archive.org

We're Zooming Into A Jetson-Like Future, And I'm Not Ready

July 30, 2017

George Jetson commuted in a mid-sized space ship. He dropped off his son and daughter at school in glass transport pods. Wife Jane flew off to shop in a high rise built in the clouds. George’s last stop was his office at Spacely Space products where upon landing, his space ship instantly transformed into his briefcase. The Jetsons supposedly lived in 2062, 100 years from when this TV show first aired and when the creators of the animated cartoon imagined a future of routine space flight, moving sidewalks and skyscrapers in the clouds.

Recently, a colleague actually invoked George Jetson’s name when she scored a reduced-price Roomba on Amazon Prime Day. Roomba is the mini robot that senses and cleans all floor surfaces just like the Jetson’s robot maid, Rosie. My colleague confessed that she and her beau delight in watching their Roomba — named Charlie — quickly dispatch even the smallest speck of dirt. And I confess I’ve fantasized about my own Charlie when faced with sweeping and vacuuming my floors. But, once again, I’m worried about what we give up to get Jetson amenities.

Last week the CEO of iRobot, the maker of the Roomba, said it might begin selling the floor plans of customers’ homes to Google or Amazon. Floor plans copied by the unassuming machine. Yep, Charlie is an undercover spy. And a bigger one than before because Roomba is now compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, one of those home assistants consumers are gobbling up. Who needs Rosie when you can have Alexa, or Cortana, or Google Home or Siri to do your bidding? These virtual assistants are now embedded into the lives of a lot of people I know. The voice-activated machines respond so well because they are always on, which is how virtual assistants have ended up in court as virtual witnesses in murder and divorce cases. No need to rely on he said/she said testimony. I talk to myself all the time — I do not want Alexa or her ilk all up in my business.

But employees of the Wisconsin based-Three Square Market don’t seem to mind. In fact, they are choosing to be implanted with a tiny chip the size of a grain of rice. Instead of using ID cards and money, they’ll swipe their chip-implanted hands to access the building, log onto their computer, or purchase snacks from the vending machine. Sam Bengtson told The New York Times, “I like to jump on the bandwagon with these kinds of things early, just to say I have it.” While some of his fellow coworkers worry about the chip being used to track their lives outside the office, Bengtson figures that before the decade is up, we will all be human microchips. Rationally, I know this is just a different kind of implant than, say, pacemakers, but this seems more intrusive.

We’re still 45 years away from the Jetsons' imagined time in 2062. Rosie (or Charlie) is real, planning for civilian space flight is close to reality, moving sidewalks are already in use, the world’s tallest buildings still start on the ground but sure seem to stretch beyond the clouds, and a microchip implanted in our bodies is now just another day at the office. It’s all bigger, better, faster. Our future is zooming into our now at warp speed.

I’m not ready.


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