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Why Don't We Live like the Jetsons?

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A few years ago, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku made a video describing what he believes are the three types of civilizations. Without going into too much detail, the video talks about type 1 civilizations being planetary, where they can harness the resources of the planet at will. Type 2 civilizations harness their energy from the sun via solar flares. The type 3 and final civilization will have exhausted the power of the sun and require the power of multiple star systems. The closest thing humanity has conceived in relation to a type 3 civilization is the empire from Star Wars. These are theoretical scenarios. Kaku labels our modern society as a “Type 0”, relying on oil and fossil fuels as the primary source of fuel [1].

Many people have questioned the feasibility of our type 0 civilization. Perhaps the future is much more boring than society cares to admit. If you were to ask a person living in the 60s what the world will look like a century from now, this person will most likely use the Jetsons as a launch pad for speculation. The Jetsons is an American animated sitcom produced by Hanna-Barbera (William Hanna and Joseph Barbera). The show takes place in 2062, and follows typical life of a family living in a futuristic utopia filled to the brim with elaborate robotic contraptions, holograms and other unique inventions.[2]

It has been said that our modern society has already hit most of the milestones that the Jetsons set for humanity. Fortunately for the show, it did not delve into the implications of political interference in research and technology. The show was envisioned from the 60s, and therefore interpreted the future based on technology at the time. There is no way to predict the types of innovations and in what fields. The reason why humans don’t live like the Jetsons is that most of our technological advancements came from societal and political influence rather than what is within the realm of scientific possibility.

[1] "Michio Kaku 3 Types of Civilizations." YouTube. YouTube, Oct.-Nov. 2008. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

[2] Top 100 animated series" IGN. Retrieved 2010-10-19

Ethical and political barriers prevent technology from expanding as fast as it can. In some cases it can greatly speed up research in other fields. Genetically modified foods (GM) have been praised by scientists as being effective and safe products. However, the general public has been typically skeptical about the side effects of GM foods. These reactions are being blamed on consumers not being informed of the facts (McCluskey and Swinnen). Most people, if given correct and complete information would not be as opposed to GM foods as they are today. However, in reality, organizations have their own motives and incentives to hide and release information that is supportive of their cause. In 1989 the news program 60 minutes aired a story about a chemical compound known as Alar. Alar is the trade name for daminozide and it was used to modify the size, coloring and ripening of apples. The news story described this chemical as a cancer risk to children. As this story broke, other news outlets jumped on the bandwagon. This led to countrywide panic as supermarkets removed apples from the shelves and schools stopped serving apples as well as apple based products in cafeterias. Farmers who grew apples lost millions of dollars and even went as far as to launch a voluntary ban on the fruit. Although research is still being done today, public outrage fueled by misinformation slows down and cripples the expansion of this revolutionary technology.

The future of GM foods and other forms of biotechnology will be determined by public acceptance and government legislature (most of the time, these go hand in hand). As media can hold back the natural progression of important technology, it can also accelerate the process. Social media is not subject to the pressure of ratings and external sponsorship and therefore are free to express their views without fear of punishment. People from all sides of the GM debate have a voice and are able to hear the voice of others. This opens up a channel for discourse and public debate. Also, the organizations who are testing and creating new foods have a direct line to the consumers. This allows these organizations to correctly inform the public on the benefits and applications of this technology.

Another emerging technology that is in danger of having its funding halted by societal paranoia is artificial intelligence (AI). Contrary to popular belief, AI is already a part of our daily lives. Google uses it for its Maps service. Apps that suggest popular restaurants and movies use AI as well (Chernova, 2014). Self-driving cars are a upcoming and prime example of dynamic AI, something that is able to think and improvise on the fly. Popular movies such as Terminator and 2001: A Space Odyssey are depictions of how artificial intelligence, if left to their own devices, can become a major life threatening problem.  The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is probably one of the more scary representations of this technology and how cold and efficient it can be. HAL 9000, the AI on board the ship, was programmed to ensure a mission was completed by any means. The computer interpreted that as including sacrificing human life. There was no person controlling HAL or had a kill switch should he go rogue. This movie was such a success in America that it led to the development of other such movies that shaped the sci-fi to its apocalyptic nature seen today. Many people, including academics suggest that the rise of AI could possibly be an existential threat to humans. Most people who are against the growth of AI point to Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and the man behind SpaceX. He mentioned in a one on one interview at the MIT AeroAstro Centennial Symposium that “we should be very careful about artificial intelligence,"(Musk,2014). He continued on in that interview to warn people about the “demon” that could be unleashed if there is a lack of national and international oversight.

These fears are unfounded and have no basis in science. Computers have always been more powerful at computing, memorizing and organizing information compared to humans but the one thing that they lack is the creative thinking that comes naturally to humans. In order to program a computer with a consciousness, we must first understand the human consciousness. Until that happens, and until computers gain the power to process as many things as is required to think like humans, then the threat against humanity is a false one.  The argument here isn’t that AI cannot possibly betray humanity; it is that fears of this outcome are not based on merit but rather emotion, emotion that will ultimately hold back society.  As easy as it is for people to hinder the progress of technology, they can also come together to accelerate and legitimize advancements made in a certain field. After the Second World War, the U.S had made great leaps in technology including radar, nuclear weapons and the proximity fuse.



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