C2 Proficiency Reading

When I was a child I was inspired by The Usborne Book of the Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond.   It is a futurist book, that made all kinds of predictions about how our future would look.

Assuming that we avoid World War III people will be visiting the moon for their holidays and there will be no more war, disease or poverty. Everybody will be living in sustainable homes and we will be travelling to work in driverless pods. Explorers will have gone beyond the edges of the solar system and we will be mining the vast resources of Jupiter. Microbes will be munching their way through the methane rich atmosphere of Venus and releasing oxygen as a by-product, in what will mark the first stage of transforming it into a living sister planet for our own Earth. We will be working from home and have more leisure time than ever before as robots take on day to day housekeeping chores. Paper will be a thing of the past as the ‘paperless office’ takes over. Even some predictions that may alarm us in the early 21st century (such as synthetic food or a pill-based diet and crafting our own designer babies free of genetic imperfection) were seen as part of embracing the Utopian future.

The British HOTOL (Horizontal Take-Off and Landing) project, started in 1982, will mark the next step in transportation. Ground launched, it will replace Concorde and a flight from the UK to Australia would take only an hour thanks to its amazing space skimming ability that will use the Earth’s natural rotation to speed the journey up. The planet will be a much smaller place. As Concorde had made one-day business trips between Europe and North America possible so HOTOL will for the whole world.

So What Happened to Our Future?

These visions of the future that I had were largely inspired by futurists like Arthur C Clarke, as well as the whole science fiction genre (typically exemplified by Star Trek, but not limited to it). This Utopian future seems further away than ever. At the time of writing (Summer 2015) an unofficial state of war exists between Russia and Ukraine, Ebola is on the rampage in west Africa and the Islamic State is creating worldwide terror with their sheer brutality and the way they inspire so called ‘lone wolf’ attacks, such as those seen in late 2014 in Canada and Australia and in Paris in early 2015, the precedent for which was set in London (May 2013) with the horrific murder of Lee Rigby. Bewildered people, particularly in multi-ethnic regions are succumbing to ‘Islamophobia’ as they look at Muslims as a threat. Is the true face of Islam being revealed or are these attacks designed to create a fracture in society to enable the Islamic State to recruit more disenfranchised individuals?

It seems like the future of my childhood was stolen while I was not even looking!

HOTOL was abandoned in 1988, and even Concorde was scrapped. We are now flying slower than we were in the 1970s. We are asking questions about whether we should even return to the moon and taking a holiday there is at best a distant fantasy. We are nowhere near mining Jupiter or terraforming Venus. To date the only spacecraft that has gone beyond the edge of the solar system is the Voyager 1 probe – although Voyager 2 is expected to follow in 2016. Both of these probes were launched in the 1970s when this future appeared to be just around the corner. Diseases such as Ebola appear to be more virulent than ever and hospitals fear so called ‘superbugs’ such as MRSA which have high mortality rates. Experimentation with food is highly controversial as many object to genetic modification and the age old problem of fossil fuel dependency still seems to be our Achilles heel.

But it is not all doom and gloom!

Communications technology has advanced beyond what many futurists had predicted with the internet / smart devices. This is typically demonstrated by a communicator (see left) from the original Star Trek made in the 1960s. However even a Star Trek: Voyager (made as late as 2002) computer (see right) appears chunky and limited compared to what we have in 2015.

HOTOL may have been abandoned, but others have taken its place. SpaceShipOne won the X prize as the first privately funded spacecraft to enter space and despite an accident in November 2014, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic still leads the way – although delivery of first flights will now be later than the planned 2015. It may not deliver London to Sydney in an hour, but it will enable members of the public (albeit rich ones) to touch the edge of space.

Driverless cars, possibly best exemplified by K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider in the 1980s, are on the verge of becoming reality. Once driverless cars are in place it is a relatively simple next step to create an integrated transport system to manage vehicles automatically using logistics technologies (such as parcel tracking) which are already in place. In February 2015 the British government cleared the way for driverless cars to appear on the road in the very near future.

The office may not yet be paperless, but with hot-desking, agile work processes and home working becoming popular the office as it stands is being transformed and slowly enabling people to spend more time at home. Meetings are now conducted remotely through VoIP technology and touchscreens are doing away with excessive amounts of paper. For many an office is now defined as simply any place where there is an internet connection. One thing is for sure, in the developed world many working practices are being transformed. In fact a more relevant question that has appeared in recent years is the issue of whether we need to travel at all – especially to work.

Fossil fuel dependency could easily become a thing of the past. The truth is the technologies are out there and improving all the time. What is lacking is the political will to change and an individual desire to accept it. While we still insist on using our ‘gas-guzzling’ SUVs no change will come.

So maybe the future I dreamt of has not passed, it is just coming a bit slower than expected. If I were to write a school report I could say ‘progress has been made, but could do better’.

© 2015 by Richard Horton (Omega Support Services)

Pre-Reading Tasks

1. The Usborne Book of the Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond was published in 1979 and the featured picture above suggests what the home of the future would look like.  What do you think each of the predictions are and how many of them have come true.  How many will never come true (maybe because the technology is more advanced now or it will never happen) and how many do you think will come true in the future?

2. What expectations of the future did you have as a child?

3. Is Space Tech / Travel what you thought it would be? If not what would you have expected

4. Which of your expectations from Question 1 have come true?

Comprehension

1. What are sustainable homes?

2. What does ‘Microbes will be munching their way through the methane rich atmosphere of Venus‘ mean?

3. What is a by-product?

4. What does crafting mean?

5. What is meant by ‘space skimming’?

6. What does rampage mean?

7. What does succumbing mean?

8. What does virulent mean?

9. What is a high mortality rate?

10. Explain what is meant by ‘the age old problem of fossil fuel dependency still seems to be our Achilles heel.

11. What does ‘doing away with’ mean?

12. What does ‘gas-guzzling’ mean?

Grammar – Future Forms

Look at the first two paragraphs of the article. which forms are used when describing the future and why?

Which form is used to describe:

– a prediction

– an action that will definitely be happening or routine at some point in the future

In the sentence Explorers will have gone beyond the edges of the solar system future perfect is used. Why?

Complete the following sentences using the correct form.

1. This time next month I (sunbathe) on a beach.

2. It (be) hot this summer.

3. Nobody (use) desktop computers any more.

4. My favourite band (tour) next year.

5. I (win) the award.

6. Nobody (own) private cars because we (travel) in integrated tranport pods.

Speaking *

1. Will the office ever be truly ‘paperless’?

2. It is acceptable to genetically modify a baby before it is born. Discuss.

3. Is home working the future? Do we ever need an office or to travel for business purposes again? Discuss.

4. There is a lack of political will and desire by the public to move away from fossil fuel dependency. Discuss.

5. Are you optimistic about the future? Explain your answer.

6. Integrated travel pods within an automated systems would greatly increase travel safety and improve travelling times in moderate to heavy traffic. What would be the difficulties in creating such an integrated transport.

7. There are concerns that privacy will not be possible in the future as the world and technologies become even more integrated. Do you think our liberty is at threat? In what ways? Alternatively do you believe that a more integrated future is a good thing that will just make life easier and more comfortable for us?

* You need to prepare these questions for conversation during your next online / face-to-face session with your tutor.