Top positive review
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Biodegradable cars and no more Belgium
on November 17, 2008
Oh, in 2050, how happy we'll be. We'll have "soft" bathtubs that mold to our bodies, smart bullets (that follow bad guys around corners) and "gravity tubes" (small but weightless areas). An Internet that appeals to all five senses. Female Viagra. Driverless cars that are biodegradable and shift their paint jobs with our moods. Cash and coins will go away (we'll all have "wallet-phones"), as will desktop computers, nation-states (like Belgium) and insistence on proper spelling. You'll bag your own groceries and just walk out -- nano-transmitters will scan your purchases and e-mail you the bill. Doctors will listen for cancer (because aggressive but tiny cells still make noise). And the military will download combat "memories" into recruits' minds.
That's what Richard Watson predicts in *Future Files,* anyway. Of course, futurists can be wrong. (Remember "paperless offices" and "more leisure time"?) Still, readers will enjoy Watson's browsable book, which states its organizing principles right off: The "5 Trends That Will Shape the Next 50 Years" include aging (it's not just America's Social Security system that's going to be strained); power-shifts to China (manufacturing), India (services) and the Middle East (finances); connectivity (cell phones, cell phones everywhere, and not a thought to think); GRIN technologies (advances in genetics, robotics, the Internet and nanotechnology that will have computers outsmarting us); and the environment (with sustainability and conservation becoming badges of honor).
But Watson also falls into two traps: hedging his bets and over-generalizing. Today, people like their food fast and convenient -- though there's also a slow-food movement brewing. Watson doesn't sort out which of these alternate trends will predominate; he simply says they'll both continue, which is self-evident and unhelpful. He also shilly-shallies his discussion of targeted shopping (getting in and then out) as opposed to social shopping (making it a leisurely experience).
As for the generalizations, Watson's "5 Things That Won't Change Over the Next 50 Years" amount to mere common sense: People will be anxious and nostalgic, and they'll crave respect. (Well, duh.) But he retains a sense of humor, cites a variety of sources and has organized his book in digestible chunks.
My own prediction? Readers will think Richard Watson's *Future Files* is worth skimming.