During the last 100 years, spectrum primarily has been used as a way to transmit entertainment and information in the form of television and radio, and more recently for communication via mobile telephones. In the next century, many of the new uses of spectrum will focus on manipulating mechanical devices, just as the remote control changes the TV channel or activates the CD player. This piece is a whimsical look at the daily activities of an average American family, the Simpsons, in the year 2056. Radio communication will have made a world of difference…
Homer and Marge Simpson have been married for 18 years. They have three lovely children. Bart, 15, is just an average student in his first year of high school. Lisa and Maggie are ages eight and three, respectively. The Simpsons live in a suburb of Springfield, Ill., about 10 miles away from a decommissioned nuclear reactor site. Today is Friday, Oct. 13, just a normal school day before the start of the weekend. As Homer and Marge snooze, both are connected to a His and Her Sleep System-an anniversary gift from Marge’s parents in celebration of 15 years of marriage. The Sleep System uses miniaturized sensors, placed inside the ear and on the forehead about an inch above the eyebrows. The device guarantees the “REM” stage of the sleep cycle that is so necessary to feeling refreshed and energetic in the morning. The sensors are activated by radio waves emanating from the unit’s base. The unit is hung on the wall about two feet above the mattress and is powered using miniaturized battery ports invented about 20 years before. The Sleep System reinforces the body’s natural relaxation techniques and enables the user to double the amount of time spent in REM while cutting in half the total time spent asleep. It even has a V-chip feature for kids that blocks out violent nightmares occasionally experienced by children under stress.
Marge and Homer recently had the kitchen refurbished with new appliances and a Jetson model home management system. The Jetson is the first all-surface indoor-maintenance system. Sponge-sized machines use a combination of radar and surface profile comparisons of images stored in the central unit to monitor every surface in every room of the house. All walls, floors, table tops, counters, furniture and ceilings are checked for the presence of dust, grime, mud and occasional spills and kitchen disasters. During the day, the sponge-sized machines, nicknamed SpongeMac, inventory which surfaces need to be tended to. While the parents are at work and the kids are at school, all the rooms are addressed by a unit the size of a dinner plate called Mr. Clean. Mr. Clean is a combination suction and scrub unit directed by the central unit to follow a pre-set path through all of the rooms in the house. The pattern varies by weekday so during the course of five days all of the floors in the house, carpeted, wood or otherwise, will be restored to almost new condition.
A companion unit, Gymnast Clean, performs a similar function on all furniture and counter surfaces less than five feet in height. Gymnast Clean is the size of a saucer and uses suction to motor itself across cloth, wallpaper, wood, painted drywall and glass. As long as the surface has a constant width of at least three centimeters, the suction force is sufficient to power itself forward and backward. Gymnast Clean also uses a modified radar system to ascertain when it is appropriate to eject the refuse it has collected onto the floor below, where Mr. Clean can permanently dispose of the material.
As a freshman in high school, Bart spends half of his time in classes that increase the creative potential of the mind. Art, music, drama and science exploration are emphasized. Teachers download lessons to a book-sized holographic interface unit called Reservoir, where words and images are presented in a format customized to maximize absorption of the material by each student. In Bart’s technology history class, his teacher explains that around the year 2025, some physicians at UCLA developed a blood test that could distinguish among the 13 major types of learning strategies human beings are genetically capable of successfully exercising. Now that lessons can be customized to the genetic makeup of the student and the school focus is on developing creative potential, the “slacker” problem that reached epidemic proportions around the turn of the century has vanished.
The whole process of teaching children has evolved substantially in the last 50 years. Maggie, at age three, has her own media board where she gets to learn how to manipulate images in her environment. By pushing and turning buttons and dials on her “control panel,” Maggie can select images of animals and trees and flowers and so on. Her selection is received as input in the form of radio waves by the media panel. Each image has an auditory component that will pronounce the word for Maggie, ask her to say the word, evaluate her speaking skills, and build an appropriate future lesson plan based on her level of accomplishment and ability. The importance of making Maggie’s play time with the media board fun cannot be overestimated.
Lisa, who is five years older than Maggie, spends a lot of time at home playing games of imagination like Princess. Lisa has moved up to a larger and more elaborate media board that creates a virtual reality cave for Lisa to play in. The game Princess is modeled loosely on the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, who died 13 years ago at the age of 83. Lisa gets to attend various social events dressed in the outfits the Princess made so famous during her lifetime. Lisa can see herself marrying Prince Charles, attending rock concerts and charity balls. Lisa can play mother to Harry and William and watch William’s coronation as King of England. The more sordid activities of Diana and Charles and the rest of the royal family are, of course, left out of the game. Though Princess requires a connection to an external power source, all commands are transmitted using simple radio technology hidden in a “Diamond Tiara” worn by Lisa.
Marge and Homer still work in the same Netscape plant they met at more than 20 years ago. Almost 25 percent of the working population works in the entertainment-computer image industries. Marge and Homer work on a 21-century assembly line that manufactures “wall-sized” flat panel image systems now hung in almost every room in the home. Voice commands activate whatever imagery that has been programmed into the media CPU. Marge and Homer don’t really understand how it works. They just do their jobs, go home, yell at the kids and on occasion, down some beers. Some things don’t change over time.
Steve Saleh works for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.