Most of us probably think of science fiction as a literature that predicts things, from new trends in society to nifty gadgets we’d like to see. A quick Google search will show you lots of predictions writers got right: nuclear power, communications satellites, submarines, a moon landing, cell phones, the internet, ray guns (the U.S. Navy had another successful test of a laser weapon this summer)…the list is long. There are also a lot of predictions that didn’t come true, at least not yet, and it has me wondering who got it wrong: the SF writers or the rest of us?

Take flying cars as an example. Yes, there have been a few creations that functioned as both cars and planes (not well as either) but there’s no chance of them replacing the automobile anytime soon. Is it because technology is lacking? Probably not. I imagine that the computer stabilization systems that make Harrier jump jets and stealth fighters able to fly could keep a little sport coupe in the air, too. Maybe the powers that be took a look around themselves during rush hour and realized the prospect of such unskilled and easily-distracted commuters actually swooping around each other in the sky (while texting and putting on makeup) was just too frightening. Or more likely the profit margins just weren’t there. Let’s keep making cars instead (using the same old assembly line equipment) but dressed up with a little more cheap primping every year. You can blame the same reasoning for the absence of personal rocket packs—or maybe that’s the fault of the insurance companies!

What about the idea of household robots to do all of our chores for us? Some would say the requirements of such varied multitasking are beyond our automation capabilities, but would that be true if enough money had been poured into the research? Except, you see, a robot that could do everything would only make the robot manufacturers rich. What about the appliance factories, the home renovators, and the makers of convenience foods? They’d be left out in the cold. Nope, better hold off on that robot thing for a while longer.

Remember the 1960’s magazines articles and Jetsons episodes that boldly forecast a dinner menu consisting entirely of pills? Stupid idea, right? Well maybe not if you consider that, according to some sources, modern farming requires a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of beef. Not to mention the waste of water and grain stocks. Our western levels of food consumption are clearly not sustainable for everyone on the planet. But we like the taste of food—so much so that we’re eating ourselves into early graves. So maybe the idea of pill meals wasn’t stupid, it just didn’t take human nature into account.

Who got it wrong? Hard to say. In fact, if you believe in the quantum theory of multiple universes, maybe there is a parallel Earth where people do wear jumpsuits, eat pills for dinner, and fly to work like James Bond in Thunderball on the thrust of their own personal jet pack. The question is: how can we get there?

Scotty, I don’t suppose you could arrange a convenient transporter “accident”, could you?