Why our 'amazing' science fiction future fizzled
By John Blake
(CNN) -- At the 1964 New York World's Fair, people stood in line for hours to look at a strange sight.
If only the future looked like "Star Trek," with its nifty gadgets that seem to solve every problem.
1 of 2 They wanted to see the "Futurama," a miniaturized replica of a typical 21st century American city that featured moving sidewalks, computer-guided cars zipping along congestion-free highways and resort hotels beneath the sea.
Forty years later, we're still waiting for those congestion-free highways -- along with the jet pack, the paperless office and all those "Star Trek"-like gadgets that were supposed to make 21st-century life so easy.
Daniel Wilson has been waiting as well. He's looked at the future we imagined for ourselves in pulp comic books, old science magazines and cheesy sci-fi movies from the 1950s, and came up with one question.
Why isn't the future what it used to be?
"I feel entitled to have all this technology that's been promised at a certain time," says Wilson, author of "Where's My Jetpack?" "I look up and say, 'Where's all this stuff?' ''
Some of that futuristic stuff, it turns out, is already here.
Visionaries actually invented objects like flying cars, but they could never work out the real world applications, Wilson says. Other inventions had the same problem. Ordinary people didn't want to have anything to do with them.
These futuristic follies include everything from "Smell-O-Vision," an invention that helped moviegoers smell as well as see movies; Sanyo's "ultrasonic ultra-squeaky clean human washing machine" (it was dubbed the "human washing machine," but wouldn't fit in an ordinary bathroom) and, of course, the jet pack.
"Scientists are OK at predicting what technology is going to happen in the future," Wilson says. "They're really bad at predicting how it's going to affect us."
What happened to my jet pack?
The jet pack is a perfect example of predicting the future, Wilson says. He says the jet pack first appeared in 1928 in an Amazing Stories comic book, which featured the hero Buck Rogers zooming though the sky in a jet pack.
The jet pack was actually developed by 1961, Wilson says. An inventor mounted a rocket onto a backpack and called it a rocket belt. A variation of the rocket belt even appeared in the 1965 James Bond movie, "Thunderball."
Today, the jet pack continues to grab inventors' imaginations.
A daredevil wearing a jet pack flew across a 1,500-foot-wide canyon in Colorado in November. A Swiss pilot, dubbed "Fusion Man," flew across the English Channel last year using a single jet-propelled wing. And a New Zealand inventor recently invented a jet pack, which weighs about 250 pounds, that reportedly can run for 30 minutes.
The jet pack, though, has never really taken off, Wilson says. The problem is its practical application. While a rocket belt could propel a screaming human to 60 mph in seconds, its fuel lasted for only about half a minute, "which led to more screaming," Wilson says.
The military couldn't find a useful application for it either. A soldier with a jet pack might look cool, but he's an easy target. Nor could a jet pack be of use to ordinary people who wanted to avoid rush-hour traffic, Wilson says. Jet-packing hordes could transform the skies into an aerial demolition derby, with air rage and drunk drivers turned into wobbly human torpedoes.