Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 598
In Soonish, the authors discuss how new technology develops. Each individual technology of the ten they chose is explained in detail. However, there’s also the question of technology in general and how it comes to be. They write:
New technology is not simply the slow accumulation of better and better things. The big discontinuous leaps, like the laser and the computer, often depend on unrelated developments in different fields. And even if those big discoveries are made, it’s not always clear that a particular technology will find a market. Yes, time travelers from the year 1920, we have flying cars. No, nobody wants them. They’re the chessboxing of vehicles—amusing to see once in a while, but most of the time, you’d rather have the two parts separate.
This is one of the reasons why it’s difficult to predict exactly when something will appear. Sometimes you can’t know what’s possible until it’s possible. This means that the entire book is just the prediction of what could happen rather than a guarantee that these things will happen. As the authors say, however, these things are reasonably possible in the lifespan of a young person reading the book.
Each idea is discussed in some detail. The moral, social, and scientific implications are explored where appropriate. For example:
Printed organs would also eliminate the need for organ markets. Your authors are agnostic on whether or not legal organ markets are a good idea (though we’re sure illegal organ markets are bad news). Legal organ markets are a complicated issue that often balances saving human lives against abuse and exploitation of the poor. Bioprinting could eliminate the need for organ markets, sparing us the ethical conundrum and doing away with the more sinister version of them. Well, assuming there aren’t organ elitists who only want their organs “wild caught.”
This passage is indicative of the authors’s desire to blend humor with a deeper discussion of how these technologies could affect the world. Printed organs, in this case, have ethical implications that could make the development of that technology even more pressing. They make the joke about organ elitists but also touch on the very real problem of organ markets and their effect on impoverished and underprivileged communities.
One thing the authors were attempting to do in Soonish was find technologies that might actually be feasible in a human’s lifetime. As they researched the technologies, they found some that didn’t seem feasible for whatever reason. They include four of these in the book with an explanation for why they weren’t used. For example, they talk about solar panels in space, saying:
The problem? Well, for starters, it’s expensive as hell. A fairly light rooftop solar panel weighs about 20 pounds. At current space launch costs, that’s $200,000 per panel. Even in the scenario where we have a space elevator and it’s a mere $250 per pound, that’s still $5,000 per panel, not counting the cost of building panels that can function in space. And in the meantime, Earth-made solar panels cost about $200. And the cost is dropping fast.
So it’s not just the issue of whether solar panels can go to space. It’s the question of whether it makes economic sense. Technologies that can’t or won’t be used aren’t going to be successful on a global scale. So it’s not just that some ideas aren’t possible at all. It’s more that those ideas won’t be useful even if they are created.