Was technology’s future written in 1960s TV shows?


Was technology’s future written in 1960s TV shows?

Before TV broadcasts consisted mostly of fake “reality” shows, humiliation festivals and unrealistic cop shows, many of them looked forward and outward, either in terms of time or technology. The 1960s, in particular, let fly with shows featuring James Bond-inspired high-tech gadgets or the space-race-inspired trappings of the final frontier.

How visionary were they? A lot of the tech in these shows was borrowed from earlier Buck Rodgers adventures, but in some cases they hit on real possibilities. Which of those shows had ideas that have since taken shape in real devices or technologies? The focus here isn’t sci-fi, but tech-fi.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of John Glenn becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, on Feb. 20, we take a look back at those ’60s programs, at least some of which were inspired by the space race, to see which had the best idea of how technology might evolve.

For the sake of space and expedience, we’re going to avoid some of the shows that had sci-fi trappings but really didn’t deal with anything we’d recognize today. In “The Time Tunnel,” for instance, two guys walked into a striped tube more likely to hypnotize them than anything, then spent the rest of the series bouncing through history in, like, turtlenecks. We’ll also leave out “The Jetsons,” since it was a cartoon with flying cars and a talking dog. Teenage Judy’s “digital diary” was somewhat prescient, except for the fact that she kept it private. Now, people keep their diaries on Facebook and Twitter.

On to the shows.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” 1964-68
Tech visionary: Irwin Allen

Flying Sub. The show’s USOS Seaview was a futuristic, big-windowed, roomy nuclear submarine, but it was still a nuclear sub, several of which were in existence. However, the show had a fanciful notion with its Flying Sub, a 36-foot craft that could travel under water and fly in the air — at supersonic speeds, no less. In the real world, combining submarine and airborne capabilities would seem a pretty big challenge. Even so, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is trying to accomplish it, albeit from the other direction. In 2008, DARPA began research into an aircraft that could fly low over the water and then dip below the surface before returning to the air. More like a cormorant than a flying fish, but at least it travels in both environments.

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