Why We Don't Have Flying Cars And JetPacks
My PhD research makes use of CT scanning, so I’ve had to do a lot of research into that for the literature review. Here is some of the knowledge I’ve gained:
The mathematical framework that makes CT possible was all outlined in 1917 by Johann Radon. Then in the 50s, the mathematical framework was outlined again, differently, by Allan McLeod Cormack, who invented the CT scanner without having read Radon’s work. Then, in 1973, the CT scanner was invented by Godfrey Hounsfield, who hadn’t read Radon or Cormack’s work. For this, Cormack and Hounsfield won the Nobel Prize.
I’ll be honest, this somewhat undermines the importance of the literature review in my mind.
Only… I wonder what amazing stuff we’d have invented by now if we’d started inventing information technologies instead of pissing about with steam engines all that time. There should have been Discworld-style semaphore towers up and down the country in Tudor times at least. Why should a message take days to get across the country just because that’s how long paper takes? We could have had a CT scanner in the 30s, for a start. By now I’m totally convinced we’d have flying cars and moonbases.
And even given that, scientific knowledge is still trapped in PDF versions of paper journals, behind a myriad different paywalls and arbitrary institutional subscription lists. That’s a terrible system. It should be on a big database, searchable by any parameter you like. If I’ve got a question to which mankind has found an answer, I should be able to run a quick-and-dirty search and get a good idea what that answer is in about fifteen minutes.
If you want jetpacks, don’t invent the jetpack, reform scientific information handling. Because that way it’ll come with teleports and moving hologram projectors and sexy androids and other implausible future stuff.