The following essay was submitted by Amy Miller of the University of Phoenix as part of the Future of Technology Scholarship competition.
On September 26th, 2014, a beautiful baby boy named Henry Miller was born to a military family in South Carolina. His mother Amy was at that time an aspiring schoolteacher and father Grant a nuclear operator for the US Navy – they believed most passionately in the importance of education and spent many hours helping him develop his intellect. Through that thirst for knowledge (and in part due to the constant competition with his older brother), Henry dedicated his childhood to building the best rocket ship, the most explosive volcano, and the fastest mousetrap car. He revealed tremendous promise in the fields of engineering and science, and armed with the appropriate academic study, he stood poised to solve the problems of tomorrow.
It is now 2040, during one of the coldest winters in American history – Henry is 25 years old and working at an experimental laboratory in Southern Maryland (specific location undisclosed due to the sensitive nature of the work being conducted). He was certainly a young PhD student, often criticized for a lack of experience (the baby-face he inherited from his father did not help) – but ultimately he was determined to prove his worth in the field of Nuclear Physics. And he certainly would accomplish that goal.
Henry awoke not to his usual 5am alarm but much earlier to the digital display in his bedroom illuminated: his wife Lara was operating the Technovision. The computers and televisions of yesterday are no more than doorstops to Henry’s world – all due to a small Silicon Valley company that pioneered (or more importantly, made available to the masses) this technology, with a display that covers the entire face of his bedroom wall. Manipulated by her hand motions, Lara sifted through various maternity websites.
“What are you doing babe?” Henry asked, “It’s real early. Come back to bed.”
“None of my clothes fit anymore, I’m looking for maternity stuff” Lara replied. She continued her search, ignoring his request.
Henry shook his head, walked over to Lara, and kissed her atop her head. While he certainly felt compassion for her situation, he would never truly know her frustration.
Begrudgingly, Henry decided to begin his morning routine early; he jumped on the Treadlift, the newest in exercise equipment that combined cardio and weightlifting in one machine. He was determined to clear his head of distractions, a nearly impossible task. After all, today was the big day, his big experiment, and he could hardly contain his anticipation. Once he had finished his workout, he showered, changed and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. He placed the eggs in the Auto-Cooker and pressed ‘scrambled’ – the timer jumped to 3:00 and began counting down. Meanwhile, Henry started cycling through news articles on his tablet when the door buzzer went off, alerting him of an approaching visitor. Opening the door, he saw a robotic helicopter lifting off from a package on his front steps. “Looks like Lara found her maternity clothes” he muttered, grabbing the Amazon package and heading inside. Henry quickly devoured the eggs, shut down his tablet, and gathered his things for work. He kissed Lara goodbye, as she wished him good luck at the lab.
Stepping outside onto his driveway, Henry hurriedly jumped in his car to avoid the freezing temperature. He voice commanded the ignition start and fingered through the touch-screen display options: ‘destinations,’ then ‘favorites,’ and finally ‘work.’ After a few short seconds of processing, the computer signals reached the transmission – the autonomous vehicle slowly picked up speed and made its way toward the highway. Henry reclined the seat in preparation for the roughly 75 minute transit to work. Such a long distance would seem unbearable to commuters of the past but Google’s dedication to the driverless car 20+ years ago paid off – Henry’s world was one without alcohol-related automobile accidents, “texting while driving” concerns, or even speeding tickets (to the red sports car owners’ delight). To pass the time, he picked up his book – a paperback, which still existed despite the best efforts of every electronic reading device and tablet created – and began reading a heroic story of the US Navy in WWII. Perhaps a tribute to his old man but he had always been fascinated with the Navy and sailing the seas.
A few moments into the commute, Henry glanced at the screen to ensure something hadn’t gone awry with the navigation; all was well, except that the screen indicated just over 10% fuel remaining. “Of course,” he muttered, “a great day to be running on empty.” With a few quick finger motions on the touch-screen, he preempted the “low fuel” voice warning and the car altered course to the nearest gas station. As it arrived at the pump, Henry shook his head at the ridiculously high gasoline prices – his parents’ complaints of the $4/gallon days were nothing compared to these double-digits. He filled his tank with a cringe, recalling the events of the past several years that led to this crisis. Increasing instability in the Middle East and Africa drastically limited OPEC oil exports and along with the simultaneous environmental restrictions that limited offshore drilling, US oil reserves quickly depleted and prices skyrocketed. While the electric car industry was still alive and producing, their models were still not accessible to the lower economic classes and the infrastructure was not ready to support large scale power requirements. As he climbed back into his car, Henry saw the necessity for drastic change and the opportunity that his invention offered the world.
Route 50, the main freeway of Henry’s commute, was now peppered with billboards every quarter mile – an unfortunate byproduct of both the driverless car technology and the cheap digital display technology previously mentioned. Henry largely ignored the advertisements – most were for “energy-saving” products that his life’s work would render obsolete – though his lack of attention was more a result of his mind’s focus on today’s experiment. Suddenly, he noticed his vehicle, along with others beside him, slowing down. Simultaneously, the digital screen on the dash flashed “adverse weather conditions detected” as the snowflakes began to fall – while foul weather detection had certainly improved, all the technological advancement in the world could not undo Mother Nature’s handiwork. Henry voice commanded his car-phone to text Lara, then to dial “work” and let the lab know of the potential delay. Hopefully it was a worthless exercise; today was not the day to be late.
Almost two hours after leaving his house, Henry arrived at the gated entrance to the lab. He lowered the window and reached his palm out, placing his finger on the electronic pad. “Welcome Henry Miller” spurted the connected speaker, and the gate slowly swung open. He gave his usual nod to the armed gate guard as his vehicle coasted forward towards the Eastside parking lot. Once the car had parked itself, Henry began his brisk walk to the lab, his mind racing through the possible outcomes of today’s experiment. Little did he know, the result would change the world forever.
For security reasons, I have been deliberately vague with the specifics of the experiment, but suffice it to say, Henry and his team developed a form of sustainable fusion power on that winter day. In the months following, the world changed in ways no one could have imagined. We could generate limitless electricity at a fraction of the previous cost – the infrastructure quickly followed. Fusion power plants would spring up over the country (and eventually the world) as workers were trained to operate them. Similarly, charging stations replaced gasoline pumping stations as the means of propelling our cars from point A to B. Thus, fusion eradicated dependence on oil, natural gas, coal, etc. to power our cars, houses, and all else: the energy crisis was over. The year 2040 would certainly go down in history as one of the greatest for human ingenuity and innovation.