Barbara Beskind, a 91-year-old engineer at the firm IDEO, is busy working on an invention I could really use: facial recognition glasses that identify the person approaching you at a gathering and discreetly whisper that person’s name into your ear.*
I can’t tell you the embarrassment that little invention would save me at conferences. I’m good at faces—I know you!—or at names—oh, Jane Doe, yeah, I’ve met her!—but matching the two things up within the timeframe of a conversation seems to be beyond me. Hurry up, Barbara, I need those glasses. I will pay big money.
Barbara, it seems, is one of a handful of inventors out there working on things we can really use, rather than things that are just fancier versions of what we already have. Phones, for example. I still use a five-year-old flip-phone. All I do is talk and text. Don’t need email, traffic, weather, YouTube, Facebook, movies or anything else on my phone. I have an iPad for that. Or a television, where I can actually see what the heck is going on.
So, all you lovely techies slaving away in some lab—be it a corporate one with test tubes of every size and shape, or your garage where things go BANG! on a regular basis—please give us something we can use.
Need some ideas?
--We all know Google, Apple and several other tech giants are working on the concept of a driverless car. Get in, program your destination and away you go! Take a nap, read a book (on your iPad, of course), watch a movie on the onboard screen, have a drink, even! The car drives itself.
You all are not thinking big enough. How about a car that drives itself to the grocery store to pick up your groceries? Takes your cat to the vet? Picks up the kids at school, takes Johnny to karate, drops off Sue at skate lessons, remembers to pick up the dry cleaning, stops for take-out on the way home and, oh, yeah, fills itself up with gas? All while you are at home doing whatever it is you do when you’re not doing those things. Now that would be an invention.
--And while we’re at it, where are our flying cars???
--No, forget cars. We need a reliable and safe transporter. Or any kind of transporter. Think of the complete transformation of our world this invention would create. No need for the infrastructure we now require to move goods and people across town or around the world. No need for the fossil fuels or the vehicles we use to do those things. No more traffic jams. A dramatic reduction in air pollution. Of course, the world might not survive the transition period, with the massive economic disruption caused by the collapse of the transportation and energy sectors. But what the hell! Halliburton finally gets what it deserves!
--And while we’re dreaming the impossible dream, faster-than-light propulsion, please. I’m sure we’d find some use for that.
--Back to the mundane, can it really be so hard to come up with a safe and effective pill to fight obesity? We have a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy. How about a morning-after-I-ate-a-huge-pizza pill to prevent all that from landing on my hips, huh? If I have to swallow someone else’s gut bacteria (in capsule form, preferably), I will do it! (That’s the latest theory, you know. Your gut bacteria are to blame for your metabolism.) But whatever it is, let’s turn up the heat on this research, shall we? I don’t think reaching my ideal weight as a 95-year-old will be quite the same cause for celebration.
--Then, of course, there is the concept of the LIMITLESS pill, a la the movie starring Bradley Cooper (now a television show). Take a pill, have access to all of your brain power, all of your genetic potential. No more grasping for the questions to those dumb trivia answers on JEOPARDY! Your phenomenal brain will spit them out before the last word in the square is even revealed! And if your fellow contestants want to fight about it, you will crush them in seconds by drawing on the full capacity of your muscles and reflexes.
Not sure what would happen in a world where everyone is taking these pills. Maybe people would finally get the concept of how to maneuver around a traffic circle. And stop watching reality TV.
I have a few other things I could suggest, but I’m sure some of you inventors and scientists are actually working on useful things already. Surely not all of you are busy on the iPhone 7, the next big thing in snack food or yet another way to fragment the television audience. Many of you are seeking a solution to global warming, the cure for cancer, or preventing the next world pandemic. To you I say keep up the good work. May the universe bless you with a fountain of creativity. We really need what you may be discovering or inventing—and soon.
Batten Down the Hatches!
As I write the rain is pelting down here in the mountains of North Carolina, swelling rivers and streams and soaking a soil already saturated by more than a week of wet weather. A low pressure system has stalled out over us and most of the mid-Atlantic states, up into New York and New Jersey. Even without the threat of Hurricane Joaquin, making its way north just off the coast, we are all in for a dangerously drenching weekend. Stay dry and warm, everybody. And those of you out in the dry parts of the country (and the world), send us some dusty thoughts!
*"The Value of Older Workers," by T.R. Reid, AARP BULLETIN, Vol. 56, No.7, September, 2015.