1623: 2016 Conversation Guide

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2016 Conversation Guide
The real loser in an argument about the meaning of the word 'hoverboard' is anyone who leaves that argument on foot.
Title text: The real loser in an argument about the meaning of the word 'hoverboard' is anyone who leaves that argument on foot.


1958 poster advertising an electric future of freedom and horrible crashes

As each year turns (or other milestone dates, perhaps set out in popular fiction) it is common enough to remember that what is now the present was once considered the future!

This New Year comic, published just prior to the start of the New Year, 2016, aims to clarify a number of the things one might have expected by now. (Another New Year comic followed on New Year's Day: 1624: 2016, making it two in a row with titles beginning with 2016...) The classic target of personal futurology is the ability to levitate or fly, to varying degrees. This topic was discussed before in 864: Flying Cars, where Megan suggests that the real advances in futuristic technology are in computers and electronics, rather than methods of flying.

Flying car

Various forms of flying car have had varying degrees of success (although it's debatable whether these examples are actually cars or just small airplanes), but the comic points out that the regular helicopter is as close as most of us would ever get to levitating personal vehicles.


"Where's my jet pack?" is one of the tropes addressed here, and has actually been developed in a somewhat workable fashions and analogues, but is dismissed as being too personally dangerous to have a Jetson-like ubiquity.

Moon colony

It might be considered more reasonable to build a settlement of some kind on the Moon. The basic engineering exists, but the comic blames financial pressures for it not yet having come into existence. Arguably political pressures, or perhaps the lack of them, are also a factor.

Self-driving car

Randall notes that these are "coming surprisingly soon." Self-driving cars have not become nearly as ubiquitous as was frequently predicted in 2016. As of 2024 (9 years after the release of this comic), there are various forms of self-driving with various degrees of advancement. The most impressive would be Tesla's full self-driving beta, which is capable of performing acceptably in most situations, except for parking lot navigation. Other than Tesla, companies such as Google, Waabi, and Euler Motors are working on self-driving vehicles, though Tesla remains the most well-known amongst the general public. All these vehicles still require a human driver present.

Self-driving cars has become a recurring topic on xkcd and they were mentioned again already in the title text of 1625: Substitutions 2 just two comics after this one.

Floating sky city

A much bigger challenge in levitation is the 'sky city', with various forms from fiction (e.g. Bespin, Mortal Engines Quartet). In reality, this seems highly unlikely to ever come to pass while there is perfectly good ground to lay the buildings down upon, due to the sheer mass.

A self-balancing scooter, marketed as a "hoverboard"

The levitating Hoverboard has been popularised by the Back To The Future franchise of films, with several attempts to fully emulate such a device with air-blast or magnetic levitation, but the term "Hoverboard" has ended up being applied to a Segway-like personal transport system that has at least become a mass-produced device (albeit with a number of safety concerns) even if it doesn't fly or levitate. The very concept of the hoverboard was therefore predicted to be reduced mostly to arguments between opposing camps of opinions; and then, in the title-text, the conclusion that giving up and resorting to old-fashioned walking is inferior to any of the possible alternatives.

Robot butler

Meanwhile, the long-held science-fantasy aim to create a robot that can do odd tasks, like Robby the Robot or Rosie from The Jetsons has been limited or differently implemented. The fully omnicapable version is probably almost as far out of reach as it always was considered to be. "Jeeves" as a less than superb robot butler presumably refers to the early search site Ask Jeeves, and may be a reference to the robot of that name that can be "built" by characters in the popular Massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. "Jeeves" as a stereotyped butler name goes back to P.G. Wodehouse in 1915.


[A chart with three columns of text with only one entry to the left - which is written in the middle of the panel. Then there is one line going right from this text but soon it splits into seven lines going either up (3), almost straight (2) or down (2) ending in arrows that points to the next column with seven entries for different possible future inventions. From each of these entries a horizontal arrow continues to the last column at the right with seven more entries commenting on these inventions.]
It's 2016 – Where's my...
Flying car → They're called "helicopters"
Jetpack → Turns out people are huge wimps about crashing
Moon colony → No one has put up the cash
Self-driving car → Coming surprisingly soon
Floating sky city → Turns out cities are heavy
Hoverboard → This question is now ambiguous thanks to a new scooter thing (and will lead to an argument about the meaning of "hoverboard" which is way less interesting than either kind of hoverboard)
Robot butler → He was called "Jeeves" and he wasn't that great

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Isn't Jeeves also the name of the butler in the play "Joseph and the amazing technicolor dreamcoat?"

No. He was described as "the Jeeves of his time" That's like saying he was the Rolls-royce of butlers. It doesn't say what his name was (but at least it rhymes with a cook in his prime). 16:50, 26 August 2019 (UTC)

In response to the title text, "You know, it's such a beautiful day that I think I'll walk." See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It's_Such_a_Beautiful_Day. 07:23, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

A number of "inventions" from various science fiction stories of the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries are listed with how they have progressed in the present. Some are currently being used (flying car) but in a different manner than originally imagined (helicopters, which use rotating blades rather than stationary airfoils -- wings -- for lift). Some are impractical for physical reasons (floating sky city) and some have economic (moon colony) or social impediments (jetpack). The entry for "hoverboard" and the title text refer to two different kinds: the science fiction version in "Back to the Future" is a skateboard with some form of levitation instead of wheels, while the current version is a short skateboard that has more freedom of motion but less stable balance than a conventional skateboard.

There are two possibilities for "robot butler": either it refers to the "ask Jeeves" search engine or implies that P. G. Wodehouse's "perfect gentleman's gentleman" was a robot. The Dining Logician (talk) 08:36, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

Jeeves is also the name of a "robot butler" in World of Warcraft. Although it's a pretty convenient item even if it's 4 years old, it's not that great compared to what you would expect from a true "robot butler". Jeeves merely allows you to repair your equipment or access your bank, both of which are really easy to do anyway. 14:03, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

My reply:

  1. We live in a parallel future. Who in the 1950s extrapolated smartphones and the Internet?
  2. Flight technology has advanced a lot in this millennium (e.g. ArcaBoard, drones, etc).
  3. So have AI & robotics (e.g. cybernetics, drones, roomba, Siri, teledildonics, etc).

-- Frankie (talk) 12:29, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

Apart from the slight problem of the two actors involved being somewhat sadly aged (in different ways), there was this for Back To The Future Day, that this reminds me of... 12:59, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

So, to prevent edit conflicts I wrote the plaintext explanation and then went back in for links. Which then got edit conflicted, so I had to work quickly to combine the two. I think I then managed to get Condor70's contributions back in, but obviously it's open to further checking. See main-page history for my/their interventions... 14:18, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

...additionally, the time I took to work out what references to add could perhaps have been aleviated if I'd instead added a table to let us list (and link to) both fictional and factual examples that have developed, without cluttering the main explanation text with anything but the bare-necessity wiki(/nonwiki)linking. But I'll leave it alone, for now. Might be food for thought, though. 14:28, 30 December 2015 (UTC)

In response to flying cars: http://www.terrafugia.com/ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)