Imagine that it is the year 1900 and you are tasked with solving the following problems:
- To build and maintain roads adequate for use of conveyances, their operators, and passengers.
- To increase the average span of life by 30 years.
- To convey instantly the sound of a voice speaking at one place to any other point or any number of points around the world.
- To convey instantly the visual replica of an action, such as a presidential inauguration, to men and women in their living rooms all over America.
- To develop a medical preventive against death from pneumonia.
- To transport physically a person from Los Angeles to New York in less than four hours.
- To build a horseless carriage of the qualities and capabilities described in the latest advertising folder of any automobile manufacturer.
This thought experiment was proposed in 1954 — the year I was born — by an entrepreneur named John C. Sparks in a short essay entitled “If Men Were Free to Try.” Sparks noted that of these seven problems, the first one would have been the easiest to solve, since there were already roads on which to improve, while the other six would have seemed like the wildest of science fiction. (continue reading…)