It’s Christmas Eve again. A holographic tree complete with holiday lights hovers in the corner, decorations spin around the room of their own accord, robotic arms feed the family at the table and a trap door collects the washing up.
This is not the scene from a movie or a science-fiction novel; in fact the set-up was conceived more than half a century ago for the 1960s television hit The Jetsons. Set in 2063, the cartoon show was a product of its time, that of the “space race”. At the time, there was an overwhelming belief that technology’s progress would transport us to a place where cars flew and robots did the housework.
But the show’s idea of a future Christmas may not be so far-fetched. Flat-screen TVs, video calls, robot vacuums, microwaves and interactive news are all part of daily life.
British futurologist Ian Pearson believes that a “robotic kitchen assistant” could become a real-life solution to the stresses of holiday preparations. “Come 2020, we will share Christmas not only with other people and our pets, but also with robots and artificially intelligent entities,” Pearson says. Even vegetarians will be able to enjoy roast turkey and ham – by that stage food will be artificially produced, Pearson argues, thanks to nanotechnology. Relatives from afar will be able to join the festivities, streaming in over screen walls. Just think, family arguments could be shut down with the push of a button.
Consumption may still be king with younger ones enjoying walking, talking dolls that respond to their emotions, pet-thought translators and 3-D printed construction sets.
“Games manufacturers will provide a wide range of virtual presents to keep your virtual friends happy … Of course, the gifts for real people will be more sophisticated too, with advanced software taking the place of today’s “virtual flowers”. How about an entire ecosystem, a virtual city, a pop band or a movie studio,” suggests Pearson. Grown-ups can look forward to intelligent make-up, interactive dream machines and perhaps even technology that enables you to read minds – so you’ll never have to put up with that unwanted present ever again.