This Tuesday, Jan. 20, President Barack Obama will honor an American tradition as old as George Washington: the State of the Union. The constitutionally ordained address to each new session of Congress has been a presidential ritual since 1790. Its a chance to check in on the present and make some pledges for our future.
Its that future bit that got us thinking: If all that talk had come true, even the crazy, far-out pledgesespecially the crazy, far-out pledgeswhat would our world look like today? Not political promises and posturing for lower taxes or immigration reform, but lifestyle manna such as supersonic jets and paralysis-curing implants.
So we read through 35 years of State of the Union addresses, from Obama back to Ronald Reagan, and found an interesting mix of science and science fiction with varying likelihoods of the prognostications ever becoming reality. Obama may have missed his goal of having 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015 (by 725,000 cars), but its bound to happen one day. Meanwhile, Reagans nuclear shield (popularly known as the Star Wars program) is a remnant of a time tormented by the Cold War. As for Clintons child-safe smart guns well, whos to tell?
Together, these visions offer a uniquely American version of Utopia. One wed be perfectly happy driving our Wi-Fi-enabled, 3D-printed, hydrogen-fueled car aroundbut maybe only for a day or two.
The Pledge: In 2013, Obama referred to a once-shuttered warehouse in the Rust Belt that became a state-of-the-art lab where new workers are mastering 3D printing and proposed replicating its success around the country.
The Reality? As Obama said, it has already happened in Youngstown, Ohio, thanks to his Manufacturing Innovation Institutes. But the likelihood of reviving former industrial towns with 3D printing hubs seems counterintuitive to the very idea of 3D printing, not to mention the fact that 3D printing is still pricier than the old-fashioned assembly line for most manufacturers.
The Pledge:In 2013, Obama also heralded the work of scientists who are developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs and urged Congress to keep making those investments.
The Reality? Things are looking good. Scientists have made great advances in regenerating organs using stem cells (doctors grew trachea way back in 2008). And ever since Obama removed some barriers for using stem cells in research, scientists have been steaming ahead.
The Pledge: In 2000, President Bill Clinton asked gun companies to invest in smart guns to keep weapons out of the hands of children, as well as other steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
The Reality? Despite the 15 years that have passed since Clintons call to action, its still a dreamone pretty much destined to fail, thanks both to the National Rifle Association and to lack of consumer interest. (We do have fingerprint-enabled gun casesand GPS locators that track when a gun is drawn and shot. Baby steps.)
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We Were Promised Space Lasers: The State of the Union's Biggest Fibs