Katy Guest: I need an invention to tell me where I put my address book


How nice to hear Maggie Philbin on the Today programme last week, talking about a new magazine from the people behind New Scientist that will look at "what science and science fiction can tell us about the future". The first edition of Arc will be available on iPad and Kindle, and in print as a limited edition only. That's a shame: I like my futurology on paper pages, preferably bound together with a staple. But maybe I'm just a bit frightened by all of this 'ere new innovation.

Also last week, a report was published called "The Homepage of Our Lives", which offers a scary vision of how we will all live in 15 years' time. I'm all for the kitchen surfaces that keep your coffee hot and your beer cold, and sensors to tell me where I have left my wallet, keys and mobile phone – though what I really need is a sensor that will retrospectively tell me where I packed my camera, passport, driving licence and address book when I moved house last month. But I do not like the sound of "infinite information resources" coming through my contact lenses; I definitely don't want "a tailored shopping experience based on Facebook 'likes'"; and if anyone tries to fit a Bathroom Doctor in my lavatory that analyses my waste for medical problems, I will scream and scream until I really am sick.

However, something about this report makes me sceptical. How many times before have we heard that one day, in the near future, we will have our newspapers downloaded on to our contact lenses, wear chips under our skin, take relationship advice from our fridges and whiz around on Segways wearing all-in-one jumpsuits made out of tinfoil? It seems like the 2012 vision of the future is not so different from the vision that the science geeks had back in 1973. So I am reasonably comfortable that this will never come to pass.

On Today, Philbin said that there were two different categories of "wrong" that she identified when she presented the BBC's Tomorrow's World. There were things that everyone wanted but nobody could afford, such as cars that could do 250mpg but were too expensive ever to produce. And then there were the things that worked, and could be made, but which never took off because nobody wanted them, where supply entirely failed to create its own demand. The electric blanket that identified its user's hot bits was the example she gave.

In 2012, scientists have a range of technology available to them that is expanding more rapidly than ever in human history, but they still don't seem to have figured out what it is that people want. There's a difference between identifying a need and building a product that fulfils it (satnavs; solar panels; things that find your keys and wallet) and inventing a new technology and then trying to find a use for it (toilet doctors; tactile screens; ebooks that "interact with the house's 3D and virtual reality system, bringing to life whatever you're reading". Err, isn't this last what our imagination is for?)

Essentially, we have now reached a standard of living where we have almost all the technology that we ever dreamed of, as well as a lot that we really don't want. (The exception to this is a beam-me-up device that would enable instant transportation to anywhere on the planet, which is the one gadget that would save the world and will never happen.) What we need now is to slow down, stop inventing things and learn how to make proper use of the things we already have. For instance, internet providers already sell "broadband speeds of up to 30Mb"! They sell them, that is, but do they ever actually provide them? LG makes a fridge-freezer that magically dispenses instant ice straight out of its door! They make it, and you can pay for it, but whatever you do they can't seem to deliver it when you want it. You can even get 3D TV in your own home. You'll end up garrotting yourself on the cables that are stretched across your living room, but at least the last thing you see will be a free download of Britney Spears in all her glorious dimensions.

Technology would be nice if it actually solved our problems – Maggie's right: just now, much of it is about as useful as an electric blanket that tells you which bits of you are hot.

Warm, kind, bookish Judi is the nicest celeb by far

When I worked as a gossip columnist for The Independent, people often asked me who was the nicest celebrity I'd met. It was Judi Dench, by a million miles. (The worst was Michael Portillo, but that's another story.) Dame Judi was clever, kind, interested in others, and by far the most beautiful woman I have ever seen up close. Even better, she let me look after her handbag, and came back later to claim it, saying, "I left my handbag with a very pretty girl... Oh, there you are!"

Dame Judi stars in the new film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and in interviews to promote it she revealed that she has been diagnosed with macular degeneration, and can barely see in bad light. (Which kind of ruins the story about her saying that I was pretty.) The second time I met Dame Judi was at the premiere of the screen adaptation of Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, and it was clear that she is an avid reader. She was surrounded by close friends, who guarded her privacy as if she were royalty. The loss of her eyesight will come as a horrible blow to this magnificent lady, but I'm sure that she, with the help of friends, will not let it diminish her in the slightest.

Dancing Daley is good for us all

As a patriotic Brit who is hoping that our teams do well in the 2012 Olympics, may I register publicly my complete support for Tom Daley and the British diving team's post-training relaxation schedule?

Daley has come in for criticism recently from fellow divers and from the British team's performance director, all of whom seem to think that he should train continuously without pausing to sleep, eat or dance on the sand in his tiny Speedos. But the diving team's video of their dance routine to LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It" on an Australian beach, is surely the perfect way for them to spend their time off-duty: it's athletic, it lets off steam and it showcases British talent to the world.

Give the boy a break.

The filthy rich come clean

Much as I envy and despise the Ecclestone girls for their obscene wealth, I have to admire their honesty. Only a week ago, younger daughter Petra complained that she doesn't get enough praise for getting out of bed: "I don't need to work, and I think it's good that I have the drive and willpower to get up and do something... I'm very grateful that [my dad has] afforded me a nice life. But I am not going to spend the rest of my life apologising for it."

Now big sister Tamara has been photographed sitting on a pavement with a sign that reads: "Will work for diamonds."

There's nothing morally wrong with being born rich, and recognising that you're lucky is at least a decent response. It certainly beats the over-privileged oiks running British life, who only pretend that they understand having to work for a living.

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