Dude — where’s my flying car?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (MCT) — It’s a new day and a new year — and another step into the future.

We all have a picture of the future in our heads, visions of spaceships, flying cars and robot servants shaped by everything from classic science-fiction novels to “The Jetsons.” And in this age of medical marvels and personal computers and cars that parallel-park themselves, the question is: Has the future arrived?

In some ways, it seems the answer is yes. Kevin Anderson, a science-fiction writer living in Monument, Colo., marvels at the laser eye surgery that has allowed him to toss away his glasses. At the virtual worlds created by computer games that bear no resemblance to the primitive game of “Pong” he once played with friends. At tiny, powerful cell phones that take photos, play music and send text messages.

“These things, we accept them as everyday stuff, but it’s basically science fiction,” he said.

In a commercial for the new Lexus LS, which has an “advanced parking guidance system,” the driver reflects on a time when people had to parallel park on their own.

Mary “Mem” Morman, 54, of Colorado Springs, Colo., recalled life before cell phones, MP3 players and microwave ovens.

“It seems like the human race went for thousands of years with not much change, and then in the past two centuries, change has just overtaken us,” she said. “We are changing so fast that each generation cannot recognize the way that the previous generation grew up.”

A longtime science-fiction fan, she remembers in the 1960s reading Robert Heinlein’s “Farmer in the Sky,” about a boy and his family who homestead on Ganymede, the largest of Jupiter’s moons.

“I was very willing to believe in interplanetary travel, spaceships and the terra-forming of the moons of Jupiter, but the idea of flash-cooking steaks from freezer to plate in 10 minutes was beyond my willing suspension of disbelief. And here we are in the 21st century, no interplanetary travel but a microwave in every kitchen.”

That lack of space travel rankles many of those who grew up reading Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and other science-fiction greats.

“When I was a child, I really thought by the time the millennia came, we would be on Mars and Venus and Jupiter,” Morman said.

Author Anderson was 7 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

“I remember all the grown-ups were in awe because there’s a man walking on the moon, and as a 7-year-old kid I was watching that and I thought, ‘You mean we haven’t done that yet?’ It was really kind of a surprise to me because I thought that after all the movies I’d seen that we must have done that already.”

He’s frustrated by the lack of progress since then.

“Science fiction always assumed we would be charging ahead at full speed into space,” he said, “and we’ve just sort of stopped that.”

That may be changing. NASA is working to design a launch system to fulfill President Bush’s vision of returning Americans to the moon by 2020, the first step toward a manned mission to Mars. Last month, (December) the space agency announced plans for a permanent moon base within two decades.

So maybe we’ll get to Mars. But in the meantime, where are those flying cars?

“We’ve got a long way to go before that’s going to happen, but I see that as a direction we’re headed,” said Thomas Frey, founder and executive director of the Da Vinci Institute, a nonprofit futurist think tank based in Colorado.

He expects the era of flying cars to start taking off around 2015 with the development of flying drones that could be used for purposes such as FedEx and pizza deliveries. “The military’s already got flying drones right now,” he said.

That’s one step into the future Anderson isn’t necessarily eager to take. Noting how scary driving can be on today’s roads, “if you turn all those people loose flying all over, I might just rather walk.”

Often, Anderson says, science fiction may not forecast the future as much as mold it. He points to today’s cell phones, which resemble the flip-open communicators seen on “Star Trek” 40 years ago.

“I think somebody watched ‘Star Trek’ and said, ‘I can invent a cell phone like that.'”

Some technologies have progressed faster than many expected, such as the Internet. The science-fiction authors of yesterday, Morman said, “never imagined the whole world at your fingertips with the Internet.”

“Remember how cool it was on ‘Star Trek’ where you had the computer who could give you the answer for things?” Anderson says. “We’ve got that now.”

Medical technology is another area where advances have come rapidly, such as minimally invasive surgeries and the latest wonder drugs.

“I think the average person doesn’t quite realize how much progress we’ve made against cancer, AIDS and all sorts of things that affect our daily lives,” Anderson said.

Typically, Frey says, it takes time — a quarter-century or so — for new technology to take hold and be accepted. So it’s likely that the next big thing, whether in medicine, transportation or some other arena, already has been invented.

He notes patents filed with the U.S. Patent Office have reached record numbers in recent years. “Knowing that a certain percentage of those filings are cutting-edge technology, and knowing that it takes an entire generation for this to take off, we’re in for one hell of a ride,” he said.

But the future isn’t just about technological wonders, said Sean Kelly, 38, a science-fiction buff and a spokesman for U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs.

“Yes, we have mobile phones, personal digital assistants and space flight,” he said via e-mail. “Yes, we can cure many more diseases, put an entire library on a device the size of your thumb and communicate instantly around the globe. But these are things. What the future of science fiction truly proposed was the triumph of ideas and the hope for a better society.”

We may not have the peaceful, one-world government seen in “Star Trek,” but we are making progress in that quest for a better society, he says.

“People still accomplish things just to accomplish them. When ideas are encouraged, when information is shared and when people work together for the common good, we become the future and start working for tomorrow.”