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Who benefits from blue sky 'pipe dream' projects that never happen?

20-09-2013

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People have long had a fascination with so-called 'pipe dreams'. Back from the dawn of engineering, through to 'Tomorrow's World', sci-fi movies and all the rapid expansion going on in the world of technology, there has been plenty to fire up the imagination. With it we have had hover boards, time-travelling cars, light-speed trans-Atlantic travel and even a widely-believed spaghetti tree spoof.

It's understandable why these projects attract so much attention: they are believable, almost tangible and could revolutionise the world as it appears today. But what happens when these projects fall by the wayside and are consigned to those retrospectives where comedians reminisce about how we all thought food would be in pill form by the 1990s? Are they largely written off as being just an impossible dream? Not quite.

In with the new

Many pipe dreams stall simply because the technology available at the time is some centuries behind human imagination. It's a widely-touted fact that there's more technology inside the smartphone in your pocket than there was helping to send Neil Armstrong to the Moon. This is quite the advancement, given that what helped America win the global space race can be eclipsed by widely-owned tech that allows people to send cat videos to one another.

It is this advancement that keeps people believing that those pipe dreams they heard about as children are now more likely than ever. It means, effectively, that these dreams can never die as each new technological innovation brings with it a further step towards reaching the fabled ground.

This means that anyone with a bright idea, project management skills and a grasp of modern technology can benefit from making old dreams a reality. Recently, Google's Amit Singhal recounted his childhood days watching a computer that could return an answer for any question set to it. Suffice to say, he's doing a stellar job at making this a reality.

Money money money

Technological advances are not the factors that can hold projects back or set them off after decades of stalling - finances also play a large part. Just looking at Virgin Galactic should illustrate this point.

Man has been going to space for decades now, ever since Yuri Gagarin first did so in 1961. To put this into perspective, our foray into space is older than Tom Cruise, The Beatles' début album 'Please Please Me', audio cassettes, acrylic paint, disposable lighters, post-it notes and handheld calculators. Yet only now is the issue of "space tourism" starting to become a reality. The equipment was there, of course, but not the financial backing.

Now, with a richer population and companies with the finances to get the idea off the ground, it is now touted as the next big thing in travel and something that will be entirely commonplace within a generation.

So with all this considered, it's really not a case that some pipe dreams haven't ever happened, more that they've just not done so yet. With time, finances and tech on humanity's side, it is - for most, if not all - a case of when, not if.

Author: David Howells

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