678: Researcher Translation
Title text: A technology that is '20 years away' will be 20 years away indefinitely.
This comic suggests a translation from the statements of the researcher of a potential new technology. These statements might be found in, for example, an article in a popular science magazine which highlights some cutting-edge research. It reflects the idea that researchers tend to be too optimistic about the future of their research project.
"The fourth quarter of next year": Even if a technological development seems very close to completion, it could still be canceled by some authority other than the lead researcher. This might be due to poor management, or a poor business plan, or even a poor scientific basis which the researcher is hiding or ignoring.
"Five years": The researcher has solved the interesting scientific problems, and assumes that the concept could be picked up by a business, developed to be usable outside of a research lab, designed into a prototype, have a manufacturing process, marketed, and made available to consumers, in only five years. In reality, a lot of exciting-sounding technology may not reach consumers for many years because of difficulties in the business side of things.
"Ten years": Not only does the researcher assume that the business end of things will go smoothly, he also assumes that the rest of his research will go smoothly. In reality, a lot of unforeseen problems could arise during research.
"25+ years": The proposed application wouldn't violate the known laws of physics, but the researcher expects a whole new generation of scientists and engineers would be necessary to solve all the practical problems.
"We're not really looking at market applications right now.": In contrast to the above chain of assumptions, in this case the researcher has a working technology but wants to keep it to himself.
Title text: "20 years away indefinitely": Sometimes the technological or engineering challenges for a certain application seem like they could be overcome in 20 years, but in reality the challenges are very difficult. The more the challenges are studied, the harder they are found to be, although there is always hope that a few more advances will do it. An example is fusion power, which has been conceptualized since at least 1946 as a potentially unlimited source of clean energy, but remained an elusive achievement despite projects such as the National Ignition Facility and ITER. The first commercial plant is still indefinitely 20 years away.
|If a researcher says a cool
new technology should be
available to consumers in...
|What they mean is...|
|The fourth quarter
of next year
|The project will be|
canceled in six months.
|Five years||I've solved the interesting|
research problems. The rest is
just business, which is easy, right?
|Ten years||We haven't finished inventing it|
yet, but when we do, it'll be awesome.
|25+ years||It has not been conclusively|
|We're not really
looking at market
applications right now.
|I like being the only|
one with a hovercar.