The Topic: Future Talk
“It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” Often attributed to Yogi Berra, sometimes to Mark Twain, Nostradamus, or physicist Niels Bohr, this quote points to the challenge of forecasting the future. Sometimes a Jules Verne or Gene Roddenberry will completely nail it, but more likely, it’s someone like the founder of IBM, who declared in 1943 that a few room-sized computers is all the world would ever need. Never mind a 1955 soothsayer’s notion that we’d have nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners in 10 years. So we asked: What innovation did you expect in the future, and did it happen?
Professor, School of Economics and Business Administration
Margaret Mead wrote, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.” Organizations are a human innovation that have given us computers, cellphones, cars, planes, cures for diseases, and many innovations. Yet basic human problems remain. Millions still die needlessly from lack of access to medicine for diseases that we already have cures for, or starvation when we throw away extra food. Let’s reinvent organizations that can solve problems to create an equitable and just world.
Executive assistant to President James Donahue
I have envisioned a day when I would be able to download my thoughts directly from brain to paper. No more handwritten words laboriously scratched out on paper, transcribed from the spoken word, or pecked out on a keyboard. This innovation would not be unlike the pensieve of Headmaster Dumbledore of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—a bowl that safekeeps the headmaster’s memories. But rather than preserving the past, this device would FireWire thoughts to paper or screen. Fleeting and of course brilliant thoughts would be captured, no longer lost forever. I’m waiting. Or am I?
BROTHER CLARENCE SCHENK, 1932–2015
I predicted that Cinerama would last much longer than it did. I own five of the Cinerama movies and they had such a visual impact in the early days of television, using three 35-mm projectors running simultaneously onto a 146-degree curved screen. This Is Cinerama was the first production, which had a startling roller-coaster ride in the opening scene. It was followed by Cinerama Holiday, a production that traveled throughout the world’s major cities and monuments. Everyone still speaks about Cinerama as a superior film method, but ultimately the process cost too much.
[Note: Brother Clarence died not long after this interview. Please see his obituary.]
Assistant director of Financial Aid
I still cannot decide whether to be labeled a Trekker or a Trekkie, but growing up I was always fascinated with Star Trek and all of the gadgetry. Since the original series ended in 1969, many of those items have become reality. The communicator is now a typical cellphone, which now goes along with communications officer Lt. Uhura’s earpiece, which is now considered everyday Bluetooth. When any Starfleet captain ordered incoming communications to be put “on screen,” who would consider that videoconferencing would be a daily occurrence? I am still looking for the transporter, the holodeck, and warp drive. Where’s Data?
JOHN MACKEN ’62
As an inventor (36 patents) and physicist, I am working on one of the biggest mysteries of physics—the connection between gravity and the electrostatic force. Einstein attempted to find this connection for 30 years. Two separated electrons feel both an electrostatic repulsion and a gravitational attraction. However, the gravitational force is about a billion, billion, billion, billion, billion times weaker than the electrostatic force. Working with the wave properties of particles, I have recently derived several simple equations that show the previously unknown connection. Some of this work was published in April. This impacts our basic understanding of particles and forces.
When I was young, I wondered why there were no women in political positions. My dad was a precinct committeeman and my grandfather was a state legislator. It was obvious to me that women were involved in community service, but they were vastly underrepresented in government policymaking. Today, there are many more women participating in politics, including myself (I was on the Moraga Council from 1992-96 and mayor in 1996). Groups like Emily’s List help women empower women in the political arena, but more work needs to be done to involve women in the legislative process.
TED TSUKAHARA ’62
Integral tutor and economist
The idea of a people mover between San Francisco and Los Angeles came to me in the early ’70s—a driverless transportation system between cities that would reduce traffic accidents and deaths. It would be a magnetic or guided system of transportation pods where you got in and they went down conventional highways. Technology for magnetic movement is already available. If everybody were put into these pods, you could control traffic. There would be no accidents because human error (fatigue and drinking) would not be an issue. There would be some kind of control system governing the traffic.
SOLANGE BITOL HANSEN ’89
Planned giving director for Salvation Army
I remember using a pay phone at the courthouse one afternoon in the mid-1990s and seeing another lawyer walk by while talking on this huge cellphone. I had a vision at that moment of smaller, sleek cellphones that we would wear much like a headband. My glimpse at the future was fairly accurate. Cell phones are smaller, but I see people wearing the headpiece in their ears, not as a headband.
Howard Gardner first identified the different styles of learning and processing knowledge in 1983 with his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. It was an aha moment for me, and I expected it to lead to the development of educational curriculum and programs that would enliven the classroom and create a successful learning environment. Has it been realized? I have seen it in some schools—not all. But what I’ve seen in Lasallian education, especially high schools, has been impressive.
GEORGE SCHMITT ’65
CEO and executive chairman of the board at xG Technology
Since I was responsible for building the first digital wireless network in the world, it would be about that industry. It was clear with SMS (Short Message Service), now known as texting, that the paging industry would die as it did in the 1990s—and that if we could get mobile phones cheap enough, everyone would have one and it would change the world as we know it. And it did. The relatively low cost of digital wireless networks allowed communications to become available in parts of the world that could never have fixed telephone service due to its cost.