In case you haven't noticed, the future is here. Ideas that were strictly the province of science fiction only three decades ago - like spaceships, moon landings, cloning and anti-matter - are cliches of contemporary technology.
And the parade continues. In Scientific American a couple of issues back there appeared an item about Chess 4.5, "holder of the U.S. computer-chess title." Last summer, the magazine reports. Chess 4.5 won the Paul Masson Class B Championship, "the first victory of a computer in a human tournament." There's still some hope for human intelligence, though. In Pittsburgh this spring, chess master David Levy beat Chess 4.5 after 42 moves and 3 1/2 hours of play, at which point the computer "resigned."
The joys of computerized chess are now available for home consumption. The same Scientific American issue carries a full-page ad for the "Chess Challenger," a domesticated electronic chessboard manufactured by Fidelity Electronics, Ltd. "For the game of your life . . . take on Computer Chess Challenger! Play chess when you're ready, day or night, without the bother of finding a partner!" The ad copy notes that an average player will be able to beat the Challenger about 25 per cent of the time. Should you get so good that the fun goes out of it, the company will reprogram the microprocessor for you so that the Challenger will play "a much tougher game."
In view of the rapidity of these developments, the time has come to reveal the progress being made on several scientific fronts where momentous advances are contemplated. Though they have asked to remain confidential at this time, my sources all assure me they are on the verge of a breakthrough. Should they succeed, these are some of the innovations coming decades will witness:
Reversed Metabolism. A team of experimental physiologists has discovered the secret of inverting the order of human growth patterns. In the future, a "baby" will emerge from birth, after a suitable hatching process outside the maternal host, with all the physical and mental endowments of a healthy nonogenarian. As the years roll by, such a person will grow younger and younger, progressing backwards through maturity, youth, adolescence, childhood and infancy. Death will be replaced by a painless protoplasmic shedding, the infant gradually diminishing in size, past the point of conscious awareness, until the last remaining cell simply passes into extinction.
Of course, a whole new set of values will evolve with this change. People will walk around boasting that they are really years older than they look. Careers will proceed from the retirement stage through maximum achievement and back to apprenticeship. Among several kinks in the scheme that have yet to be ironed out is the effect on knowledge. As the system now stands, a person will gradually unlearn everything he knows, going from wisdom to complete ignorance. This is an obvious disadvantage - or is it?
Euphoric Palliatives. Medical researchers have hit on a new tack in combating disease, one that will do away with all the old dangerous, agonizing or unpleasant treatments, and substitute hedonistic methods that will make being sick a joy. What's more, the punishment will fit the crime - that is, the more serious the disease, the more pleasurable the prescription. The remedy for the common cold, for instance, will consist of a certain type of chocolate-covered peppermints manufactured in Costa Rica. The cure of cancer, however, will be 14 ounces of fresh Malossal caviar, to be supplemented at reasonable intervals by a magnum of Dom Perignon. Peanut brittle will be the antidote of choice for dental disorders, especially cavities.
As an corollary, several daring nutritionists are working on means of adjusting weight problems by increasing the intake of foodstuffs. In other words, the more you eat, the leaner you'll become. The latter is predicated, of course, on an unlimited world food supply, but with protein synthesis and extraterrestrial agriculture just around the corner, that's a mere bagetelle.
Esthetic Aid. Readers of this column are probably wondering by now what all this has to do with the arts, which brings me to a final scientific watershed in the offing, known as the Sonic Environment Purification Module.It's a handy electronic device small enough to fit into a shirt pocket or change purse, and simple enough for an 8-year-old to operate. What does the SEPM do? It's a Muzak suppressor. It blanks out all unsolicited canned music within a mile radius of the bearer. It works equally well in restaurants, elevators, airline terminals, apartment lobbies and public conveyances. The price is modest, and for just an extra farthing or two, the SEPM can also be equipped to shut off all portable transistor radios and TV sets within the same vicinity. The advent of SEPM is apt to do more for music appreciation than all the Leonard Bernstein specials rolled into one.