This assembly looks at the inventions and technological advances that have changed our world, as well as inviting children to suggest what inventions they can predict that might change the future

The TV programme Tomorrow’s World (1965-2003) is putting its most memorable moments online.

This assembly reviews some of the technologies Tomorrow’s World mentioned that shape our society, and some of the ones that never made it, as well as inviting children to suggest what inventions they can predict that might change the future.

The assembly also comments on the difficulty of forecasting the future.

Resources

Introduction
Good morning, everyone! Just excuse me a moment while I turn off my mobile phone – I don’t want us to be disturbed by it ringing during assembly!

That’s better.

[Hold up phone and look at it]

I bet everyone knows someone who has got a mobile phone and some people here will have one.

A little mobile phone like this is an amazing piece of science and technology all rolled into one.

What sort of things can a mobile phone do? [Take suggestions: take photographs/videos; listen to music; texts; internet; games]

Yes, those are all good suggestions – they can also make phone calls, too!

Here’s an amazing fact: there is more computing power in this phone than was in the space rocket that took men to the moon in 1969: their computing power had only 2 kilobites of memory, which isn’t very much at all (1).

Just think about that for a moment – what a lot of changes and breakthroughs there have been during the last 40 years.

At the time of the moon walk in 1969, there was a popular science and technology programme on TV called Tomorrow’s World. The presenters interviewed inventors to find out what the future might be like and what inventions might shape our world.

Here are just a few of the things that we didn’t have 40 years ago:

  • CDs, DVDs
  • Bulletproof vests for police officers
  • Home computers
  • Dyson vacuum cleaners
  • The Internet, email, texts, e-books, computer games
  • The Euro tunnel
  • Digital cameras
  • Satnav
  • Whiteboards
  • And, of course, mobile phones.

How did we ever manage? Well of course we did because we didn’t know any differently. And 40 years before that when my grandparents and your great grandparents were growing up, people hadn’t even had TV, just the radio (which they called a ‘wireless’).

Since then, lots of scientists have been busy inventing all sorts of things: some of their ideas we use on a daily basis, and some never made it past the first stage.

Here are some of the inventions that Tomorrow’s World showed people. [Run clip]

The story of Tomorrow’s World
Tomorrow’s World began in 1965. It was a well loved programme because the inventions it showed people seemed extraordinary, useful, exciting or just plain weird. It was also an important programme because it allowed scientists and inventors to show people what they were working on.

To begin with it was all recorded live in a TV studio. It could be a bit like watching a pantomime in a theatre – things didn’t always go right.

Here’s what one of the presenter’s Maggie Philbin said about working on the programme:

‘I would love to say I recognised their significance immediately but often the technology was fragile or incomplete – a mixture of space age and Stone Age – and the real potential was hidden…

‘During my years on the show I saw the mobile phone downsize from one you could fit in a suitcase to one you could carry on your own but which cost £3,000. I remember BT lending me one for a weekend, so I would get the hang of it.

‘I had given the number to my husband, who rang me while I was on the train home. I like to think I was the first person to say: “I’m on a train!”

‘The whole carriage stared and shared my excitement that it was indeed possible to make a call on the 18.35 out of Paddington. I was the first Tomorrow’s World presenter to buy one.

‘The supermarket barcode reader made less of an impression.

‘The item had to be pre-recorded behind screens; I think because BBC Health and Safety had identified the laser [that is used to read a barcode] as a potential hazard.

‘As I attempted to swipe a tin of peas for the 30th time, I remember thinking supermarkets would be totally insane to even consider the idea.’

(2)

Well, she got that a bit wrong, didn’t she? But that’s the trouble with inventions – it’s very difficult to predict which ones will be successful.

The British inventor James Dyson got fed up with his vacuum cleaner getting clogged up all the time and losing suction, so he invented one that didn’t use hoover bags. No vacuum cleaner manufacturers would buy his invention because they made so much money out of selling replacement vacuum cleaner bags. James Dyson set up his own company to make them and is now very rich and his invention has become very popular (3).

Here are some other technologies that were first shown on Tomorrow’s World that later became used all over the world:

  • The cash machine (1969)
  • The pocket calculator (1971)
  • Teletext (Ceefax) (1975)
  • The personal stereo (1980)
  • CDs and CD player (1981)
  • The camcorder (1981)
  • Barcode reader (1983)
  • Clockwork radio (1993) (4).

Tomorrow’s World ran until 2003 – nearly 38 years – not quite as long as Coronation Street but not far off either! There are other popular science programmes on TV now, most recently Bang Goes the Theory. Science is exciting and important and can affect our everyday lives – not an easy thing to show on TV.

Conclusion
Some ideas shown on Tomorrow’s World have become common place, whilst others never made it past the first prototype, like the washing line that sang when it started to rain or the fishing rod that lit up in the dark. Predicting the technology of the future is a difficult business. What do you think could be invented in the next 40 years: an invisibility cloak like in Harry Potter; cars that run on water; portals that can beam us from one location to another, just like on Star Trek? I wonder how many scientists and inventors get their ideas from stories like these.

What inventions do you think could happen in the next 40 years? [Take suggestions]

PrayerDear Father,

Thank you for the scientists and inventors who spend their time thinking and working on ideas to make our world safer, cleaner and better. Amen.

Reflection
Scientists work behind the scenes so most people only see the results of their work – not all the efforts and the failed experiments that go into getting something to work.

Thomas Edison (1847-1931) invented the electric light bulb. This is what he said about being an inventor:

‘Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Accordingly a ‘geniu’s is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.’

Further information
Older children will enjoy the East London Inventors’ Club website. It’s not designed specifically for children but it’s a glimpse into the world of what it means to be an inventor http://www.eastlondoninventorsclub.com

And another thing…
Mother Shipton lived in Yorkshire between the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I (1488-1561). She was famed as a prophetess. Could she really predict the science that would shape our world? See what you think.

‘Carriages without horses shall goAnd accidents fill the world with woe.Around the world thoughts shall fly

In the twinkling of an eye…

Under water men shall walk,
Shall ride, shall sleep, shall talk…

Iron in the water shall float
As easy as a wooden boat.’

‘horses without carriages’ – cars

‘under water men shall walk’ – submarines

‘iron in the water shall float’ – iron clad ships

‘thoughts shall fly’ – could this be a reference to radio or even the Internet? (5)

(1) http://science.slashdot.org/story/09/07/21/0142234/How-They-Built-the-Software-of-Apollo-11?from=rss
(2) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8253236.stm
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Dyson
(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomorrow’s_World
(5) http://www.mothershiptonscave.com/mother_shipton.htm

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Jane A. C. West

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