Humans love to try and predict the future. How do you see yourself in 10 years? What will the world look like in 100 years? The ability to predict or, in other words, to imagine, may actually be what makes us human. None of the things we have been able to create, from skyscrapers to planes, would have been possible without imagining it first. Yet not all things we have been able to imagine ultimately became reality. Here is a short collection of past predictions people made about the future.
Our life nowadays heavily depends on electronic devices that didn’t exist a few years ago. Our behaviours and the way we perceive our society has changed accordingly. Still, even if these devices didn’t exist in the past, some did predict they were about to come true.
Let’s look at mobile phones. Despite the fact that now it would be hard to live without them, mobile phones didn’t exist just 50 years ago. The first mobile phone for mass production was developed by Motorola in 1984. Yet, Nikola Tesla, the inventor of the alternating current (that made power motors and transmission systems possible), already predicted it in 1926. In an interview with John B. Kennedy he claimed that:
"When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket."
Pretty accurate, isn’t it?
In 1888 Edward Bellamy, a US journalist and writer, wrote a utopian novel called Looking Backward. The book tells the story of a man called Julian West who, towards the end of the 19th century, falls into a hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up 130 years later. It’s the year 2000 and the US is a socialist utopia. In this world everyone retires at the age of 45 and goods can be delivered almost instantaneously through something similar to the Internet. Moreover, all people are given an equal amount of credit that they can dispose of with a credit card:
"with which he procures at the public storehouses, found in every community, whatever he desires whenever he desires it. This arrangement, you will see, totally obviates the necessity for business transactions of any sort between individuals and consumers."
The first universal credit card was issued in 1950 by the Diners’ Club, Inc.
In the 1980s, if we wanted to watch a specific movie we had to rent its VHS cassette at a Blockbuster - and possibly bring it back before having to pay extra. In the 2000s we could rent DVDs that at least didn’t need to be rewired each time. But streaming and on demand services were expected to happen. Roger Ebert, a famous movie critic, during an interview with Omni magazine in 1987 said:
“We will have high-definition, wide-screen television sets and a push-button dialing system to order the movie you want at the time you want it. You'll not go to a video store but instead order a movie on demand and then pay for it. Videocassette tapes as we know them now will be obsolete both for showing prerecorded movies and for recording movies.”
We now can’t live without Netflix.
Dystopian novels take place in futuristic terrible scenarios. While we would definitely not want to live in those scenarios, some of the devices imagined there exist today. Let’s look at Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 541, written in 1953. In this novel, a dictatorial government takes care of censoring literature by having “firemen” burn every book they find. In the meanwhile, the population is kept distracted through continuous entertainment. To do so, they use “little Seashells” filling people’s ears with "an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk." Wasn’t Ray Bradbury predicting wireless earbuds?
Probably many predicted, or at least imagined, that one day we would have been able to explore other planets. Incredibly, one of the first recorded predictions of humans landing on another planet (the moon) is somehow accurate. We can find it in a book called From Earth to the Moon, written by Jules Verne in 1856. In this novel, a group of obsessive American Civil War veterans conceive the idea of creating an enormous cannon, in order to shoot a “space-bullet” to the Moon. They succeeded in their mission, sending three astronauts into space from a launch site in Florida. The three astronauts, in space, are weightless.
More than 100 years later, in July 1969, three astronauts were actually launched from a station in Florida to achieve the first moon landing. And exactly as Verne predicted, in space they were weightless.
Now the question is: how long will it take before all the predictions of Mars landing come true?
Alongside the predictions that did come true, there are hundreds that have not. Perhaps they will be fulfilled in the future. Perhaps they will never be.
How will technology change the way we learn? This is one of the many questions a group of French artists asked themselves when they drew the series “En l’an 2000” for the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900. According to them, 100 years later children would no longer need to read. In fact, a “learning machine” would transmit all the information directly from the books to their brains.
Unfortunately or not, this invention never came to life. Technology hasn’t yet revolutionized the educational field in the way they expected. But what if in 100 years kids will learn through the use of VR glasses?
A good collection of past predictions about the future can be found in Back to the Future (Part II), a 1989 science fiction film directed by Robert Zemeckis. Marty McFly, the main character, timetravels to 2015. And how does 2015 look like? Eyewears, stylish futuristic outfits, rejuvenation clinics and flying hoverboards populate the future. Yet, the last element is not so apt.
Flying hoverboards haven’t been successfully mass manufactured yet. Since the movie quickly became a pop culture masterpiece, many have tried to produce these flying boards. The success of this movie has influenced future inventions.
Let’s look at another science fiction classic: Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott in 1982. The movie opens with a dramatic dystopian view. It’s 2019 and Los Angeles is a rainy and polluted city where AI humanoid replicats hide between humans. Above the city there are countless flames, coming from large machinery, and flying cars.
Now, 2019 was a few years ago and none of Blade Runner’s predictions came true. AI technology hasn’t developed enough to create humanoid robots. And there are no flying cars in the skies of today’s cities. Yet, some developments have been made and there is a chance we will have some flying cars by 2024.
Could a combination of flying cars and land transport service be the ultimate solution for traffic jams?
A German chocolate company called Theodor Hildebrand & Sohn produced a series of collector’s postcards with their visions of the future. As for the prints above, these postcards were produced in 1900 and imagined the future in the year 2000.
One of the drawings shows future society’s solution for bad weather: a massive roof covering cities and towns. It’s a very interesting project. Yet, probably a bit too complex and expensive to ever become reality. Still, if we’ll ever populate other planets, with an unlivable atmosphere, this dome could be the solution we are looking for!
What if all the diseases in the world could be treated by just one universal miracle pill? This is what the Swiss doctor François Ody imagined in 1956. As he claimed: “all the victories which have been the pride of brilliant surgeons will be forgotten,” replaced by the discovery of a “substance which, in the form of a capsule, will capture the sources of energy that will bring recovery within hours.”
It’s hard to believe that, in the future, this miracle pill will ever be invented. Diseases have many causes and therefore require different treatments. Nevertheless, technological developments in healthcare are producing impressive results. In 100 years from now, diseases and death may become a thing of the past.
Making predictions and imagining how the future may look is part of human and innovations history. Sometimes they get it right. Yet, it is difficult to make accurate predictions. As we saw, something as unpredictable as the success of a specific movie can influence future technological developments.
Today, we can imagine a future with flying cars, medical immortality and humanoid bodies. These developments are a continuation of today’s innovations and therefore it seems logical that they will happen. But society is complex and the future of devices depends on many social, cultural, economical, political and environmental factors.