It’s that time again. When we start working on the 2009 predictions of the people, technologies and trends that will change the world. It’s a normal cycle in the PR calendar, where we sit down with our clients, and examine how they look at the innovation landscape.
In honor of this fun ritual, let’s look at a post from Kevin Hall, of the SciFi Channel Device blog. Below are his thoughts on some 40-year old predictions that remind us of the potential brilliance or insanity of what looking into the future can hold.
“40 years ago, science fiction writer James R. Berry predicted what the future would look like on November 18th, 2008 — today. His piece for a 1968 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, “40 Years in the Future,” made some impressive guesses, from flat-screen televisions to video conferencing. He also made a few understandable missteps: pollution-free air in cities, house paint that’s always pristine, and — pardon me, ladies — the idea that women would still do little more than use a computer to plan recipes.
Explore an amazing retro future that was wild, but isn’t as far off as you would think.
FIVE ACCURATE PREDICTIONS…
1. Online Shopping
1968 PREDICTION “Instead of being jostled by crowds, shoppers electronically browse through the merchandise of any number of stores.”
2008 REALITY For someone writing during a time with phone-in catalogs and super stores, it’s amazing Berry foresaw an age of digital distribution and online ordering. Berry’s version was still a bit more like a telephone ordering system with punch-in numbers, but the services provided by Amazon and iTunes make his 1968 prediction a 2008 reality.
2. The Rise of Home Computing
1968 PREDICTION “The single most important item in 2008 households is the computer… Computers also handle travel reservations, relay telephone messages, keep track of birthdays and anniversaries, compute taxes and even figure the monthly bills for electricity, water, telephone and other utilities.”
2008 REALITY Can you imagine what the world would be like without computers? Berry really honed in on the connectivity of the technology, and how that connectivity would factor into our lives. As he foresaw, the computer would not only become our household hub, but also a powerful social and financial tool for every individual.
3. Laptop/Tablet Computers (and Email)
1968 PREDICTION “A business associate wants a sketch of a new kind of impeller your firm is putting out for sports boats. You reach for your attache case and draw the diagram with a pencil-thin infrared flashlight on what looks like a TV screen lining the back of the case.”
2008 REALITY We don’t use infrared flashlights to draw on laptop screens, but tablet computing is becoming more and more commonplace with the prevalence of touchscreen technology, and it’s pretty common to see someone using a computer with a stylus. Likewise, designers and illustrators rely on computer tablets to create digital renderings. What does Berry’s man from 2008 do when he’s done drawing? He emails it to his business associate, just as we would today.
4. Space Tourism
1968 PREDICTION “Another vacation is a stay on a hotel satellite. The rocket ride to the satellite and back, plus the vistas of earth and moon, make a memorable vacation jaunt.”
2008 REALITY We don’t have space hotels exactly, unless you count the International Space Station. We do, however, have a budding space tourism industry that’s sent seven people into orbit so far — first Dennis Tito in 2001, and recently Richard Garriott — with the promise of more regular orbital trips in the future. There’s also Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which may just blow space tourism wide open.
5. Robot Labor
1968 PREDICTION “Robots are available to do housework and other simple chores.”
2008 REALITY You won’t come home to Rosie the robot from the Jetsons, but you can enter a house with a Roomba vacuuming your floors, or other robots mowing your lawn and cleaning your house’s rain gutters. Cars are built by robotic arms, workers in Japan are greeted by robot receptionists, and robots help us explore under the sea and even other planets. It’s a bit more simple on the domestic front than what Berry envisioned in the ’60s, and yet it’s also a rapidly expanding industry that seems to make another new step toward his vision every day.
…AND FIVE NOT-SO-ACCURATE ONES
6. 250 MPH Self-Driving Cars
1968 PREDICTION “You slide into your sleek, two-passenger air-cushion car, press a sequence of buttons and the national traffic computer notes your destination… The car accelerates to 150 mph in the city’s suburbs, then hits 250 mph in less built-up areas…”
2008 FANTASY Not only are you still driving your own car, but going 250 MPH is a great way to get a ludicrous ticket — or killed. The idea of a massive network of self-driving vehicles is one constantly explored by science fiction — and one that’s even been put into practice — but we’re nowhere near an age where private vehicles are banned in favor of automated ones.
7. Domed, Climate-controlled Cities
1968 PREDICTION “You whizz past a string of cities, many of them covered by the new domes that keep them evenly climatized year round.”
2008 FANTASY Ah, the dream of controlling the climate. It’s especially appealing today, when scares of global warming and a planet ruined by our presence run rampant. But we still can’t get the weather right two days in advance, and I won’t even begin to try to wrap my head around how we could possibly cover a city with a giant fishbowl.
1968 PREDICTION “Giant transportation hubs called modemixers are located anywhere from 15 to 50 mi. outside all major urban centers… A major feature of most modemixers is the launching pad from which 200-passenger rockets blast off for other continents.”
2008 FANTASY Berry’s modemixer is like a subway station that also has a rocket ready to blast off to anywhere in the world. Really, it’s something like any modern-day airport, but with a variety of ways to travel by air. We’re still stuck with jets and prop-planes, in contrast to Berry’s “200-passenger rockets… [supersonic transports] and hypersonic planes that carry 200 to 300 passengers…” and “slower jumbo jets” to handle shorter, intercontinental commutes.
9. A Four Hour Work Day
1968 PREDICTION “The average work day is about four hours. But the extra time isn’t totally free… A jobholder’s spare time is used in keeping up with the new developments — on the average, about two hours of home study a day.
2008 FANTASY Ha! Don’t we wish. The 9-5 grind is still alive and well. Maybe it’s for the best — who would want two hours of homework to do when they get home? Although, really, we all probably spend more time than that every night keeping up with pop culture affairs on the Internet and by watching TV.
10. Automated Doctor Visits
1968 PREDICTION “Medical examinations are a matter of sitting in a diagnostic chair for a minute or two, then receiving a full health report.”
2008 FANTASY When you go to the doctor, what happens? Tests are run that take weeks to get results from, you have to see a myriad of specialists — one for an ear, say, and another altogether for your eye — and it can all be very expensive and, at its worst, confusing. Out of all of Berry’s predictions for November 18th, 2008, an easy-and-quick diagnosis is probably the most attractive. Well, except for only working four hours each day.