Past Predictions About The Future — And How They Went

How did people from the past imagine today’s world?

Predictions that came true

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.

Mobile phones

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:

The first mobile phone weighted two kilos

Credit cards

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:

Movie streaming

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:

Earbuds

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?

Dystopian novels have predicted some tools we use today, such as earbuds

The moon landing

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.

Predictions that haven’t (yet) 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.

Learning machines

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.

En l’an 2000 — Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Flying hoverboards

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 cars

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.

Domed cities

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.

Theodor Hildebrand & Sohn’s vision of the year 2000

Miracle pill

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.”

Conclusion

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.

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