πŸ– Whatever happened to the future? | Technology | The Guardian

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Whatever happened to the future? Past seers gawped into the glitzy future to envisage a hi-tech world. But how many of them were right?


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Whatever happened to the future? Past seers gawped into the glitzy future to envisage a hi-tech world. But how many of them were right?


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Communications: missed call Alexander Graham Bell was overmodest when he predicted: "One day there would be a telephone in every American city". In "Miracles You'll See In The Next Fifty Years", its science editor stuck his neck out to predict such things as "sawdust and wood pulp converted into sugary foods". Computers: slow counting Although widely foreseen as becoming useful tools, few came to predict what we might really use PCs for, while very few foresaw the rise of the PC. The government has just given a grant to the company to build a prototype, according to New Scientist. Topics Technology Inside IT. Past predictions too often make hilarious reading rather than accurate forecasts Transport: come fly with me In , Henry Ford said: "Mark my word: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. We did think of PCs, but not printers; thinking instead that you'd put a Polaroid against the screen to take a snap. How retro-futuristic those Apollo moonshots seem to us now, and how soon their foregone evolution - crewed flights into deepest space - petered out, along with NASA funding for them. More forward-thinking than the British, Americans too can tally up some major hits in past predictions; but anyone reading the New York Times in might have been seriously misdirected. There are "skycars" and jet cars still knocking around laboratories but no commercial carplanes as yet. Although widely foreseen as becoming useful tools, few came to predict what we might really use PCs for, while very few foresaw the rise of the PC. Lucky children would be treated to "discarded paper table 'linen' and rayon underwear bought by chemical factories to be converted into candy. Space: not the place How retro-futuristic those Apollo moonshots seem to us now, and how soon their foregone evolution - crewed flights into deepest space - petered out, along with NASA funding for them. Dr Richard van der Riet Woolley, Astronomer Royal and space adviser to the British government, said in "Space travel is utter bilge. The internet? Below, we've outlined some key areas or modern life where past fortune-tellers were sure we would or wouldn't make technological strides. In , Henry Ford said: "Mark my word: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. But here we remain, plodding along somewhere between Orwell and Huxley in a familiar world that is neither utopia nor dystopia. Past predictions too often make hilarious reading rather than accurate forecasts. Space colonisation hasn't taken off mostly because, as Sir Patrick Moore puts it, "space is a very dangerous place for ordinary people". Pragmatists point to the air traffic control nightmare if should they start to fill the skies. That is about the number shifted each week. What the futurologists did get right, however, were some of the more prosaic details that define us protost-century-types, such as mobile phones and digital technologies. Writing in New Scientist in , Dr Maurice Wilkes predicted an "international network of computers" and the use of computers to crack the secrets of the genome, although like many he was a few years premature with his dates. Around the time of the moon launches in the late s, the US's Hudson Institute tried to guess what life would be like at the end of the century, and typically suggested space colonies and interstellar travel. In our conservative, cost- and safety-conscious, paranoid, post-cold war world, the big ideas, the truly revolutionary concepts - space tourism, android domestic help, etc - simply haven't materialised. As it was, the moonshots went beyond anyone's expectations. And they're not all self-fulfilling prophecies either; most are non-Japanese inventions. The prize for the best informed predictions must go to the extraordinary seer-like minds of the writers for a issue of Ladies Home Journal, who wrote: "Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electronically with screens at the opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span" and "photographs will be telegraphed from any distance". Hamer was revisiting predictions made by New Scientist's special issue on the future in , many of which came true but were ignored by Whitehall. They also predicted the rise of the car, fridges, air-conditioning, zoned traffic and x-rays used in medicine. Japan was particularly attuned to where technological development was heading 47 years ago. Reuse this content. But life in the early 21st century tells us otherwise: no flying cars, no dinners in a pill, and certainly no cool rocketing off to space cities in the required outfit of the future shaved heads and Bacofoil jumpsuits. Accurate predictions Mobile phones, microwave ovens, artificial insemination, permanent preservation of sperm, desalination and a voice-activated typewriter able to turn speech into text are just some of the things on the agency's list, which included 54 correct predictions. Some Japanese writers were way ahead of him. Heavy investment in areas highlighted by the agency certainly helped their future realisation, and goes some way to explain why cities like Tokyo are seen as futuristic while ours - hello, Victorian sewerage and transport systems - seem backward. One recent development that may take us closer to a personal flying saucer is from SPR Ltd, a small Havant-based company, which has successfully tested an experimental engine using patented microwave technology to convert solar energy directly into thrust - that is, an engine that could behave like an antigravity machine. Most popular.{/INSERTKEYS}{/PARAGRAPH} Alexander Graham Bell was overmodest when he predicted: "One day there would be a telephone in every American city". Back in the same magazine in Professor Ian Fells saw things very nearly accurately when he talked of fuel cells driving electric motors. You may smile, but it will come. There have been some misses, too, including virtual reality, whose allure he vastly overestimated. A edition of the Hochi Newspaper predicted, among other prescient ideas, the invention of wireless telephony mobile phones , a technology where Japan still leads the world. We seem to have failed the expectations of the most wild-eyed seers from the past - futurologists who were for the most part in love with a supercharged, technologically sexy future where science would free us from the daily grind for holidays on the moon or underseas. He now admits progress has been slower than he had hoped. Tricky indeed. Mobile phones, microwave ovens, artificial insemination, permanent preservation of sperm, desalination and a voice-activated typewriter able to turn speech into text are just some of the things on the agency's list, which included 54 correct predictions. As IBM famously said in "The total market for computers would amount to around 52 units", only to raise its figures to the in hindsight still ludicrously low figure of , in the early s. {PARAGRAPH}{INSERTKEYS}What could be more futuristic than ? The flying car stalled long ago, along with a wish list that included the commercial production of personal jets, helicopters, hovercrafts and jet cars. When the US got it right it was during earlier, less developed times. The New York Times's mistakes, like many wild claims of the same period, stemmed from extrapolating hot areas of research at the time.