Moon Colonies and Flying Firemen: Predictions for the 2000s from the Last Century
Image courtesy of The National Library of France
Visions of the 21st century 100 years ago.
If you sat down right now and predicted what the world will look like one hundred years in the future, what would you envision? Flying cars? Robot maids? Essentially, The Jetsons?
Mankind has long attempted to predict its own future, both in literature and cinema as well as through scientific deduction and reasoning. As today marks the exact date in the film Back to the Future that Marty McFly (played by Canuck Michael J. Fox) visits when he travels ahead in time, we decided to look back at five real-life scientific minds and their predictions for what the year 2000 and beyond would look like – all of which were written 50 to 100 years ago.
John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. – 1900
The French artist Villemard predicted what life in the year 2000 would look like through – what else? – a series of illustrations. Most of them are hilarious and completely ridiculous in hindsight but, hey, you try predicting what the world will look like 100 years from now. Villemard’s images can be seen here and include visions of flying firefighters and police with bat-like wings, homes heated by radium, electric trains, mini cars that you wear on your feet (think automated roller skates), a barber with a number of mechanical arms doing the cutting for him and an “air ship” that is basically a steamship attached to two blimps.
Robert Heinlein, dubbed the “dean of science fiction writers,” made his predictions for the year 2000 in 1949 and then published them in a 1952 edition of Galaxy magazine. As for his accuracy? It’s not bad. He also went out on a limb and predicted things that both would and wouldn’t happen.
As for the things that would happen, he foresaw a “personal telephone [that] will be small enough to carry in your handbag,” which, as the Wall Street Journal shows, came true with the first smartphone – the Ericsson R380 – arriving in the year 2000.
He was wrong when he said that, “Cancer, the common cold, and tooth decay will all be conquered” but his assertion that “the revolutionary new problem in medical research will be to accomplish ‘regeneration,’ i.e., to enable a man to grow a new leg rather than fit him with an artificial limb” is very accurate.
You could also argue “Contraception and control of disease is revising relations between the sexes to an extent that will change our entire social and economic structure” could refer to things like condoms and birth control and the results of the sexual revolution. As well, “Interplanetary travel is waiting at your front door” could refer to modern “space tourism.” We’ll give him that one.
However, many of Heinlein’s predictions failed to materialize … so far. That includes:
The 1964 New York World’s Fair served as a crystal ball of sorts for acclaimed academic and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who gleaned visions of the year 2014 from his experiences there and published them in the New York Times, which you can read in its entirety here. Sure, some of his predictions didn’t exactly come true, such as kitchens that basically make meals for you, moon colonies and that “Bridges will also be of less importance, since cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets, though local ordinances will discourage the practice.”
But some of Asimov’s ideas were actually pretty accurate given the time in which he made them. For example:
“Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica.”