Nothing should make a futurist more wary than looking at the history of the profession and seeing how hilarious its mistakes have been. Jetpacks, flying cars, death rays...the future isn't quite what the past hoped it would be. Of course, when predictions do come true it can be really shocking. I thought I'd treat you to some of the more entertaining and eye-opening videos that show classic predictions from the 1960s. Check them out below. The Jet Age couldn't imagine the Age of Social Media clearly, but they got a few things right. And many more hilariously wrong.
This first clip, identified as created in 1966 speculated as to what the typical American household would be like in the far off year of 1999. Remarkably it predicts the importance of the household computer quite accurately. It also does fairly well anticipating Amazon, e-commerce, e-banking, webcams, emails and faxes, and spreadsheets (Quicken, maybe?). The hardware and design is completely off, but the ideas are all there, which is pretty amazing. Even the final segment, which supposes the home computer to updated automatically, is right...it just supposes those upgrades will come via hardware rather than the continuous stream of software patches that we have going on in the background today.
Less accurate is this 1960s vision of "Britain of the Future!" Though they manage to predict flat screen televisions hanging on walls around 6:56, the rest is pretty ludicrous. I mean, how hilarious would it be if we actually selected our children for mathematical and scientific talents so they could better interact with computers? ...Wait, a second...
Of course, no vision of the future probably got as much press as Disney's Tomorrowland. The House of the Future was funded by Monsanto who now is a scarily powerful biotech and genetically modified food conglomerate but who in the 1960s was all about plastics. As you'll quickly be able to tell from the next two videos which give us a tour of the House of the Future in all its polyethylene glory.
What strikes me about the House of the Future (besides its specialized compartments for irradiated food!) is how mobile, compact, and mechanized it is. Moving sinks and rotating pantries - society eschewed such developments for suburban sprawl, and frozen food, I guess. Or perhaps the predictions simply aimed too early. With the rise of more advanced robotics we could see a much more mechanized house in the next few decades. Or not. After watching these videos I feel much less inclined to make any predictions whatsoever.
Over the past few years, Singularity Hub has seen the work of futurists of many different calibers. While some, like Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Kurzweil, have impressive track records, no one that repeatedly makes public predictions can do so without creating a few bloopers as well. As all of us technophiles continue to look forward to the future we should be selective in which hype we choose to believe. Even the most advanced scientific minds can have their plans for the future thwarted by unforeseeable events. I'll leave you with the best example of this ever: the Diabolical Dr. Doom.
[image credit: Disneyland publicity photo via Yesterland.com]