We’ve come a long way since those first baby steps were taken in computing, and sometimes it really helps to just put things in perspective and look at the amazing technology that surrounds us today. Yet the technological reality we face doesn’t always match what we thought it was going to be all those years ago – the future always holds so much promise. Let’s look at just a few of those technological past predictions and see how we did.
“Johnny Cab” and Driverless Cars
The self-driving car has had a special place in movies over the years, from the loveable yet lethal autonomous Kitt in KnightRider, to the terrifying Johnny-Cab in Total Recall.
The premise is usually the same – the car is able to reach a destination without any effort from the passenger. It drives autonomously, avoids obstacles, and is able to navigate through heavy traffic.
Has it happened? Surprisingly, yes. Using a vast array of sensors, The Google Self-Driving cars are now road-legal in a number of US states, and have racked up thousands of hours of driving on real streets. They’re even safer than human drivers – only one accident has ever been recorded for them, and that was while they were under the control of the human operator. Though certainly not the only company to be working on prototypes, Google hopes to have commercial versions available within 3-5 years. In fact, the only hurdle looks to be legal and human considerations rather than technological – how will insurance be handled? Who would take the legal responsibility in an accident? Do people even WANT self-driving cars? Flying/Hover cars however – those remain quite elusive, and likely will for a very long time.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
These were the words of Ken Olson, president of DEC – a maker of huge mainframe computing machines – when commenting on the market for home PCs in 1977.
Has it happened? In 2002 – the billionth personal computer was sold. DEC however, was no longer trading – having been acquired by personal computer maker Compaq, and later merged into Hewlett Packard. Oh, the irony. Of course, Ken wasn’t the only CEO of a large tech corporation to ever speak nonsense; Thomas Watson of IBM is purported to have said in 1943 – “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Only off by a few billion then – but in fairness, he was talking about computers at a time when that meant “vacuum-powered adding machine that’s as big as a house”.
In the 1962 book – 1975: And the Changes to Come, Arnold B. Barach envisioned what life was going to be like once “computing machines” were commonplace. One particular prediction he made was in the area of computerized learned – children would sit with multiple choice tests, a correct button push moving on the question while an incorrect answer would bring up review materials. At the end of the test, the students score could be printed and given to the teacher.
Image Credit: Derrick Bostrom – Flickr
Has it happened? Although this obviously didn’t exist by 1975, the iPad is now commonplace in many classrooms for both digital textbooks and testing apps. Internet learning has become a very real thing too – just last year I successfully completed the very first online gamification course run by Coursera – along with a few thousand other participants from around the globe! It consisted of pre-recorded video lectures, multiple choice quizzes and written assignments. Personally, I would argue that the only thing we even need to attend school for now is developing social skills; in terms of pure learning, you can do it all now from the comfort of … well, anywhere with Wifi.
“Television will die after 6 months”
Said by none other than Darryl Zanuck, an executive at 20th Century Fox in 1946 – now one of the biggest television and movie production companies around:
“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
Has it happened? Far from it, television is now one of the biggest threats to society, with the average American watching more than 4 hours of TV a day – or 9 years of their life in total – leading to increased risks from a range of diseases and rampant obesity. And sitting down at a desk job using a computer is no better for you either, though you won’t be subjected to quite as much advertising for horrendous fast food products (I say tentatively, hoping our ad server hasn’t picked up on that keyword and is fact now showing you ads for Burger King in the sidebar. I joke, of course – it knows you don’t like fast food and is showing you ads for insurance companies instead).
The Travelling Salesman
Arnold did in fact make some surprisingly accurate predictions in 1962 when it came to the travelling salesman – who would soon have a portable device capable of displaying color presentations to clients!
Image Credit: Derrick Bostrom – Flickr
Has it happened? In 1975 the IBM5100 was released, the first commercially viable “laptop”, for around $8000. Though not color and hardly capable of vibrant presentations, it was the forerunner of today’s notebook computers.
Moving closer to the modern day, Minority Report (2002) will soon be looking positively dated in it’s portrayal of future tech – gesture interfaces are now commonplace in gaming at least, and dynamic advertising that recognizes who you are is very much alive on the internet.
I’m going to leave you with this video, “The Future of Earth, by Hollywood”, a stunning mashup of some of the more ridiculous movie scenes Hollywood has predicted for the future. It remains to be be seen if these will come true – but what do you think? Is the future bright and shiny with a plethora of gadgets, or has our boundless destruction of the natural world already decided the fate of mankind forevermore?