Web Culture

The Future Is Here: 5 Predictions From The Past – Did These Come True?

James Bruce 12-04-2013

past predictionsWe’ve come a long way since those first baby steps were taken in computing A Brief History of Computers That Changed the World You can spend years delving into the history of the computer. There are tons of inventions, tons of books about them – and that’s before you start getting into the finger-pointing that inevitably occurs when... Read More , 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”.


Computerized Learning

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.

past predictions


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.

past predictions about the future

“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.”


past predictions about the future

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!


past predictions

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?

Image Credit: x-ray delta one via Compfight cc

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Bumferry
    April 23, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    I liked the video at the end, but not to make myself look like too much of a geek, but that brief glimpse of R2-D2 at the end happened A LONG TIME AGO in a galaxy far far away, so is in fact the past and not the future.
    Man, I hate myself for having to write..... *Goes and sits in a dark corner*

  2. Dave Parrack
    April 14, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Excellent read. I hope someone is keeping tabs on what predictions are being made now for the future. I suspect the hit rate will be similar.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      April 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      Old sci-fi story, anyone?

  3. Victor Ong
    April 14, 2013 at 3:33 am

    Actually, computerized learning is not limited to the iPad, but there are some schools which are totally online.

  4. Austin
    April 14, 2013 at 1:31 am

    For what its worth, the IBM 5100 cost anywhere from $11,000 to $20,000 in the 70s. It was far beyond anyone's price range, unless you were the Carlos Slim of that time.

  5. Scott M
    April 13, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I love these past future predictions.I read them in Popular Science and its fascinating to compare actualities. I'm still waiting for my flying car.

  6. null
    April 13, 2013 at 2:47 am

    What a good read, thankfully the tech stuff seems to be attained or exceeded, perhaps out only hope as the politicians and bankers don't seem to be able to organise a p*ssup in a brewery

  7. Zhong J
    April 12, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    The future I guess would be that everything will be computer-related and technological advancements. Such as the ease of handling equipment that's powered with Artificial Intelligence and digitalized information will be available everywhere. However as we deal more with processors and circuits, growing into a conglomerate where security will become a problem.