Looking at retrofuture predictions of our modern age, it’s easy to feel a little short-changed. To quote Calvin, of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comics, “Where are the flying cars? Where are the moon colonies? Where are the personal robots and the zero gravity boot, uh? You call this a new decade?! You call this the future?? HA! Where are the rocket packs? Where are the disintegration rays? Where are the floating cities?”
For the most part, Calvin is right. Popular predictions of the “World of Tomorrow” tend to be more wrong than right, and some of the ideas – like nuclear-powered cars – seem downright ridiculous when viewed in a modern light. But for all their incorrect predictions, those early futurists did manage to stumble across a few good ones. Here are six of the more common visions of the future that they managed to get right:
1. Video Phones
Dick Tracy, eat your heart out.
It’s pretty much the biggest, gimmicky staple of science fiction: the video phone. Various companies tried introducing them in the past, but each failed in the face of inadequate infrastructure and lukewarm consumer reception. Now though, with the ubiquity of VOIP, webcams, and camera phones, video telephony has become an easily accessible technology. Today, you can be just about assured that if you wanted to video chat with someone, the both of you could easily and inexpensively do so.Ironically though, now that the technology to video chat does exist, most people would rather use a technology as old as the telegraph – text messaging – in order to keep in touch. That’s something the futurists didn’t see coming.
2. Household Robots and Automated Homes
Capabilities include: vacuuming floors, autonomous navigation around obstacles, and scaring your dog
So we don’t exactly have Rosie from”The Jetsons” and your house doesn’t talk to you when you wake up in the morning, but the old scifi cliche of automated living has also surfaced in its own way. Maybe not everyone locks their doors, tweaks their thermostat, turns on their appliances, and controls their lights with their smartphone, and maybe inventions like the Roomba and Scooba are gimmicky, but even a lot of what we take for granted now would have been the stuff of dreams a century ago. Washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, microwave ovens, and even automatic sprinklers have relieved us of so much of the standard drudgery of the past. As smartphones and WiFi devices become increasingly common too, the concept of a fully-networked home lies not too far off.
3. Giant Robots with Lasers
Not quite the T-1000, but close enough.
Okay, the Curiosity Rover isn’t exactly the walking, 70-ton death machine you imagined, but that hardly diminishes just how significant an accomplishment it is. Forget that it’s just a slow-moving rover with for second, and think of it like this: we sent a car-sized, nuclear-powered robot to another planet to look for signs of life… and shoot them with a laser! That’s pretty much the definition of “futuristic”. All sensationalism aside too, the Curiosity rover is still a massive accomplishment in terms of its importance within the fields of space exploration and robotics.
4. Permanent Human Presence in Space
Pity they won’t ever be able to put it in a museum.
Moon bases and space hotels might be out of the question right now, but that doesn’t mean mankind hasn’t staked its place in the stars. For over 12 years now, the International Space Station has been under permanent occupation. The ISS has been visited by 207 people during that time, including 12 space tourists. What’s more, it is funded through to 2020, meaning that we can expect 20 years of continuous human presence in space. Prior to the ISS receiving its first crew too, Mir had been continuously occupied for over 10 years, with just over a year of separation between the two stations’ operational windows. While all this hardly has the glamor of interplanetary exploration, it is still a strong testament to what humanity has accomplished that we now have a permanent, extraterrestrial presence.
5. Private Enterprise in Space
It even looks like something out of a 1960′s vision of the future.
Forget Weyland-Yutani, the pioneers in private space enterprise are already beginning to emerge: SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, Planetary Resources, etc. Although private spaceflight is still in its infancy, it’s already a booming business and its range of capabilities is rapidly expanding. What started as just satellite delivery to orbit has quickly ballooned to include space tourism, space station construction, orbital resupply, and asteroid mining. What is happening now can hardly even be called a “space race,” instead you might call it a space rush. Just like an old-time gold rush, everyone with the talent, tenacity, and daring to attempt it is rushing to stake their own claim in the space industry.
6. Advanced Prosthetics
This isn’t a render. It’s exactly what it looks like. Just let that blow your mind for a bit.
The Six Million Dollar Man and RoboCop might not be a reality yet, but we’re getting there… fast. Prosthetics have now reached the point where we have to honestly ask whether or not they give some athletes an unfair advantage and even Geordi LaForge’s visor in Star Trek is beginning to sound outdated. Even neural-controlled bionic arms and legs are quickly advancing. Odds are, many children born a couple generations from now will consider wheelchairs an oddity and relic of the past. In 1932, the first antibiotics were introduced, allowing mankind to begin conquering disease. Perhaps just a century later, in 2032, we’ll be conquering the frailty of our own form.
Ultimately, the thing that is most remarkable about all these predictions isn’t that they came true in some form or another, it’s how unimportant they really are in light of other progress. The true highlights of our technological innovation – personal computers, the Internet, and wireless communications – were hardly conceived of in the past, and far overshadow the importance of any number of flying cars and floating cities. If anything is true of what retrofuturists envisioned, it isn’t that they thought too big, it’s that they didn’t think big enough.