Many of us have read 1984 by George Orwell. This author was very concerned, in real life, about the dangers of totalitarian governments and the control that they might have, given the new technologies that seemed to be on the horizon. The U.S. had dropped two atomic bombs; the Communists were in control of the Soviet Union; the world seemed a dangerous place. If technological advances continued, Orwell feared, individuals could lose all of their freedoms under the “watchful eye” of “Big Brother.”
While we have not reached the society that Orwell predicted in 1949, many of his technological predictions have come true – surveillance cameras on every corner and in retail establishments, huge outdoor screens that project videos via satellite, and the ability for remote computers to connect to cameras inside a home to keep watch on a nanny.
Many others throughout history have made predictions, which have become reality – authors, scientists, etc. Here are some of the most interesting.
Back in the 17th century, a rather eclectic Robert Boyle, chemist, philosopher, physicist, and inventor predicted that science would eventually find cures for the prominent diseases of the times, and even conjectured that some would be cured by organ transplants.
Ray Kurzweil is truly a modern “Renaissance man.” He is an author, a scientist, inventor and current Director of Engineering at Google. One of his other talents, it appears, is being able to accurately predict not only what will happen but also approximately when it will happen.
Here are just some of his inventions:
- CCD flatbed scanner
- Optical character recognition
- Print-to-speech reading machine for the visually-impaired
- Music synthesizer that could beautifully imitate most instruments
- 5 best-selling novels
But here are his predictions that came to fruition:
- In one of his novels he accurately predicted not just the fall of the Soviet Union but the year of that fall
- He predicted that a computer would eventually beat chess champions
- He predicted wireless Internet to be the most common form of Internet access by the turn of the century
- He also accurately predicted nanotechnology, face recognition software, and e-books.
Bellamy is best known for his novels, the most famous of which was Looking Backwards, a science fiction novel that was so popular the publisher could keep enough of them in print to meet the demand. One of the foremost things that came from that novel was the idea of “universal credit” – the idea being that everyone would carry a card that they would use for spending for all goods and services, not using paper money at all. And this was in 1888.
In 1903 Wells published a short story in Strand Magazine, titled “The Land Ironclads.” He took the technology behind metal-clad ships of war and “built” a land war machine, using that same technology. In his story, these “land ironclads” sat on 8 pairs of wheels, which a huge gun on the front, and a “cabin” on the top that allowed the officer in charge to survey the surrounding landscape. In this story, 14 of these machines defeated a full army. Tanks were not constructed until several years later and were first used in 1916. Perhaps a cunning inventor had read the story.
October 21, 1915 – that was the date on which Marty McFly and Doc Brown landed in Back to the Future, Part II. Of course they were introduced to some pretty amazing gadgets, including drones that would take old Fido for a walk. For a more complete list of predictions that were right and wrong, check out this recent post.
Philco was one of the first electronic companies in America, opening its door in 1892. Eventually, it settled into making radios. Ford bought the company in 1961. In 1967, Philco was 75 years old and so Ford held a bit of a birthday party. The party included a 2-minute film clip titled “Year 1999 A.D.” Some of the things predicted were online bill pay and shopping, consumer-friendly printers, and email, which was called “instant written communication” in the film. This film was “resurrected in 2000, and most people thought it was a hoax. Its authenticity was confirmed, however.
Apple has sued Samsung over its Galaxy Tablet – a suit that will take years of litigation. Essentially, Apple is charging copyright infringement. In its defense, Samsung is using the movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey” as its defense. Why? Because in that movie there was a little device called the “Newspad.” This was probably a collaborative invention by author Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick who both worked on completing the novel and then writing the screenplay. In the movie, two astronauts are reading the news on a rectangular screened object, and tapping it would bring up different news items from Earth. Kind of makes you wonder if Steve Jobs was a fan of that movie.
Alexis de Tocqueville was a French philosopher and non-fiction author. In 1840, he published a book, Democracy in America, in which he spoke about two great powers, Russia and Anglo-America rising to great power and a competing with one another, even threatening war. According to Tocqueville, half of the world would see its destiny controlled by what these two super-powers did. Pretty spot-on!
Given that the largest passenger liner of its time hit an iceberg and sank, a large crop of superstition has unfolded – stories of people who dreamed that it would sink, stories of psychics who at the time claimed they had predicted it, and any number of ghostly tales related to those who died during that horrible tragedy. But one prediction of this event cannot be ignored because it was actually in print before the liner sank.
Morgan Robertson was the son of a ship captain who, in later years, claimed that he had invented the periscope. No one knows for sure if he did, but that is not the reason for his fame today. He was also a prolific short story writer of the late 19th century, and one of his published novellas was “Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan.” The plot details the events of the larges ocean liner ever built hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sinking. The Titanic sank 14 years later.
Hugo Gernsback was a bit of a sci-fi nut. He wasn’t so initially, but once he began to publish scientific magazines in the U.S., his interests did turn to science fiction. He published lots of science fiction in a couple of magazines dedicated to that genre (he published the first science fiction magazine in the country). One series of science fiction stories was Ralph 124c 41+, and in this series there was a “telephot,” a device that allowed people to see one another as they spoke across distances. This series was published in 1911.
Gernsback made other predictions too. In 1927, he published his predictions for 20 years hence, among them being that we would have wireless poser and that people would be watching baseball games He stated that people would be watching baseballs games on their own televisions. (Television was in its infancy at the time but not as a consumer product.)
Jules Verne, best known for his classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, also wrote such best sellers as Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Mysterious Island. One of these was titled, “From the Earth to the Moon.” In it he chronicled man’s premier trip to the moon. Eerily, he had the spaceship take off from Florida, a spaceship he named “Apollo.” He had the correct number of astronauts, and, in 1865, when the story was published, he also included something that could not have been known at the time – weightlessness in space.
Nikola Tesla, electrical engineer and credited with designing alternate current electricity delivery systems, was considered a scientific genius of his time. During an interview with the New York Times in 1909, he predicted that one day people would have personal wireless communication devices. He pretty much got that right.
In 1988, the Internet was barely a thought – well, a little more than a thought. People were really working hard on it, but the “world-wide web” did not make its debut until 1990. Isaac Asimov at the time was a science fiction writer, and, although most people don’t know this, a professor of biochemistry. He was interviewed by nationally known news commentator Bill Moyers in 1988, and, during that interview predicted that computers would eventually have what he called “connected libraries” – giving teachers and students the ability to locate information through their computers – access to “the gathered knowledge of the human species,” he said. He believed that this would be the answer to a terrible education system that forced all kids to learn the same thing at the same time and in the same amount of time. Unfortunately, he died in 1992 before he could see his prediction in action.
Roger Ebert was a movie critic - at least that was what most of us know him for. But he was also a journalist, author, and screenwriter. But he dearly loved the movies and kept current with all of the new technology that improved production and viewing. In 1987, in an interview, he predicted that we would one day have large televisions in our homes and, with the push of a few buttons, we would be able to order for viewing any movie we wished. He lived long enough to see his prediction come true, dying of cancer in 2013.