As everyone knows from the perspective of humans, time only moves in one direction and it’s incredibly hard to predict the future. But over the years there’s been a select few who have managed to do this and some managed to predict up to a hundred years in the future with chilling accuracy.
Our first visionary needs no introduction, it’s Nikola Tesla, a Serbian American inventor electrical engineer, mechanical engineer and futurist who was instrumental in the development of AC power motors, wireless communication and too much to mention without bogging. He stated the following-
“As early as 1898, I proposed to representatives of a large manufacturing concern the construction and public exhibition of an automobile carriage which left to itself would perform a great variety of operations involving something akin to judgment”
This description does sound something like a self-driving car when they’re navigating a road they do have to make split-second decisions and how to proceed which very well could be likened to a form of judgment. In 1926, Tesla also described wireless devices that would incorporate video and telephone technology and work over a network very much like the Internet quote when wireless is perfectly applied to the whole earth we shall be able to communicate with one another instantly irrespective of distance.
Not only this but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face despite distances of thousands of miles and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared to our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket in the quote. This sounds a lot like video calling and smartphone communication, of course, a hundred years ago a simple long-distance calling didn’t even exist. Tesla once again proved to be far ahead of his time but he wasn’t the only one a lesser-known man by the name of John Watkins also made some startling predictions.
In 1907, civil engineer John Watkins wrote a piece titled “What may happen in the next hundred years” Within the article Watkins made lots of predictions for the next century and some ended up being amazingly accurate. Man will see around the world persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras, connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of the circuits thousands of miles at a span. This really could be likened to the internet and video sharing, ready-cooked meals will be bought from an establishment similar to our bakeries today.
In 1900, bakeries and butchers were some of the most common ways to get your food there’s no such thing as keeping it for a long time. Freeze-dried and packaged foods didn’t exist and neither did electric refrigerators. And one last one, wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her bedroom in Chicago. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we can now talk from New York to Brooklyn. So surprisingly, what concept’ the same thinking as Tesla here. Unfortunately, he would die in 1983 before he saw a single one of his visions come to fruition. Unlike any of the other people in this episode the next visionary actually inspired true inventions that affected all of our lives.
American inventor and engineer Vannevar Bush designed influential analog computers during the 1920s and 30s. In 1922 he was one of the founders of the Raytheon Company. By the early 1940s, he was the most influential scientist in America directing thousands of researchers and military generals only answering to the President himself. He was even in charge of the atomic bomb. After the war, he wanted to turn all of the scientific efforts from destruction to peace. In this, he could force the academic knowledge to be lost as time went on. With 1940s technology there was simply no way to collect organize and access at all his solution was nothing short of prophetic.
In a 1945 article entitled “As We May Think” published in the Atlantic Monthly. Bush proposed a device that he called a mimics., mimics being short for memory extension. This device could store and connect information and thus work as an artificial aid to memory. He came to the conclusion that current systems of organizing information by alphabetical order would be inadequate, a new system was needed, a system that was more flexible and should also work like the human brain. It would be a loose web of information connected by links between them quote wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them ready to be dropped into the Mimics and they’re amplified.
Bush went on to describe the ability to retrieve several articles or pictures on a screen. He believed that people would create links between related articles each user saving it others to experience. In other words, people would create what we’d call websites today where you can click on links and it takes you from one page to another. The mimics machine itself is what we’d call a desktop computer. There was much more in these writings like the sheer impact and the influence of Bush’s writings. These writings directly inspired some of the co-creators of the internet in the 1960s. It also inspired the Mouse, the Xerox Alto desktop computer in the 70s that inspired Steve Jobs, it also inspired the graphical user interface and not to mention hyperlinks, the very backbone of the web. It truly had all the core ideas of the modern Information Age all the way back in 1945. If there was a visionary to fame ratio bushes would be sky-high. He was one of the most influential people ever to have lived but hardly anyone knows his name.
In the art of predicting the future, there were also some companies that tried their hands. Philco was an early pioneer in electronics and were known for their radios. In 1967 for their 75th anniversary they produced a short film speculating on life in the distant future the film’s title “The Year 1999 AD”. It’s interesting to see the 1960s conceptions of online shopping and paying bills, electronic funds and transfers and even communication between individuals anywhere in the world and there are even some smart home elements in there too.
Our next prediction has a strange twist. Flamed science fiction author Arthur C Clarke teamed up with Stanley Kubrick to make the film adaptation of the novel 2001, “A Space Odyssey”. In the 1968 film, two astronauts can be seen reading a newspaper on something that looks a little something like an i-pad. The description of the device is an especially amusing quote when he had tired of official reports he would plug his news pad into the ship’s information circuit and scanned the latest reports from the earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers that she could read with comfort. When he finished he could flashback to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination. One could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the new satellites. It kind of sounds like someone reading Twitter on an iPad. Now here is the twist this description was so astonishingly accurate that Samsung used it to legally defend its Galaxy Tablet when Apple sued for patent infringement.
Isaac Asimov was one of the world’s most prolific science fiction writers who have written or edited 500 books over his four decades career. The Russian born writer was famous for books such as I,Robot. Naturally, his work contained many predictions about the future of science and technology. After visiting the World’s Fair in 1964, he predicted the rise of cars with robot brains quote much effort will be put into designing vehicles with robot brains, vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without any interference by the slow reflexes of the human driver.
More than 50 years later companies like Waymo, Tesla and others are testing self-driving cars. Some of his other predictions from 1983 include quote a mobile computerized object that will penetrate the home and the increasing complexity of society will make it impossible to live without this technology. I think that last point is especially insightful. Many people today think that society is indeed too complex to get by without it. He goes on to predict that computers will disrupt work habits and replace old jobs with ones that are radically different. This happened heavily from the1980s to the end of the 20th century.
During a 1988 interview, Isaac envisions the education of the future, he stays that three computers we’d have access to connected libraries which would act as a teacher in the form of access to the gathered knowledge of the human species “Once we have outlets computer outlets in every home each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and being given answers, being given reference material, being something you’re interested in knowing from an early age however silly it might seem to someone else with your interesting and you ask and you can find out and you can follow it up and you can do it in your own home in your at drone speed zero direction and your own time, then everyone will enjoy learning”. Still, Asimov was wrong or at least slightly wrong on one thing though. He predicted that technology would revolutionize education and this is arguably correct but he did go on to say that traditional schooling would become outdated as kids would be able to learn everything they needed to know from computers at home. That might be technically possible but it also assumes that kids will spend all of their time using this technology to watch pointless videos or play PUBG.
Raymond Kurzweil in 1963 at the age of 15 wrote his first computer program. It was pattern recognition software that analyzes the works of classical composers and then synthesized its own songs in a similar style, admirable even today but absolutely unheard of in the 1960s. His inventions are numerous- text reading software, speech recognition devices and five of his novels have been bestsellers. He is currently the director of engineering at Google. In all of this, he’s made dozens of predictions over the decades with a pretty good track record.
In the 80s, Kurzweil extrapolated improvements in computer software performance to predict that computers would beat a human chess player by the year 2000. In 1997 chess world champion Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM’s deep blue computer in a well-publicized chess match. During the late 80s, he predicted that the wireless internet will become practical for mainstream use in the early 21st century.
In one of his books in 1999 he predicted e-books, face recognition software and nanotechnology and these are just a handful of examples. An evaluation in 2012 determined that Kurzweil’s predictions have been correct an astonishing 86% of the time. Interestingly in 2008, he told an expert engineering panel that solar power will scale up to produce all of the earth’s energy needs in 20 years. According to him, we only need to capture one tenth-thousandth of the energy from the Sun that reaches the Earth’s surface and that apparently should supply all of our needs, we’ll be waiting for this one. He did get some things wrong there., Ray Kurzweil thought that the economy would continue to boom from the 1998 Dot-Com Frenzy all the way through to 2009. He didn’t see the dot-com crash coming evidently. He also stated that by 2009, the majority of text would be created using continuous speech recognition, this is clearly not the case but 86 percent success rate isn’t too bad.
So with that, it brings us to the end of the visionaries who correctly saw the future. It seems that to some of the greatest minds there were some common threads, self-driving cars and all-in-one pocketable communication devices and worldwide instant communication., it’s almost like these things are inevitable. It’s very interesting to think about. I’m sure a few of you out there would be thinking so what all of these predictions were easy, well in hindsight definitely but not so fast. In 1899, Charles Duell, the Commissioner of the United States Patent Office famously said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented”. So it really takes some insight to get this right.