These totally amazing minds had it all figured it out way before their time, predicting—sometimes with astounding accuracy—the technological advancements of the coming decades. Not the ladies of the Hartford Woman’s Friday Club, though, who in 1878 decided, “electricity was too uncertain and dangerous to be put to any practical use”. Bit awkward…
Kicking off the list, we have an epic med-tech win, when Robert Boyle made a handwritten list of technology predictions, including organ transplantation! Considering he lived in the time of witches and hocus-pocus, that is either one epic guess or a whole lot of forward thinking.
1888: Debit Cards
Enormously popular in its time, Edward Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward 2000-1887 spoke of a time when citizens would carry a card that allowed them to spend credit from a central bank on goods and services without paper money changing hands. Unfortunately for some, this development eventuated in 1950 with the first Diner’s Club card, making ‘putting it on plastic’ (well, paper, back then) all too easy.
1900: Mobile Phones (and email)
In 1900, John Elfreth Watkins, an American civil engineer compiled a list of predictions in an article entitled, What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years. Whilst he was wrong about the extinction of mosquitos and cockroaches, he was quite correct in saying, “wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world”. This was 15 years before Alexander Bell even managed to call one side of the US from the other.
Next we have Nikola Tesla totally nailing it by predicting personal wireless devices. ‘It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages all over the world so simply that any individual can own and operate his own apparatus,’ Nikola Tesla told The New York Times in 1909.
Modern Electrics magazine published a story in 1911, in which author Hugo Gernsback described a ‘telephot’ device allowing people to make eye contact whilst speaking over long distances.
1929: Everyday Air Travel
In 1929, female fiction author, Josephine Daskam Bacon, wrote an article called In Nineteen Seventy-Nine for a feature in Century Magazine. She predicted a woman would “fly to her job in a plane we cannot well doubt”. Well, sometimes she does. Perhaps not in the Judy Jetson way she had imagined, but still…
For 1953, Ray Bradbury’s description of “little seashells…thimble radios” that delivered an “electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk” is incredibly accurate of earbuds. These tiny audio gizmos didn’t actually come into mainstream until the 2000s when Apple sold them with the iPod and made colourful TV ads featuring them.
In more recent years, Roger Ebert told Omni Magazine we could expect the birth of Netflix. ‘We will have high-definition, wide-screen television sets and a push-button dialling system to order the movie you want at the time you want it’. Visionary.
1987: Siri, the iPad and the Cloud
Back in 1987, then Apple CEO John Sculley wrote about a concept called the Knowledge Navigator, where a touchscreen device would feature a digital assistant you could interact with. This Knowledge Navigator would pull down data from a massive network and allow video calls. If this isn’t awesome enough, a very dated video of the device concept shows the date as September 16, 2011 – only eighteen days off from when Siri was actually first launched. Just, woah, Apple.
So now it’s time for my top five future technology predictions…
1. I think humans will invent a way to extract and visualise thoughts. So I could think of someone’s face and an image of what I’m seeing would appear on a screen. This would be useful to abolish communication barriers (for example we could ‘see’ the thoughts of infants, people in comas, perhaps even animals), extract the truth from people and assist witnesses in retelling their account of events, re-playing and interpreting dreams, and of course would be somehow applied to a newer, more intense version of sexting.
2. I predict speech-to-text technology will evolve to a point where we will rarely need to type or write. The technology isn’t strong in its current form but give it time…
3. I foresee humans being fitted with a centralised chip. Some sort of chip in which all their personal, financial, medical and other information will be stored. Everything will be centralised here. For example, cash will be long gone and even cards will be abolished – we’d all have a version of PayPass in our wrists or something. With a scan of this chip, the authorities could know almost everything about you, so identity fraud would hopefully reduce, lest people’s hands go missing…
4. I believe we’ll all have The Feed. (If you’ve also read The Feed, you’ll likely agree). Our brains will be wired with ‘a feed’ including the internet, text chat with friends, email, apps – almost everything we currently have on our smartphone. We’d kind of just… see it. In The Feed, advertisers have access to your searches, and advertise to you accordingly. Warning: if this does eventuate, don’t piss off the advertisers!
5. I’m looking forward to an evolution in medical technology, I think we’ll have a filter that allows humans to swap blood directly. This filter device will somehow alter the blood, making it safe for people of all blood types. So we’d all be universal donors, not just the O-negatives, and nobody would need to die of blood loss if there were other people near them.