Predictions From Forty Years Ago

40 years ago, the magazine "Mechanix Illustrated" made some thoughtful and detailed predictions about life and technology in 2008.

Here is a general report-card of the guesses.


  A: ********
  B: ****************
  C: *************
  D: *****
  F: **

The predictor did fairly well, roughly a B-. (I invite a recount. I didn't count very carefully)

It seems most future predictions over-estimate anything related to transportation and AI, but underestimate electronics miniaturization. This is kind of a contradiction because fast and cheap computers should have helped AI further along it may initially appear. But true general AI has simply proved a difficult problem to tackle (except in controlled specialties, such as chess).

They also underestimate tech convergence especially with media. The video camera, radio, phone, tv, movie theater, newspaper, magazines, are all mostly collapsed into the computer. Which is itself collapsing to a hand-held unit. See DisappearingComputer.

Even our mechanical machines are turning mostly into computers with sensors and servos, and are far less "mechanical". I expect future office printers to be mostly robotic fingers to move the paper. There's less jamming if there are fewer single-purpose rollers and gears. The robot approach would allow it to adjust to bent paper, etc.
From 1959:

[Rats, Dead link. They possibly did a page re-org and it's still in there somewhere.]

(The return-to-port Roomba costs about $100 extra.)

More details:


"Mechanical Maid - cleans floor at push of a button, returns to niche, readies itself for next job." [Image of a rectangular-looking Roomba cousin, about the same size too.]

"A memory storage plate smaller and thinner than a postage stamp—a shoe-box full of them will store and produce any one of a million facts in seconds."

"To speed up the working of electronic computers which assist in such discoveries, the RCA lab recently devised a memory storage plate smaller and thinner than a four-cent postage stamp. It has 256 tiny holes in it and can keep a million facts on file and produce them in any combination or alone in milli-seconds." [I wonder what that was. Sounds like magnetic storage.]

And shown is a desk with a screen with knobs that could be interpreted as a PC, kind of looking like the Osborne 1 microcomputer from the early 80's.

Isaac Asimov making predictions in 1964:

He talks of semi-flying cars, which sounds like a cop-out to me, and Internet-like technologies. Some predictions are esoteric, like glowing walls, and kitchen appliances powered by nuclear waste products. He meanders off into the problems of population growth, which are generally forecast beyond the 2014 target prediction date that he originally set such that it's too early to check the match. (His target date seems like a "soft" target to give him room to jump around in time.) Population growth is a problem currently, but not a disaster so far. He talks about automation replacing routine jobs and the struggle to define "work", which indeed seems to be a current problem in that new industries and professions are NOT popping up to replace automated ones in sufficient quantities like they used to in the past. (Offshoring is part of this.)

My favorite quote: "Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence."

Spot-on! (Roomba's are really not selling that well. The battery issue is annoying.)

Generally the increased automation we see is not of the Rosey the Robot (Jetsons) style, but embedded and back-end automation and semi-AI that incrementally improves. Automation and AI are sneaking in the back door such that they are not so visible to the everybody person in the way most futurists predicted, even though they seem to be having some of the impacts they predicted, such as joblessness.

Many predicted more free time due to automation, but generally it's heavily bifurcated such that those with a job have to work their ass off to keep it, making them too busy or tired for leisure, while those without jobs don't have money to take advantage of leisure time, other than TV and video games. Thus, "leisure time" is poorly balanced.

See also EmotionalEngineering? QuietChange
CategoryFuture, CategoryHistory

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