Happy 2020 to you all! Have you stopped writing 2019 on checks (if you still write those) and other documents? It always takes me a while to catch up with the new year.
As we start 2020, it’s been interesting to me to read and listen to stories about the past decade as well as predictions about the future.
Over the New Year’s holiday, I watched a couple of science fiction movies from the 1950s about astronauts being thrust into the “distant future” of the 2020s. More often than not, some apocalypse had occurred, altering the development of society. Usually a nuclear war, which was on the top of many minds in the 1950s.
I read an interesting story in USA Today that examined 20 predictions about the future made as long ago as 1968. As you can imagine, some are outrageous, other come close to the mark.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted in 1999 that life expectancy would rise to over 100 by 2019.
“Computerized health monitors built into watches, jewelry, and clothing which diagnose both acute and chronic health conditions are widely used. In addition to diagnosis, these monitors provide a range of remedial recommendations and interventions,” he wrote in “The Age of Spiritual Machines.”
Close, but no cigar. In 2019, the average life expectancy of the global population was 72.6 years, according to the United Nations. That average is slightly higher in the USA, at 78.6 years in 2017, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Kurzweil also predicted “invisible” computers. “Computers are now largely invisible. They are embedded everywhere – in walls, tables, chairs, desks, clothing, jewelry and bodies. People routinely use three-dimensional displays built into their glasses or contact lenses. ... This display technology projects images directly into the human retina,” he wrote.
Very close. We have “smart” homes, smart tables, smart chairs and speakers.
Kurzweil predicted that privacy would be a huge political and social issue and that “each individual’s practically every move (will be) stored in a database somewhere.”
Depending on who you believe, he was right. Those same smart appliances are listening to you all the time. The article’s author says “your web browser traces your digital trail. In an era when some populations worldwide live under 24/7 high-tech surveillance, most U.S. adults say they do not think it is possible to go through daily life without having data collected about them by companies or the government, according to a survey of U.S. adults by Pew Research Center.”
Kurzweil predicted self driving cars, predicting they would be implemented on major highways “during the first decade of the twenty-first century.”
While they remain a hot topic and are being experimented with now, experts say we may be decades away from a car that can drive anywhere it pleases.
And finally, a personal favorite of mine: flying. In 1968, mathematician and scientist D.G. Brennan predicted that antigravity belts would “revolutionize the tactics of land warfare,” writing that “even if the antigravity mechanism did not itself provide horizontal propulsion, relatively modest sources of thrust could easily be provided.” He suspected that by 2018, humans would have antigravity cars and jetpacks capable of operating for 30 minutes.
Alas, this has not come to pass, unless you are the title character in the Disney+ show “The Mandalorian.”
I’m still hoping I will get to ride in a flying car before I die…