Journal: News & Comment

Wednesday, October 11, 2006
# 2:25:00 PM:

The miracles of the year 2000

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Back in 1950, Modern Mechanix magazine took on the risky task of predicting what life in the year 2000 would be like.

Lots of stuff turned out really wrong of course (more widely distributed rather than concentrated population, lots of atomic and solar power and lighting—"A good deal of thorium is used because uranium 235 is scarce"—food made from sawdust, cleaning your house with a hose, personal helicopters) but some predictions aren't that bad (houses built to last for shorter periods, affordable jet travel for the masses, and microwave ovens—but "Cooking as an art is only a memory in the minds of old people?"). And eBay or Amazon is pretty close to "shopping by videophone."

The medical stuff is actually pretty interesting and not badly off the mark, given that in 1950 the structure of DNA was still unknown. Most of the changes are largely technological rather than social: all the women still stay home, while the men work—and they're all white. Ironically, the hypothetical personal helicopter factory is called Orwell Helicopter Corporation. (This was just as 1984 was published too.)

"Automatic electronic inventions that seem to have something like intelligence integrate industrial production so that all the machines in a factory work as units in what is actually a single, colossal organism." Interesting, and to a degree true, but they did not foresee that the organism would be not the factory, but the entire global supply chain, automated by data exchange and just-in-time manufacturing. But then, in this vision of the year 2000, "lights [...] flare up on a board whenever a vacuum tube burns out or there is a short circuit."

My favourite bit: noticing incipient storms in the Atlantic, governments were to dispatch airplanes to spray sheets of oil on the ocean and set them on fire (!) to dissipate the gathering hurricane. Yeah, that would be good.

"Nobody has yet circumnavigated the moon in a rocket space ship," the author writes, "but the idea is not laughed down." Here we are, in 2006, chuckling that people went to the moon and back less than 20 years after that article appeared. And it's been nearly 35 years since anyone has been back.


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