July 4, 2004 – If we were to believe science fiction predictions, by today’s date the following would have already come to pass…
- The Jupiter 2 would be lost in space with a family named Robinson, a madman named Smith, and a robot named, well, Robot.
- From the television series Lost in Space, broadcast from 1965-1968. According to the first episode, the Jupiter 2 lifted off October 16, 1997, bound for Alpha Centauri.
- The Eugenics Wars would have already taken place, and Khan Noonien Sing and his band of super humans would already be consigned to imprisonment aboard a DY-100 Sleeper Ship.
- From the television series, Star Trek, episode “Space Seed”, first broadcast February 16, 1967. According to Spock’s research, Kahn rose to power in 1992, and in 1993 a group of eugenically bred “super” humans simultaneously seize power in some forty of the earthï¿½s nations. By 1996, the Eugenics Wars were over, and Kahn and his followers banished.
- The space probe Nomad, created by Jackson Roykirk, has been on its journey for two years.
- From Star Trek episode “The Changeling”, Nomad was launched in 2002. Airdate September 27, 1967.
- The Discovery has made its ill-fated journey to Jupiter with a sentient computer named HAL.
- From the motion picture 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968. The movie contained numerous technological references which did not come to past in the time predicted, including routine commercial space traffic and a permanent manned lunar base.
- Extra terrestrials are discovered through a series of encounters. After establishing communication through Kodaly hand signals and corresponding tones, contact is made at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.
- From the motion picture Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released in 1977. Dates are conjectural, based on automobile models and clothing styles.
- A 50-foot wall has been erected around Manhattan, and the island has been declared a federal prison. The President of the United States has crash-landed in Manhattan, and has been held hostage.
- From the motion picture Escape from New York, released in 1981. According to the opening monologue, in 1988 Manhattan is declared a maximum security prison, and in 1997, the setting for the movie, the president’s plane crashes. Eerily enough, the plane crash sequence shows Air Force One headed for the twin towers before diverting at the last minute.
- The moon has been blasted out of its orbit by a nuclear catastrophe, and the inhabitants of the permanent colony on the moon are now hurtling through space.
- From the television series Space 1999, broadcast from 1975 to 1978. According to the first episode, nuclear waste on the moonï¿½s surface detonated on September 16, 1999, sending the 311 moon base inhabitants hurtling through space, apparently at light speeds.
- The major cities of the world, including Washington DC, Los Angeles, and New York, have been decimated by huge hovering spacecraft 15 miles in diameter. Said spaceships have been destroyed by a computer virus.
- From the motion picture Independence Day, released in 1996. Dates are inferred from visual references in the film, notably, the presence of the World Trade Center Towers. References are also made to the “Gulf War” with no subsequent reference to the Iraq War.
- Two massive, little understood interstellar transport devices have been constructed at Cape Canaveral and Hokaido Island, Japan at a cost of $3 billion each. The Cape Canaveral device has been destroyed by religious zealots.
- From the motion picture Contact, released in 1997. The movie clearly shows Bill Clinton as president, indicating that it must have taken place prior to 2000.
- Two supercomputers, Colossus in the US, and Guardian in Russia, merge to form a sentient computer that takes over the world via control of nuclear arms.
- From the motion picture Colossus: the Forbin Project, released in 1970. Dates are inferred from clothing and automobile styles.
- The computer network Skynet also launches a pre-emptive strike against humans, allowing machines to take over the planet.
- From the motion picture The Terminator, released in 1984. According to the movie, Skynet, built by the worldï¿½s preeminent computer company Cyberdyne, went online August 4, 1997 and became self-aware August 29, 1997.
- A plague has wiped out all dogs and cats. Humans start using chimpanzees and other apes as pets, then as slaves.
- From the motion picture Escape from the Planet of the Apes, released in 1971. According to the movie, Cornelius gives the dates of the pet plague.
- Microsurgery is possible by miniaturizing the surgeons and sending them into the body in tiny submarines.
- From the motion picture Fantastic Voyage, released in 1966. According to the movie, the action takes place in the late 20th century.
- …and finally, Big Brother is watching you read this.
The year 2000 seemed so far away. Writers could predict the most fantastic things for the “late 20th Century” and get away with it. In the real world, programmers could disregard basic mathematic concepts and send the world into a minor panic with the Y2K “bug”. We’re now four years past that and sentient computers and robots, permanent lunar and space colonies, interstellar travel, as well as apocalyptic visions are just a small part of the canon of science fiction that has not come to pass. Thatï¿½s probably a good thing.
There is now a touring exhibit entitled “Yesterday’s Tomorrows,” sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute and based on the book by the same title by Joseph Corn, Brian Horrigan, and Katherine Chambers. The book and exhibit take a look at predictions for the future made by science fiction writers and by magazines such as Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. The World’s Fairs also contributed to these predictions, especially the 1939 New York World’s Fair, with it’s exhibit entitled “Futurama“, by General Motors. Two other websites that highlight these predictions are RetroFuture, and Tales of Future Past.
I’m always fascinated with a science fiction movie or book gives a specific date for a setting or a prediction. They do this to lend authenticity to the story, but it often comes back to haunt them. Some seem amazingly prescient, such as the striking similarity between clamshell phones and Star Trek’s communicators. I had thought about creating a website specifically to track these events as the appropriate date passes, but, being the essentially lazy person I am, it seemed like too much work. I had thought someone else might have already done this, but, oddly enough, I couldn’t find much on the web along these lines. I did find a some material on alternative timelines, specifically This Day in Alternative History.
Of course, some of the most amusing predictions are those made by business leaders, especially those that have been proven wildly inaccurate. The list below is a collection that has been making the e-mail rounds for a number of years now. Some of these, such as the FedEx story and the Bill Gates quotes, have been found to be apocryphal by Snopes, but I’ll still include them. A more extensive list can be found at Future History, collected by David Carey.
- “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
- “Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons.” — Popular Mechanics, 1949
- “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.
- “But what…is it good for?” — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
- “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.
- “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” — Attributed to Bill Gates, 1981, but believed to be an urban legend.
- “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” — Western Union internal memo, 1876.
- “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” — David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
- “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.” — Lee DeForest, inventor.
- “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.” — A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
- “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” — H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
- “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” — Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With the Wind.”
- “A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.” — Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies.
- “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” — Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
- “Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” — William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899.
- “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.'” — Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.
- “If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.” — Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M “Post-It” Notepads.
- “It will be years — not in my time — before a woman will become Prime Minister.” — Margaret Thatcher, 1974.
- “I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone.” — Charles Darwin, The Origin Of Species, 1869.
- “With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.” — Business Week, August 2, 1968.
- “That Professor Goddard with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react–to say that would be absurd. Of course, he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” — 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work. The remark was retracted in the July 17, 1969 issue.
- “You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training.” — Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the “unsolvable” problem by inventing Nautilus.
- “Ours has been the first, and doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality.” — Lt. Joseph Ives, after visiting the Grand Canyon in 1861.
- “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” — Workers whom Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.
- “Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” — Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.
- “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” — Albert Einstein, 1932.
- “The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.” — Admiral William Leahy, U.S. Atomic Bomb Project.
- “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” — Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
- “There will never be a bigger plane built.” — A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane that holds ten people.
- “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” — Attributed to Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899, but known to be an urban legend.
- “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” — Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872.
- “The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.” — Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.
“It was a real monkey-touch-the-monolith moment.”
– Alton Brown