Photo courtesy of Wayne Marshall via Flickr.
Forward-looking thinkers, writers, and artists have been predicting and depicting the future throughout history, with results ranging from laughably off-the-mark to eerily accurate.
[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”6Y8gdBwbN5sUwzGo0ziO92iV2kQxEg3G”]Many call this type of past documentation of future visions, “retro-futurism,” with some of the best examples accumulating on the subreddit r/retrofuturism. While many are overly ambitious about technological advancements, others clearly had a more accurate grasp of things to come.
Here are some notable visions of retro-futurism from around the web, and how closely 21st century reality aligns with their visions.
1. Are Apple’s 80s prototypes retro-futurism
Prediction: In the 1980s, Apple’s designers imagined future products, of some of which are recognizable today. Below is the imagined iPad, personal desktop computer, as well as a slick cellular device that looks a bit like an early 2000s flip phone.
Reality: It is likely that Apple’s future vision inspired engineers to develop the new materials, in addition to the technology required to make the designs possible.
Although elements like touch screens had not been fully imagined. The signature slick white Apple designs are however, closer to today’s devices than the bulbous Apple computers when first popularized commercially.
2. John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar may be seen as retro-futurism
This science fiction novel, which was written in 1969, takes place in a fictional 2010, it is filled with accurate depictions that mirror today’s reality.
Among these are:
- A popular leader called President Obomi
- China, the most powerful U.S. rival
- Europeans’ formation of a “union of nations” to improve their economic standing
- Random acts of violence by crazy individuals, or terrorists as major sources of instability
- Price increasion 6 fold between 1960 and 2010
- Younger generations preferring short-term hookups to marriage
- Homosexuality and bisexuality gone mainstream
- African Americans into positions of power by affirmative action, although racial tension still exists
- TV news channels go global via satellite, and TiVo type systems let people view TV on their own schedules
- Falling tobacco usage, decriminalized marijuana
Reality: These predictions, are all eerily close to the current state of humanity in 2010 up until today, give or take a few years.
Prices have increased seven-fold, not six. While other predictions (such as marijuana decriminalization and public acceptance of homosexuality) are more of an ongoing transition, rather than a state of being.
3. Back to the Future II what a revelation of retro-futurism
Prediction: In the second Back to the Future movie, the protagonists enters the year we have just begun: 2015. Obviously a tale of fiction rather than a measured prediction, the movie’s depiction of flying cars and hover-boards, alongside fax machines and phone booths, shows how far off they were in some respects, but not all.
Reality: Futurists discussing the Back to the Future II’s laughable wrongness, also acknowledge that some aspects of the movie are now feasible or functional. Flying cars have been invented, but not commercialized, as have hover-board type crafts.
Other aspects, like bio metrics, large screen home displays, video calls, mobile payment, as well as affluence moving toward cities, hit the mark a lot closer to home.
4. Athelstan Spilhaus’ Our New Age seen as retro-futurism
Prediction: In 1962, a comic strip called Our New Age, used in the Chicago Daily News, authored by Athelstan Spilhaus depicted satellites, email, video calling, and the Internet through illustration.
Though Spillhaus’ ideas look a little bit different in form, the functionality is quite familiar.
Reality: Though he didn’t quite nail things in design, the ideas here are conceptually on point. (Video conferences, online archival research, and satellite communication are all staples of modern technology.)
5. Retro-futurism as seen by Isaac Asimov’ Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014
Prediction: In 1964, I, Robot science fiction author and biochemistry professor Isaac Asimov, published predictions about what 2014 would look like. He envisioned cordless electronics, fission and fusion-powered plants, job automation, in addition to people plagued by boredom.
Reality: It appears that like many other futurists, Asimov’s visions were slightly too optimistic. Predictions of habitation on the moon and underwater have yet to come about, ideas on fission and fusion energy are still in experimental stages (in spite of recent breakthroughs).
Though there were certainly worse afflictions in 2014 than boredom (thanks, Ebola), the popularity of reality TV indicates that it’s still pretty bad.
Some accurate predictions include video calls, 3D TV, cars with robot-brains, automated coffee, and the claim that “robots will be neither common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.” The robot bit especially sounds about right.
6. Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines comes though as retro-futurism
Prediction: Futurist Ray Kurzweil, has written a number of books on things to come, including The Age of Spiritual Machines, written in the late 90s. It handles what would be achieved within the early 21st century.
In it, Kurzweil describes wearable technology, robotic prostheses, text-to-speech and language-to-language translation, caller ID plus voice recognition software.
Reality: Kurzweil himself, is keeping track of the accuracy of his predictions, which extend well into the 21st century. So far, he claims that 89 of his 108 predictions were correct by 2009, and an additional 33 “essentially correct.”
While others may disagree to the degree of his accuracy, if this streak of accuracy continues by Kurzweil’s logic, we may see a “world government” and 3D holographic phone calls around 2020, as well as the rise of AI by 2070.