Predictions Of Today From 80 Years Ago

from the reverse-predictions dept

It’s the time of the year when nearly every media publication puts out some form of predictions. We’ve always avoided doing predictions posts, because it seems a little silly — and it’s rare that people really go back and look to see how good their predictions really were. However, a few folks sent over this fun post from Abnormal Use, which goes back and looks at a bunch of predictions some people made for the NY Times in 1931, trying to predict things in 2011 (apparently, in 1931, the NY Times turned 80 years old, so to celebrate, they wanted to predict 80 years into the future). The full articles are behind the NY Times’ archive paywall, but the blog link above has plenty of snippets. What’s surprising is that some of the predictions are actually a lot more correct than I would have expected. None are perfect, of course, and all of them get certain things wrong, but some really aren’t that bad in picking out some larger trends. Mayo Clinic co-founder W. J. Mayo talks about (what else?) advances in medicine, noting that the current life expectancy in 1931 was 58 years, but he imagined by now that it would be at least 70 (it’s actually 77.9). Not bad.

And while Abnormal Use disagrees, I actually think physicist and Nobel laureate Arthur Compton’s prediction was pretty dead on:

With better communication national boundaries will gradually cease to have their present importance. Because of racial differences a world union cannot be expected within eighty years. The best adjustment that we can hope for to this certain change would seem to be the voluntary union of neighboring nations under a centralized government of continental size.

It’s not quite there yet, but there certainly has been some movement in that direction. There is much better communication, and more widespread travel between countries. Europe and the EU certainly demonstrates — to a limited extent — his prediction of a voluntary union of neighboring nations with a centralized government of continental size. That’s actually a pretty impressive prediction from 1931.

Then there’s sociologist William F. Ogburn, who was pretty specific with many of his predictions. And, as the story at the link notes, some were dead on, while others… not so much. But, still, a lot of this does seem pretty damn accurate:

Technological progress, with its exponential law of increase, holds the key to the future. Labor displacement will proceed even to automatic factories. The magic of remote control will be commonplace. Humanity?s most versatile servant will be the electron tube. The communication and transportation inventions will smooth out regional differences and level us in some respects to uniformity. But the heterogeneity of material culture will mean specialists and languages that only specialists can understand. The countryside will be transformed by technology and farmers will be more like city folk. There will be fewer farmers, more wooded land with wild life. Personal property in mechanical conveniences will be greatly extended. Some of these will be needed to prop up the weak who will survive.

Inevitable technological progress and abundant natural resources yield a higher standard of living. Poverty will be eliminated and hunger as a driving force of revolution will not be a danger. Inequality of income and problems of social justice will remain. Crises of life will be met by insurance.

The role of government is bound to grow. Technicians and special interest groups will leave only a shell of democracy. The family cannot be destroyed but will be less stable in the early years of married life, divorce being greater than now. The lives of woman will be more like those of men, spent more outside the home. The principle of expediency will be the dominating one in law and ethics.

You can check out the link for some of the other predictions (which may have been a bit further off…), and if you’re feeling brave, let us know what you think will be going on 80 years from now. If we assume Mayo’s life span expectancy advancements will continue, perhaps some of us will still be around to check back and see…

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Comments on “Predictions Of Today From 80 Years Ago”

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Bryan Price (profile) says:


In 2090, I’ll be dead. My kids may or may not still be alive, but my grandkids will certainly still be alive and probably on the way to living as long as they want if not immortality. That is, if anybody is still alive on the planet.

The Technological Singularity will have come and gone, and we’re either living out in space becoming a type II Kardashev civilization, or we’ll be stuck on the Earth rotting as we slowly run out of resources. Possibly even both.

But it’s because of the Tech Singularity that whatever we talk about here will certainly be wrong.

Hephaestus (profile) says:


“But your right about just about everything else(fingers crossed that they develop mind uploading before i bite the dust)”

You see we are being controled by hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings (mice) who seek immortality before us. Thats the reason they are making us figure out how to make them immortal. There is no hope for us the world is going to be blown up in 2 years.

Enough of douglas adams and this weeks telomere articles …

Ed C. says:

If I were to hazard any guesses, I’d say that computers and communications are going to become far more integrated into our lives, if not ourselves!

We’re going to get a deeper understanding of physics at the quantum level, as well as the universe–hopefully unification!

We’ll have cars that drive, if not *fly* themselves. Sorry, but I just don’t see flying cars in the mass market otherwise. Two words…”SKY RAGE”. If some people have difficulty operating a vehicle along two dimensions, how the HELL can they handle three! Also, due to the US’s lawsuit crazed nature, we’ll be one of the last developed nations to get either!

And I don’t know about 80 years from now, but unless we start investing our money HERE, I could see the US being outpaced in key markets–including technological ones. Without more truly competitive patents, and as the old ones expire, the diminished value of the US’s “IP” will be harder to leverage against its astronomical debt.

Even if we manage to change our current course in 10 years, I still don’t see the US remaining as the global economic leader. If China doesn’t become the next “heir”, there would just be global leaders in different markets.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in MY country and I REALLY hope I’m wrong about this. However, I’m just not seeing the US making a serious break away from debt as a lifestyle, and enough innovation in the near future that will be worth enough to brace that debt.

Transbot9 (user link) says:


– Space will be commercialized, and there will be major legal battles over who owns substantial acreage on the moon.
– Everything we think we know about theoretical science will be proven wrong (easy predition – something gets proven wrong in theoretical science on a regular basis)
– All Your Base Will Belong To Us will represent early internet culture, spoofed in videogames, TV shows, etc.
– Your computer will be condensed into your cell phone, complete with holographic interface
– Digital Artists will be regarded by art history as the Avant Garde of this era.

That should be plenty to get started…

Anonymous Coward says:

“We’ve always avoided doing predictions posts, because it seems a little silly — and it’s rare that people really go back and look to see how good their predictions really were.”

You are so full of crap. Do you even read what you write? Go back about half a dozen posts and you will find another post titled:
As Predicted: iPad Magazine Subscriber Numbers Plummeting

You love to make predictions and then pat yourself on the back if they are right. You are right about the fact that it is silly.

NullOp says:


Wow! This guy was good and, of course, lucky. I particularly liked the “shell of Democracy” statement. It seems our government works much harder for business interests than it does for the people.

80 years in the future….
The government has withstood the revolution but only by ending the ridiculous benefits previously enjoyed by politicians. Politics is no longer a career choice. Physicians and lawyers now all work for the government and can no longer gouge or ignore the people. Criminals sentenced to death are, by law, executed a year and a day after sentencing. Prisons are no longer crowded. Crime is still a problem, however. The welfare system has been revamped so that recipients must work, if able, to receive benefits. Immigration into the U.S. is now at manageable levels as illegals are deported immediately. Citizenship is no longer a birth-right. All people must pass the citizenship test to gain the status upon turning 18. Government lobbiests are a thing of the past. Businesses can no longer steer the government in the “right direction.” Advisement of the law makers is done by government paid industry experts. Military service is now mandatory for males and females. There is, however, a civilian side of service that does not involve potential combat. A candidate has the choice of which side to serve in. The civilian side is just as disciplined as the military side however, maybe more so….

Well, I can dream can’t I?

teka (profile) says:


Without more truly competitive patents, and as the old ones expire, the diminished value of the US’s “IP” will be harder to leverage against its astronomical debt.

You are thinking about it the wrong way.
The last thing we need are more patents.

We need more innovation, more invention, more Re-invention, more breakthroughs and adventures. While patents have a role in the system, you can’t simply pretend that printing patents is the same thing as making things better.

Make the US the place where everyone wants to start a business or invent the newest device. Make the US the place where garage-inventors are once again building the things that will define the rest of the world. Limit government subsidies, and make sure that those subsidies are not flowing to companies who move jobs out of the states.

so.. yeah. Sit down with your kid and teach them science. help them with that math homework. No kids? help your neighbor’s kids, or your relatives. donate to your local school science and math programs, etc and so forth.

Ed C. says:


You’re right. It was late though and that didn’t quite come out how I meant it. I should have said “inventions” rather than “patents”, because patents these days don’t require anything to be created–and scarcely any innovation. Innovations are good, but they’re still mere “ideas”; progress *only* happens when those intangible ideas are embodied or enacted.

I did say though that we need to invest here–in building businesses here. People have forgotten that it’s the “garage-inventors” and entrepreneurship that not only built this country, but provided the foundation for the working “middle-class”.

And yes, we need more science and math majors too! More grads these days have the idea that they don’t have to know science and math to innovate. They just get an MBA then sit back in a high-rise office while others deal with the issues of actually implementing their grand plans. However, the actual “implementation” is often carried out overseas. Of course, these guys don’t realize that those other countries also have MBAs, and they can just as easily be replaced by one of their own.

Onnala (profile) says:

I love predictions...

The Technological singularity will not be as fantastic as people dream…. it will happen… but it will not change all that much in day to day life.

There will still be a buggy whip industry and I predict that industries like this will actually grow as they supply a growing demand for ‘retro’ style services. (Buggy rides through a nature park, feel what it was like to live in 1900!)

3D printing will destroy the cheep useless crud market. (A good example would be to see how home publishing works today and carry that over to 3D printing.)

Gender will no longer be an issue. (It isn’t for me, and far less so for younger generations. I don’t see this trend reversing anytime soon.)

Marriage will still exist but will not have the same meaning as before. (Turns out that people are kind of serially monogamous. To make that work marriage would have to be allowed to have an expiration date.)

Artificial womb’s are going to change the role women play.

There will be human cloning. (Once the science works there isn’t any reason for it to not happen, despite the din those playing a moral card would make.)

English (loosely defined) will become the primary language of the world despite the french and Chinese.

Society will be more open. (Less a prediction and more of a reality.)

Blue laws in the US will be relaxed. (The people themselves are already relaxing them. At least where I am in Portland OR.)

There will be no all inclusive ‘social’ network as they will fragment into smaller but more focused communities. (Think linkedin for your professional page. Facebook for friends, Goggle for your gaming group, and Myscape for family.)

I can do more but lunch is over!

Uncle B says:

Three Decades from Now

America witnessed the fall of the mighty U.S.S.R. and learned nothing! They will watch their own country implode in a series of paradigm shifts that will erase all traces of the former American dream, and any notions of Democracy. In the mix the Corporatists will take over and squeeze every bit of good out of the nation, perhaps even exporting the very food we grow to Asia for huge ROI’s. Americans will be further enslaved by the Corporatists and Capitalists of the world and Multi-national corporations will rule the world and exploit U.S.A. for its military capabilities, as enforcers of corporate powers. China’s capitalists, sanctioned by the Communist governors, will play a leading role, financing the rape of world resources, once the exclusive territory of the U.S.A. Most American cities will approach the slum status of Detroit City,our harbinger of what was to come and our first warning siren. Oil will exceed $200.00/bbl but the average American will not be able to afford even a motor vehicle to burn it in! American bus service will improve and be the simple, Yankee Doodle easy-out for lack of good transportation in the country. Americans will look upon the very sophisticated Nuclear/electric bullet train service in China with envy. Brighter, younger, smarter Americans will leave for better circumstances abroad, and will thankfully accept the lesser conditions they find. They will live more spiritual, less materialistic, more rewarding lives developing sustainable situations where ever they go. The infrastructure rot in America will yield broken bridges, polluted water management efforts, even the Hoover dam will be unrepairable rubble, but the Oil barons firm grip on the governance of America, from Arabia, will not loosen, and the remaining plebs in America will be forced into paying ridiculous energy prices for the privilege of burning oil. GM America will force large V-8 engined SUV’s in the form of gasoline guzzling modified pick-up trucks on the general population. These monsters will be legislated to give no more than 16 miles per gallon, to ensure that the gasoline tax is rewarding for the government, and they will be planned-obsolescence built to last no more than 5 years to resolve the unemployment situation.

Bubba Nicholson (profile) says:


Actually, crime is already cureable: An effective, broad-spectrum ?medical treatment for borderline personality disorder, suicidal ideation, drug addiction, delinquency, and perversion has been discovered.??It is a human pheromone, the healthy adult male facial skin surface lipid ‘kissing daddy’ pheromone. ?Unfortunately and presumably due to differing metabolic/neuronal pathways, alcoholism is little effected by pheromone treatment. ?One dose of 150-250 mg provides permanent relief of even the most obdurate cases. ?


Nicholson, B. 1984;? Does kissing aid human bonding by semiochemical? addiction? ? British Journal? of? Dermatology? 111(5):623-627.

Nicholson, B. 2009: ?Of Love ?(Amazon Digital Services,? (Google Books, 9780981522616 )

BBC-TV interview
typical anecdote

Joe Smith says:

Plus ca change

There will be no technological “singualarity” – merely the ever continuing search for smaller and smaller gains as we assymtotically approach some limit of diminishing returns.

Energy will cost $.25 (in todays money) per kilowatt hour and will come primarily from nuclear power plants which will be modular units built in factories.

Fusion energy will be fifty years “away”. Affordable solar will be 20 years “away”.

The biggest public health issue will be rampant mental illness kept barely under control by medication and the criminal justice system. Eugenics will be intellectually respectable again.

Global warming and the failure of states will have caused wide spread flight of peoples from the Third World to North America and Europe. Being unwilling to murder women and children as they wade ashore the West is swamped by cultures which have proven they do not work. The Chinese murder the refugees as they approach but it does them little good because their culture is dysfunctional in ts own way.

CJ (profile) says:

80 years from now

heath care will be based on if they can cure you, or % chances of dying.

The world will not be free anywhere.

Everyone’s move will be monitored

Records of everything you purchase.

crimes will drop.

No more voting for presidents.

Being able to die when you want too will be common place everywhere. They will even have clinics to help you.

Many crops will disappear off the map do to their hybrid crops going nuts.

Hybrid crops will go belly up due to their health ramifications. That include certain diseases, cancer, weight gain, Parkinson’s to name a few.

Plastic surgery as elective, and not elective, will be common place due to a medical breakthrough in either the methods used during surgery, or drugs used after the surgery.

Desktops will be fazed out, people will all have a computer.

The computer will be a hand held. Resembling the cell phones of today.

Some major news media businesses will go out of business.

glennk says:


The Planet Earth will be a seething hot house with the Oceans a hundred feet higher then today and all major coastal cities and barrier islands of today under water. After the water wars of the late 21st only a Billion people are alive, clinging to what farm able land is left and the wealthy living in walled cities surrounded by private armies.

rosspruden (profile) says:

Detailed Roadmap of the 21st Century

A doctoral student compiled a fascinating list of predictions from numerous sources calling it the “Detailed Roadmap of the 21st Century”, adding that,

…the list contains no original research or predictions: all listed advances are marked with their sources. When time ranges are given in the original sources, the most pessimistic (ie. latest) predictions are used.

And then some genius came along and sampled the bullet points and put them into a cool 7 minute video. It’s a must watch, IMO.

What shocks me is not the nature of the developments (machine sentience is an inevitability given enough time), but that many predictions are supposed to occur within our own lifetimes, i.e., the pace of change is increasing at a breakneck speed.

I’m not quite eager to accept that robots will be sentient in my lifetime, but I won’t outright discount it, either. My father, who was born in 1926, grew up in a house without electricity… something once seen as expensive for poor families is now commonplace, and startling new technological discoveries seem to come at least once a year now. In a decade, that time frame may collapse to once a month, and so on. Thus, many of the predictions made on that site may happen much later than expected (in 2050 instead of 2020), but when they happen, they might happen at a much more alarming rate.

If you use Moore’s Law to extrapolate how much smarter computers will get over time, it’s quite possible, even likely, that computers’ speed and insight will drive many of the greatest scientific discoveries of this century, and of all time.

Morris Redman (user link) says:

Predictions of Today

8o years ago, the predictions were pretty accurate. For the next 80 years ,nations will work more closely if the human race is to survive. The family unit will be even weaker because of the wide use of test tube babies and cloning. With the rise of pollution and the of cost of energy, we would use our creativity to find alternatives in transportation and other uses of energy.

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