If you’ve ever seen those old public education films that talk about the wonderful world of tomorrow, the utopian dreams of how we’ll all send our garbage down pneumatic tubes and everyone will have a personal jetpack, you know what’s coming. The Wonderful World That Never Was, by Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics magazine, have compiled a whole book of the most fantastic ideas inventions, and predictions which never came to fruition.
At least, many of them never did. You may not ever see an automatic kitchen in somebody’s house, or travel from New York to Boston on a moving sidewalk, but I found a prediction within the pages about “picture phones” – what is Skype if not a high-tech picture phone? We may not build our houses out of tubing and spray-on plastic, but a growing number of “green minded” people are beginning to quickly lay down mobile microhomes out of shipping containers, storage pallets, PVC pipe and other ready-made materials. In 1954, there was a computer at Georgetown University which could automatically translate Russian to English using its 250 word database. They predicted that, eventually, they could hook up enough drums of data to the machine that it would be able to handle several different languages. Today, we have Google Translate. Holy moly!
My favorite one, though, is one of the predictions which never did come true. Well, not quite. A 1959 prediction stated that, within twenty years, a computer would be able to “look up references for you and be able to summarize their contents in as many words as you wish.” In fact, Microsoft Word actually came out with an Auto Summarize feature somewhere around 2007, taking somewhat longer than twenty years, but present nonetheless. However, after some lengthy testing of it, I have decided that this supposed wonder of science and progress is STILL no replacement for – wait for it – a cracking good librarian.
The future is here: enjoy it!