Predicting the future

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As a baby boomer I grew up being told how fantastic the future was likely to be for my generation. We were told we would work less, have more freedom and a much better overall lifestyle than any previous generation.

I do not see this myself – technology has made us all work harder and longer, life is fuller yes, but better?

It is interesting to look back at previous predictions of the future and see how many were close to the reality that we have now;

In 1972 Geoffrey Hoyle wrote a children’s book “2010: Living in the Future” which predicted what life would be like in 2010 – it has recently been reprinted after attracting a cult following, but how accurate is it?

He envisioned a world where everybody worked a three-day week and had their electric cars delivered in tubes of liquid. He also predicted widespread use of “vision phones” and doing your grocery shopping online.

He is one of a long line of science fiction authors to have tried their hand at ‘futurology’, the discipline of mapping out the future. Some have been surprisingly accurate;


  • Arthur C Clarke predicted a network of geostationary communications satellites.
  • HG Wells predicted nuclear weapons, world wars and a rise of air power.
  • George Orwell predicted the monitoring of population as standard.
  • David Brin, in the 1989 novel Earth and in his other works, predicted citizen reporters, personalised web interfaces, and the decline of privacy.

Perhaps one of the most celebrated pieces of futurology by a science fiction author was Arthur C Clarke’s prediction of a network of satellites in geostationary orbits.The idea of satellites in geostationary orbit had been floated before but Clarke was the first to see the possibilities for their use as relays for broadcasting and communications.

And HG Wells was years ahead of his time, predicting nuclear weapons in 1914.

HG Wells predicted nuclear weapons 30 years before it became a reality
But there were bad misses – certainly for Michael Pupin, the physicist – who predicted the equitable distribution of wealth.

Predictions, failed or successful, tell us as much about the time they were made as they do about the future.

Go back to the early years of the Cold War and predictions of catastrophic nuclear war were widespread.

Hoyle’s three-day week for 2010 has failed to materialise. But Hoyle got it right when predicting the role of the vision phone.  If you predicted today that within a few years time key electronic devices like phones, GPS and media players would be embedded in the human body, you would hardly be saying anything daring.


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