Then and Now

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Colonies on the moon and meals in pill form were just two of the bizarre predictions for life in the 21st century, but how have things really changed in the last 60 years? We take a look at the ideas for the future to see which were pretty accurate and which were wide of the mark…

Flying cars that drive themselves

Flying cars have been around in prototype form since the 1950s, so it's always been an idea. However, although we might dream of a 'Back to The Future' style system, imagine the logistics involved in managing air space, landing, avoiding helicopters and commercial planes and then the viability doesn't look so good, even in 2012.

But, a future with driverless cars isn't far-fetched at all: in fact Google has been given permission by the state of Nevada to test its fleet of driverless vehicles on public roads. Using a combination of Google's Street View data, cameras and other sensors on the car, it can navigate, maintain lane discipline and speed limits. The hope is that self-driving vehicles will reduce road fatalities and traffic congestion in the not too distant future.

Home automation

The future of our domestic lives has been a source of fascination for decades, with 'houses of the future' showing what life might be like have been created everywhere from Disneyland to exhibition centres around the world. Mid 20th century predictions from these homes included automatic heating, lighting, cooking and cleaning. Others, such as microwave ovens, it's hard to imagine living without.

While domestic robots aren't exactly commonplace (although current robot vacuums may just be the start), a significant number of household tasks can now be done remotely.  Home automation systems are able to control temperature, entertainment systems, security and more. And it's not just for the likes of celebs and millionaires: you can buy remote controlled lighting kits and iPhone activated appliance timers from B&Q, and a new British Gas app will soon allow you to control your heating remotely — perfect if you're coming home on a chilly day and don't want to stay in your thermals when you walk through the door.

We'll all have mobile phones

A 1950s article called 'How Experts Think We'll Live in 2000 A.D', from the Associated Press gives a fascinating insight. At the time, they predicted: "The telephone will be transformed from wire to radio and will be equipped with the visuality of television. Who's on the other end of the line will seldom be a mystery. Every pedestrian will have his own walking telephone — an apparatus by a combination of the X-ray and television." OK, so we're not sure about that last bit, what exactly is the X-ray for?! But if you walk down any busy street in the UK, you'd find it hard to argue with the walking telephone part, and we're pretty sure that the 'visuality of television' is another word for Skype…

Desktop computers, tablets, and 'online' shopping

While it seems like computers have been around forever, this is one area where technology has advanced in leaps and bounds. Back in the 60s, Apollo 11, which landed on the moon, had less computing power than a current washing machine and the concept of a 'computer' was a massive piece of equipment that took up a whole room.  So did anyone manage to predict how far and how fast this particular technology would come (and how much more compact it would be)?

Well, yes they did. A 1967 video by Philadelphia electrical company Philco-Ford, explained its vision of the future, which included this idea about e-commerce:  "What the wife selects on her console will be paid for by the husband at his counterpart console. All bills and transactions will be carried out electronically. A central bank computer will debit the family's account the amount of purchases and credit the department store, informing the family's home computer at the same time."

And in Arthur C Clarke's '2001: A Space Odyssey', he described something which sounds very much like an iPad to us. Called a 'newspad', it was used to read the "world's major electronic papers… he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. Each had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-size rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort."

We'll watch films and TV in 3D

"Dome-shaped [cinemas], with ceiling and walls arching together like the sky." No, that's not a current description of an IMAX cinema, it's actually another of the Associated Press's spookily accurate ideas from 1950. The article went on to say: "Most action would still be in front of you, as now. But some could be overhead, some at the sides, and some even on the wall behind." While short specialist IMAX films began in the 1990s, they paved the way for the first IMAX theatrical film (Fantasia 2000, if you're interested), which was shown on New Year's Day 2000, so we'll give extra credit for getting the timeline spot on.

And as for home TVs, they did a pretty good job of predicting projectors too: "Third dimensional colour television will be so commonplace and so simplified at the dawn of the 21st century that a small device will project pictures on the living room wall so realistic they will seem to be alive." And before you dismiss the AP's idea of being able to smell the relevant aromas as you watched a programme, we'll just add that a company in Korea is working on 'smellovision' right now, so it could be coming to a cinema near you before long.

So what are we predicting in 2012 for the future then? Well, apparently we'll be able to send a text with thought-power alone, possibly as early as 2020, when we'll wear headsets that convert brainwaves into digital signals. Oh, and the Olympics and Paralympics could be joined by a third category of events by 2068 — the 'cyber Olympics', for those enhanced with biotechnology. Yes, really. The mind boggles…