The prediction: By 1984, we’ll all be working a four-day workweek
In the ’60s, IBM scientist Arthur Samuel predicted that the four-day workweek would be the norm within 20 years. A RAND Corporation study backed up the forecast, fi nding that just 2% of the population would be needed to produce every good and service in the 21st century. According to Paul Milo, author of Your Flying Car Awaits, the prognosticators of yesteryear misread the impact of globalization and generally assumed advances in technology and automation would make today’s developed nations so efficient that labouring ‘just two or three days a week, or perhaps only six months a year’ would allow today’s workers to meet all of their needs and wants.
The prediction: Algae sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Seeing a massive food shortage on the horizon, Hans Gaffron, a University of Chicago biochemist, predicted in 1953 that population growth would force today’s world to feed off the most elemental of nutritional sources. Noting an acre of water could produce many times more calories from algae than a similar-sized field of crops, he imagined homes outfitted with rooftop algae farms. For similar reasons, other past futurists predicted robotic whales would be roaming the oceans collecting plankton to feed mankind. But the global food crunch never came. As prediction expert Paul Milo points out, today’s famines are caused by distribution issues, not supply.
The prediction: Human sports stars will become obsolete. Robo-athletes will rule
In the 1950s, futurists such as A. M. Low predicted sports involving physical feats such as ‘knocking a ball in a hole’ would soon be seen as childish and brutal. Thanks to advances in automation, modern sport would consist of remote-controlled contests between robot sports stars. Luckily, that didn’t come to pass. One possible reason: marketing experts estimate a gold medal at the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver could easily be worth more than a million dollars in corporate marketing sponsorships.
The prediction: Children will be mass-produced in baby factories
In the 1920s, Scottish geneticist John Haldane predicted the traditional method of child production would be virtually non-existent today. Other prognosticators jumped on the baby-factory bandwagon after Italian physician Daniele Petrucci fertilized a human egg outside a womb in the 1960s — and kept the result alive long enough for arms to grow. Futurists predicted that coming generations of women would opt not to experience the pain or risks of natural childbirth. Eggs and sperm would mate in a lab, and perfect embryos would be mass produced. But while test tube babies have been around for decades, traditional baby-making is still the norm among those who are able to conceive that way. Women, it seems, aren’t so keen to outsource this task after all.
The prediction: We’ll all be driving flying cars
When airplanes arrived, consumers and future forecasters alike naturally assumed airborne cars and personal helicopters would be next, allowing everybody to get around like George Jetson or Marty McFly in his flying Delorean. According to Paul Milo’s book Your Flying Car Awaits, Ford tried combining a Pinto and Cessna in the early ’70s, with fatal results. Milo says the problem with this prediction was assuming that just because the technology allowing people to fly was available, it would make economic and environmental sense to use it on a personal level. Of course, we know now that the real barriers to personal flying machines are not so much the technology as the astronomical cost, the total lack of infrastructure, the incredible safety issues and the devastating environmental impact.