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Thursday, 26 December 2019

What did people think 2020 would look like?

The pre-teen futurists of the early 20th century were (mostly) way off. Children writing into the Minneapolis Journal newspaper in 1904 to make their predictions about what 2019 would look like imagined it containing such a treasure trove of wonders as ubiquitous airships and cars that could go down into the sea, tasty pills that could substitute for a whole meal, regular trips to visit and trade with Mars, and fully-autonomous robots that cleaned the house. Extracts from their letters are published in this piece by Gizmodo.

There were some oddly prescient predictions: One child imagined sending “a wireless telegraph message” to get ice cream and cake, while another envisaged “moveable stairs” that would help people with large bundles.

But we’re no closer to having ape chauffeurs. Sorry. In 1994, a group of researchers at RAND Corp — evidently on a mission to shred the think tank’s credibility — proposed that by 2020 we would be driven around by monkeys and serviced by house robots. This article on Best Life contains more wild predictions by totally rational people such as US Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield, who saw the cruise missile as the ideal method of mail delivery, and Alex Lewyt, former president of Lewyt Vacuum Company, who believed that nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners would become the most effective way to clean the house.

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