Bill Kirby

Online news editor for The Augusta Chronicle.

Many predictions for the future missed the mark

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Destiny has two ways of crushing us – by refusing our wishes and by fulfilling them.

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– Henri Frederic Amiel

Don’t ask to look into my crystal ball. I am terrible at predicting anything.

After all, when I left college I was staking my future on a profession dominated by typewriters.

Computers? Cellphone cameras? TV news on a 24-hour cycle?

I had no idea. But at least I’m not alone.

In the first year of the previous century, Wilbur Wright is said to have turned to kid brother Orville and projected it would be 50 years before man would take his first flight.

Two years later in 1903 the Ohio brothers were making flight history.

Then there’s Harper’s Weekly magazine, a onetime journalism powerhouse, which reported in 1902 that: “The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future, in spite of many rumors to that effect.”

What can I say? Harper’s Weekly also didn’t predict it would be out of business by 1916.

Did you know that in 1932, Winston Churchill, of all people, predicted the growing of animal parts for supper. In an article for Mechanics Illustrated, he wrote, “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately, under a suitable medium.”

Here’s another. In his 1967 book The Year 2000, Herman Kahn predicted human hibernation and robot slaves, underwater colonies and interplanetary travel.

I’d say he’s 0-for-4. I’d also say we keep missing the mark. The most consistent aspect of predicting technological breakthroughs is that we never seem to predict them.

Did you know Western Union passed on buying the patent for the telephone in 1876. The reason? It was considered too technologically complicated for the average person.

Or how about this statement: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” That’s the 1943 assessment of the chairman of IBM.

We congratulated ourselves almost 30 years ago when George Orwell’s depiction of 1984 did not come to pass. I know I did. In fact, I wrote a rather smug column about it.

There was no “Big Brother” watching us, I said, either ignoring or not knowing that my tax dollars paid for satellites that could read the license plate on the car in my driveway from outer space.

But that’s not the biggest mistake we made. Look back at any prediction for today and you will find leisure and lots of it.

Our forefathers thought we’d have so much spare time that we’d have trouble figuring out what to do with it all. Work and play would reverse time shares in our lives.

Now that we are living here in the future, we know it hasn’t happened, said Brian Horrigan, co-author of Yesterday’s Tomorrows.

We are as stressed out as humans have ever been when we stagger home each night. That’s where some of us keep working, computers on the kitchen table, cellphone always within reach.

We were hoping to live The Jetsons. Instead we got The Simpsons.

Never saw it coming. Wish that it would go.


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