One of the best Christmas presents I ever received was David Wallechinsky and David Wallace's The People's Almanac. Published in 1975, the Almanac covered all sorts of juicy topics to keep an impressionable 14-year-old happy—famous crimes, oddities, utopias, and (oh, baby!) sex. There was even an entire chapter devoted to predictions given by not only the usual psychics, but an array of "Modern Scientists," among them the "prolific writer of science fiction" and famous predictor, Arthur C. Clarke. Here's how some of his People's Almanac predictions for 1991-2000 and beyond are stacking up.
RIGHT (or mostly so):
- "Video-telephones will make possible business lunches with 'the 2 halves of the table 10,000 mi. apart.' They might also be used to show new designs to the consumer, allowing selection to be made in the home." Video conferences and internet shopping—that's two points for Clarke.
- "Centralization of work in cities will become obsolete with improved electronic communications." Little did Clarke imagine this meant never getting out of your pajamas again.
- "It will be possible to radio or cable a letter anywhere in the world in less than a day with privacy assured because of 'robot handling at all stages of the operation.'" Email makes sending that letter possible in mere seconds, but as to privacy? Those robots turned out to be computer snoops, Sir Arthur.
WRONG (at least so far):
- "Cars without wheels will float on air, bringing about the passing of the wheel." Next to the personal jet pack, the flying car is perhaps the most frequently mentioned symbol of superior technologies yet to come. We're still waiting.
- "Air-conditioned settlements on the moon will be situated under domes or below ground to avoid solar radiation." Not only are there no settlements on the moon, we haven't even been there since 1972 (or at all, according to some).
- "People of the future may live on food made from the protein in oil. Three percent of the world's oil production could feed everyone." Yuck. It's bad enough there are petroleum-derived colors and additives in some of our food right now.
- "It will probably be possible to observe the past and future through telepathy." Lost's Desmond Hume to the contrary, most of us remain incapable of telepathic time-travel.
- "We might be able to increase the intelligence of our domestic animals." Based on my daily observation of two house cats, this is wrong, wrong, wrong.
- "All of the following might be possible: robots, death rays, transmutation, artificial life, immortality, invisibility, levitation, teleportation, and communication with the dead." Let's see, that's yes, no, no, working on it, no, no, no, no, and no.