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Past perspective on the present: An 80-year-old forecast of 2011

How well can you predict what the world will be like in 80 years? That’s the exercise The New York Times gave to some of the top minds of 1931 to help mark the newspaper’s the 80th anniversary.

How did they do? The folks at Abnormal Use, a blog posted by attorneys from the Greenville, S.C., firm Gallivan, White & Boyd (www.gwblawfirm.com), looked at the predictions and offered their insights on how close they came.

The prognosticators included: physician and Mayo Clinic co-founder W.J. Mayo, industrialist Henry Ford, anatomist and anthropologist Arthur Keith, physicist and Nobel laureate Arthur Compton, chemist Willis R. Whitney, physicist and Nobel laureate Robert Millikan, physicist and chemist Michael Pupin, and sociologist William F. Ogburn.

My favorite passage is from a prediction by Ogburn, who wrote:
"Technological progress, with its exponential law of increase, holds the key to the future. Labor displacement will proceed even to automatic factories. The magic of remote control will be commonplace. Humanity’s most versatile servant will be the electron tube. The communication and transportation inventions will smooth out regional differences and level us in some respects to uniformity."

He may have missed it a bit with the electron tube, as flat-panel displays are just about everywhere today.

Another prediction that was a bit too ambitious is from Pupin:
"The great inventions which laid the foundation of our modern industries and of the resulting industrial civilization were all born during the last eighty years, the life time of The New York Times. This civilization is the greatest material achievement of applied science during this memorable period. Its power for creating wealth was never equaled in human history. But it lacks the wisdom of distributing equitably the wealth which it creates. One can safely prophesy that during the next eighty years this civilization will correct this deficiency by creating an industrial democracy which will guarantee to the worker an equitable share in the work produced by his work."

There’s a lot more there to get your mind spinning. And no, I won’t be so bold as to make any predictions about life in 2091.

Read the full blog post:
Views of 2011 From 1931
http://www.abnormaluse.com/2010/12/views-of-2011-from-1931.html

 

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