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These 19th Century Postcards Predicted Our Future 157

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the radium-powered-central-heat dept.
kkleiner writes "Starting in 1899, a commercial artist named Jean-Marc Côté and other artists were hired to create a series of picture cards to depict how life in France would look in a century's time. Sadly, they were never actually distributed. However, the only known set of cards to exist was discovered by Isaac Asimov, who wrote a book in 1986 called 'Futuredays' in which he presented the illustrations with commentary. What's amazing about this collection is how close their predictions were in a lot of cases, and how others are close at hand."
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These 19th Century Postcards Predicted Our Future

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  • by hguorbray (967940) on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:08PM (#41664329)
    hopefully there will at least be some snide references to 'french postcards'

    -I'm just sayin'
  • Predictions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:17PM (#41664381)

    The problem with predictions is that if you make enough of them, whether vague or detailed, you'll find some of them came true. That is not surprising in and of itself, but some people take this as proof of something. But it's not proof, because they aren't looking at all the predictions that didn't come true, or weren't close. It's all about coincidence and the laws of probability -- things that are highly improbable by themselves can become highly probable with repetition or over time. So even if one of the greatest minds of the time predicted all these things for the future that came true, we cannot consider them in isolation -- we also have to consider all the things predicted that didn't come true.

    Mr. Newton would have understood that as a scientist, and if he could be conjured up from the dead to utter a few words on this, he'd likely agree.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:28PM (#41664437)
      You want to discuss amazing predictions? These postcards from 1899 predicted Nostradamus would monopolize the History Channel!
    • Re:Predictions (Score:5, Insightful)

      by isorox (205688) on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:35PM (#41664471) Homepage Journal

      The problem with predictions is that if you make enough of them, whether vague or detailed, you'll find some of them came true. That is not surprising in and of itself, but some people take this as proof of something. But it's not proof, because they aren't looking at all the predictions that didn't come true, or weren't close. It's all about coincidence and the laws of probability -- things that are highly improbable by themselves can become highly probable with repetition or over time. So even if one of the greatest minds of the time predicted all these things for the future that came true, we cannot consider them in isolation -- we also have to consider all the things predicted that didn't come true.

      Mr. Newton would have understood that as a scientist, and if he could be conjured up from the dead to utter a few words on this, he'd likely agree.

      What amazes me is the things which weren't predicted. Even as recently as the 80s and early 90s, films of the future had flying cars (3 years, 5 days to go!), robots, space ships, etc.

      Very few got the internet, or the pervalence of pocket computing and connectivity that we take for granted 20 years later.

      • Re:Predictions (Score:5, Insightful)

        by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:38PM (#41664827)

        What amazes me is the things which weren't predicted.

        The future can't be predicted with any certainty beyond only the smallest of timeframes -- the further you look out, the more likely something major that you couldn't anticipate will significantly impact the prediction being made. Nobody could have predicted in 2000 that we'd be looking at the longest period of economic downturn ever seen in this country's history (if not globally). But all it took was a few airplanes slamming into the side of some buildings to cause radical shifts in our way of life, our economy, etc. There's nothing particularly amazing about that.

        Very few got the internet, or the pervalence of pocket computing and connectivity that we take for granted 20 years later.

        Even in the late 90s, when the technology was already on the market, people still didn't see its importance. Babylon 5, considered at the time as one of the most progressive scifi shows of the era, showed people on space stations standing in line to get newspapers dispensed by computers. It was inconceivable even then that computers would replace printed media. And that was at a time when exactly that was starting to happen right under their noses.

        The future can't be predicted. That's what makes living so worthwhile: What kind of life would it be if we knew what would happen tomorrow?

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Even in the late 90s, when the technology was already on the market, people still didn't see its importance. Babylon 5, considered at the time as one of the most progressive scifi shows of the era, showed people on space stations standing in line to get newspapers dispensed by computers. It was inconceivable even then that computers would replace printed media. And that was at a time when exactly that was starting to happen right under their noses.

          I can remember an article in PC Format magazine from somewh

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Babylon 5, considered at the time as one of the most progressive scifi shows of the era, showed people on space stations standing in line to get newspapers dispensed by computers. It was inconceivable even then that computers would replace printed media.

          And another from this incredibly interesting 1972 Rolling Stone article: [wheels.org] "One popular new feature on the Net is AI's Associated Press service. From anywhere on the Net you can log in and get the news that's coming live over the wire or ask for all the items on a particular subject that have come in during the last 24 hours. Plus a fortune cookie. Project that to household terminals, and so much for newspapers (in present form)."

        • Re:Predictions (Score:5, Insightful)

          by obarthelemy (160321) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @02:15AM (#41666299)

          "all it took was a few airplanes slamming into the side of some buildings to cause radical shifts in our way of life, our economy, etc."

          I've got 2 issues with your statement:

          1- I'm not sure there have been *major shifts* in your way of life and your economy. What are you thinking about ?

          2- What changes there have been, I'm not sure where due to the planes crashing. The housing bubble was there for the pricking, it was bound to burst at some point; the banking system had been running amok on the path of max.rewards for its workers and owners regardless of risk or sense for a while (glass-steagall repeal ?); I remember back when I was in college (and that's 20 yrs back), my econ prof telling us the US Auto industry had insolvable pensions liabilities that would require a bankruptcy and/or bailouts.

          And a more general issue: that comment is very US-centric.

          There are other predictions that are easy to make:

          - A major political party embracing bigotry and idiocy can only lead to strife. Usually the bigots/idiots have to start from scratch, which makes success harder. But if they succeeded, their lies and idiocies can't sustain them in power, and they need to resort to external and internal violence. We're seeing a bit of that already.

          - Economic upheaval can lead to regime change. that's what caused the French revolution. At some point, the low and middle class will realize they are being fleeced by the corrupt and the mega-rich (and that both are often the same), and will react.

          - Dependency on foreign oil and money can only make a state economically weaker and politically more quixotic.

        • Re:Predictions (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Sardaukar86 (850333) <cam@NOSpam.todaystlc.com> on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @05:11AM (#41666861) Homepage

          But all it took was a few airplanes slamming into the side of some buildings to cause radical shifts in our way of life, our economy, etc.

          That's a fair summary really. I find it deeply disheartening to consider how we Western nations have caved in to perceived terrorism over the eleven years since 9/11. Western nations faced a very real, terrifying enemy but somehow managed to find the backbone to stand together. To help drive the Axis powers into submission when forced to by the events of WWII. Can you imagine such a thing today?

          How we have squandered these gains! Complacent and greedy, we are collectively a whimpering, mewling shadow of our former selves and we have nobody else to blame. We have allowed ourselves to backslide shamefully, our primitive animal fear taking the reins and enabling the dramatic re-shaping of our way of life - and all for the false promise of temporary safety.

          Worse, WE are all that is left; the custodians of a Freedom earned through massive sacrifice made by others on our behalf. It is NOT OURS to give away but we just cannot help ourselves because we're taught to be so. damn. afraid. Meanwhile, the law concerns itself with idiocies such as Intelligent Design and its place in the classroom; fiddling as Rome burns.

          Whilst I find these early postcards insightful and very interesting, I ponder on the artists naive innocence and wonder how anyone at that time could have imagined such a disgraceful future for ourselves.

          One need only view a minute of Fox News to understand that George Orwell's dystopic vision has been fully realised; slowly and with much more subtlety than I would have ever thought possible. Maybe it's really myself that's the naive one here.

        • Nobody could have predicted in 2000 that we'd be looking at the longest period of economic downturn ever seen in this country's history (if not globally). But all it took was a few airplanes slamming into the side of some buildings to cause radical shifts in our way of life, our economy, etc.

          So you think the irrational dot-com boom and then bust and the housing market crash, etc were all caused by terrorist attacks? 9/11 had an effect on the economy but not near the amount the the first two did (or did you not mean to connect those two sentences).

      • by chrismcb (983081)
        That is because flying cars are easier to see on film than the internet. I've read more books that predicted the internet than have predicted flying cars.
      • Re:Predictions (Score:4, Interesting)

        by IorDMUX (870522) <mark@zimmerman3.gmail@com> on Monday October 15, 2012 @11:54PM (#41665809) Homepage

        What amazes me is the things which weren't predicted.

        Look to the authors to find better predictions. Greg Bear predicted the future of the internet and media fairly well in Queen of Angels in 1990, and William Gibson actually invented the term "Cyberspace" (not to mention the entire cyberpunk genre) in 1984 with his novel Neuromancer.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by laejoh (648921)
          Even better: "A Logic Named Joe" is a science fiction short story by Murray Leinster that was first published in the March 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Look it up :)
      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Very few got the internet, or the prevalence of pocket computing and connectivity that we take for granted 20 years later.

        Star Trek had the basic concept of portable computing in the late 1960s, albeit crudely. And I'm pretty sure that there were folks predicting it long before that.

        Mark Twain predicted the Internet in the late 1800s [thetyee.ca]. Not precisely, of course—who would have thought that text-based communications would actually make a comeback—but he pretty much described the concept of a world

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          What people didn't predict was that we would clog up those pipes with advertising

          That is a symptom of why the internet is not the great life-changer that everyone here seems to think. The fuckers with the money are still in control.

      • Re:Predictions (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TheMathemagician (2515102) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @04:46AM (#41666789)
        "There is no practical obstacle whatever now to the creation of an efficient index to all human knowledge, ideas and achievements, to the creation, that is, of a complete planetary memory for all mankind. And not simply an index; the direct reproduction of the thing itself can be summoned to any properly prepared spot. A microfilm, coloured where necessary, occupying an inch or so of space and weighing little more than a letter, can be duplicated from the records and sent anywhere, and thrown enlarged upon the screen so that the student may study it in every detail." H.G.Wells, "The World Brain" 1937 I'd say that was a reasonable prediction of the internet.
      • Re:Predictions (Score:4, Interesting)

        by tehcyder (746570) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @06:57AM (#41667219) Journal

        Very few got the internet, or the pervalence of pocket computing and connectivity that we take for granted 20 years later.

        That's because the internet and pocket computing have made little difference to how people live their lives. I know this is heresy on slashdot, but the fact remains that being poor and having a crappy smartphone still means you're poor. Their has been no increase in equitable power and wealth distribution due to the internet. We've just got some new toys. Anyone looking into the future isn't going to be that interested in how much shiny there might be.

        • Re:Predictions (Score:4, Insightful)

          by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @01:56PM (#41671545) Homepage Journal

          That's because the internet and pocket computing have made little difference to how people live their lives. I know this is heresy on slashdot

          Not heresy, just the ignorance of someone who has had these devices all their life. You have every single book ever writen before Micley Mouse stole copyright, you have a camera, movie camera, sound recorder, telephone, calendar, calculator, address book in your pocket. You no longer have pay phones.

          If you wanted to contact someone who didn't live close by in pre-internet times, you spent quite a sum to talk over the phone, or you wrote a letter on paper and set it to them, and they'd get it in a week or two. If you wanted to send a photo, you had it printed and again, they'd have it in a week or two. If you took a picture, you couldn't see it for a week because that's usually how long it took to get film processed.

          If your band wanted to record its own album, tough shit -- nobody recorded without an RIAA contract. There was no such thing as indie music. Nobody would hear your band unless they were drinking in the bar you played in. Today your band in empowered, if you're good you may go viral on the internet.

          If you wanted to write, nobody would read it without the blessing of a book publisher. If you wanted to express your opinion on politics, you wrote a letter to the editor and he would get it in a week, and then not print it. Letters to teh editor are printed at the editor's whim. Now, anybody can publish a blog and if it's good it will be read.

          the fact remains that being poor and having a crappy smartphone still means you're poor.

          If you're poor you're not going to have a crappy smartphone, you'll have a crappy dumb phone, and then only if your government or a charity supplies it.

          Their has been no increase in equitable power and wealth distribution due to the internet

          Nor has it given us free energy, flying cars, and world peace. So fucking what? That wasn't its intended purpose. Its purpose was communication, and it's been serving its purpose well.

          We've just got some new toys.

          No, we've got some new tools. Very powerful tools. The internet is more world-changing as the Gutenberg press was. I know, I lived most of my life without it. Without the internet, you wouldn't have my Nobot stories or the Paxil Diaries. You would have never seen that shot from an airplane of the last shuttle launching. before the internet, if a cop beat you, well, you tripped and fell. Now someone's got a camera phone aimed at him.

          The Rodney King riots would not have happened ten years earlier, because nobody would have made a movie of him getting beaten. Powerful tools, son. I did without them for almost half a centurey, be glad you have them.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Very few got the internet

        Only two I know of, and they both got it wrong. Asimov got it VERY wrong (multivac). [wikipedia.org] The other was Murray Leinster [baen.com] in his 1946 short story "A Logic Named Joe" (the full story is linked above). Oddly, his internet was fully censored and a faulty "logic" (computer) disabled the censorship. Exactly the opposite is happening in the real future -- we started out with a completely free and open internet, and its (and our) freedom is under assault by authoritarians every day.

    • Re:Predictions (Score:5, Informative)

      by lobiusmoop (305328) on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:47PM (#41664541) Homepage

      It has a name - apophenia [wikipedia.org]. We unconsciously fit the predictions to the present and thus give them more credence than they deserve.

      • No, what he's describing is selection bias: we claim predictions work because we look at the 1% that did work and then ignore the rest. This is the basis for a very simple stock scam. You set up 10 funds, all investing in random things. Some perform better than average, some worse. You liquidate the ones that do worse and then invite people to invest in the remaining ones (with a healthy commission, of course) and the disclaimer that past results don't necessarily reflect future performance. They will
        • by tehcyder (746570)
          The best legal stock scam is to be a stockbroker. They serve no useful purpose, like much of the complicated financial scaffolding propping up late era consumer capitalism.
    • by chrismcb (983081)

      The problem with predictions

      These aren't predictions. Predictions are "The world will end in 2012"
      These are simply a thought experiment. Take the known technology, and and scientists are discussing, and extrapolate it out a few years. It is what science fiction writers do. They get some things right, and some wrong.
      What I find amusing is what they thought would improve, and what wouldn't. Wires would still exist. And why they could conceiving pushing a button could do something, three would still be a need for the push lever. It

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        What I find amusing is what they thought would improve, and what wouldn't. Wires would still exist.

        As opposed to the actual world we live in where electricity is transmitted Tesla-style through the air?

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        It was like they figured out what technology would exist in the future, then transplanted it to their time line.

        To be fair, every science fiction writer there ever was did this. Take Asimov's Caves of Steel where photographic film was still used. Nobody foresaw digital photography; if they did, I missed that story.

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      If you RTFA (and please do on this occasion- it has pretty pictures and everything) you'll see they do show the ones that didn't come true too.

      Ultimately it's not about "correct predictions" though- it's about seeing what the people of 100 years ago thought the world would be like in the future. The fact that many of their wildest dreams have actually more or less come true is pretty fascinating.

      • by azalin (67640)
        My favorite being the radium powered heater.
      • It's actually a good hint for people wanting to write realistic science fiction: stay away from describing the mechanism. A machine for cleaning your floors is a really obvious prediction to make because everyone has floors that need cleaning and no one likes doing it. A Heath Robinson contraption with brooms and dustpans, however, is a bad prediction because that's just the best that was available with the artist's grasp of the technology of the day. Something like the roomba would be quite easy to pred

    • by alexgieg (948359)

      Mr. Newton would have understood that as a scientist, and if he could be conjured up from the dead to utter a few words on this, he'd likely agree.

      I doubt it. Newton dwelt A LOT in prophecies and such, just glance over the index of his works on the subject available at Newton's Views on on Prophecy, Revelation and the End of Times [sussex.ac.uk]. He'd be right at home in any of the not-too-crazy millenarist churches of today.

  • by Mullen (14656) on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:21PM (#41664405)

    I have been trying to get my local postal carrier to deliver my mail to my balcony via Ultra Light, but she keeps pointing out that that would expensive, dangerous and I only live on the 2nd floor. Some people just can't see the future.

    • Some people just can't see the future.

      Or maybe they just don't want to see you.

    • by fermion (181285)
      Just like most predictions, these missed what actually happened. Though we did automate many manual tasks, and we do have a robot that cleans floors, what was actually automated to lead to the future we are in was the computer, that is the people who would add numbers to other numbers to create the navigational table, the bank statements, the mathematical treatise. Because this, after all, is all the computer is. In much science fiction up until computer actually existed, these calculations were done by
  • by Andy Prough (2730467) on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:33PM (#41664463)

    They missed the 3 inventions that have done the most to promote health and prolong human life expectancy: toilets, refrigerators, and water treatment plants.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Haven't you seen the three sea shells in one of those postcards?

  • lame (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495)
    Same old lame story... People a long time ago predicted that people in the future would get what they want with technology. Fast forward to today, and people have amazingly gotten what they want via technology! All be it, in entirely different ways than predicted, but lets not let that stop a journalist with a deadline from filing a cookie cutter article!
    • When I was 21, I looked around, and realized I had everything I wanted when I was 17. When I was 25, I had the things I still dreamed of when I was 21. Now, at 32, I've got what I wanted at 25.

      It wasn't obvious to me at the time, although it is now--you tend to get what you want because you try to get it. Even if it's not a desired outcome, making a prediction can put something in your mind, or others' minds, to the point that it happens. Self-fulfilling prophecy at its finest.

      • Looks like consumerism, a new luxury is created by media/culture and a few years later the market has it ready for you, you've been waiting for it, so it becomes a need you cannot live without.
    • Re:lame (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tbird81 (946205) on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:05PM (#41665269)

      I agree. And I doubt these were even "predictions", more like fun cliches and what-ifs. It's the same as how many movies think that everyone in the future will wear vinyl clothing.

      It is painful trying to watch the writer compare the postcard to something either Google or Apple have made (rather than saying the generic term), then explaining that the prediction was "not far off".

      Then to top it off, he states some of the postcards as bad ideas. Such as rapidly turning eggs into baby chicks. This idea could revolutionise the poultry industry! But it's bad! Then there's the heater with the glow: the author interprets it as radium, but it might just be electricity and be quite correct. Or it might be contained nuclear fusion, and the illustrator just got the timing wrong by 1000 years.

      A pathetic, lame, cliched, "lol at predictions from the past" story. I find it interesting to see the pictures, but the commentary makes me cringe more than Cringely.

      • by azalin (67640)
        I would even say the egg to chicken automaton exists and is in use by the poultry industry. While it does take a little longer than one might guess from the picture, the whole process of chicken production is quite automated.
    • by chrismcb (983081)
      It isn't a lame story. It is interesting to think what people thought would happen.
  • And today Google is celebrating Winsor McCay. I know when I was young that I looked at these old drawings to envision the future. Tall buildings and lots of Zeppelins. Technology does have a way of defining how things look. Good printing technology 100 years ago did have a specific style.

    • by xenobyte (446878)

      Airships (Zeppelins) are actually quite efficient and safe. Just don't use hydrogen: use helium and electric motors, powered by solar-charged batteries, and the whole thing is both cheap, safe and environmentally friendly. They offer the ability to fly into the center of a metropolis without polution and noise. I predict that they'll return soon, and we might still see a metropolis skyline filled with airships.

      • and we might still see a metropolis skyline filled with airships.

        Along the same lines as hooking an airship to the top of the Empire State Building so people could disembark down a rope staircase.
  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:04PM (#41664655)

    Many of the things we know today, and even take for granted, would be seen as pure magic to a person from the 19th century.

    Take for instance something we are all on (precariously) friendly terms with, like the integrated circuit.

    The finer points of how an IC work (such as the quantum nature of the bandgap, especially at nanoscopic scales) would be nearly incomprehensible to such a person.

    Fiberoptic communication, with such strange things as helical polarization would bake their noodles, not to mention such curious things as the GPS network. (Einstein didn't come along until much later. GPS wouldn't work without SR, due to earth's frame dragging.)

    Or even just the workings inside a cellphone, or just a microwave oven.

    They might have been able to imagin the basic concept of the device, (eg, "portable wireless telephone"), but the signal encoding stratagems used to get the most from limited commodities of wireless band? In an age without computers, the math involved would be frightening! Something like 4096bit RSA ecryption would induce nightmares. (Just the mere notion that somebody might be willing to *try* factoring a number like that would cause dumbstruck expressions of incredulity. Let alone people routinely attempting to attack the problem from a myriad of different theoretical angles, and the impetus to do so.)

    Others that would floor people from the 19th century, would be ENGINEERING microbes. They often felt that complete eradication of germs was desirable. (Just read the last part of "the time machine") As such, the very idea of creating new ones would be cognitatively jarring. Using engineered viruses for gene therapy and the like would seem backward and regressive to their views.

    Wells' time traveler would be astounded, and confounded simultaneously by our modern world.

    Here's a clever thought experiment for you: imagine H.G. Wells dropping in for a sunset view from his time machine at a nude beach, asking politely for a newspaper and being laughed at, going to a delapidated paper book library, and told by a 10 year old that he could have all the books in the entire world litterally in the palm of his hand. Expose him to the radical idea of the internet, then expose him to 4chan (or worse, a site dedicated to 'rule 34'), and reveal the shocking truth that most people use the internet for pornographic entertainment instead of personal improvement. (Remember, 19th century sexual repressedness)

    My money would be on the time traveler being convinced we are all incurably insane, rushing back to his time machine, and wondering how it all went so terribly wrong.

    Really, our world more strongly resembles the various "decadent decline" models of the fiction of their time, where people are depicted as being unacceptably vulgar, evil, and jaded. (Take for instance, the descriptions of the decadent residents of k'n-yan, from lovecraft's novels [wikipedia.org]) A short, 10 minute exposure to witnessing an online FPS shooter, with 8 year olds "teabagging" people, [youtube.com]with the conception that "this routinely happens" would surely sinch it.

    Our world would traumatize people from the 19th century.

    • by PlusFiveTroll (754249) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:31PM (#41664801) Homepage

      I probably should mod your great post up, but I'll post instead.

      This reminds me more of the Douglas Adams Hitchhikers series science fiction, where Authur Dent gets stuck in an alien spaceship and alien people and it's all just weird and incomprehensible to him. That's what 100 years in the future would be to us without understanding the inbetween 99 years. Alien.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @09:53PM (#41665197)

      But what's interesting, too, are the many things people from the 19th century could and did imagine, and thought relatively simple, which still elude us today.

      Take dictation devices, for example. It's an incredible challenge for us to do a good enough job with speech recognition to use them for actually transcribing documents. Google Now and Siri are jokes by comparison with what many futurists in the 19th century thought wouldn't be that hard: how many of them would be able to fathom, being told about something like the Internet, that courts still have to use court reporters, and the majority of the magical systems of the future use substantially similar keyboards to what they were using then?

      Or take robotics and automation: again, look at the predictions from these postcards, or from anything between 1880 and 1970 or so. How would your time traveller comprehend that we can engineer viruses and nanometer-scale computing devices, but can't build a reasonable device to cut someone's hair or do someone's makeup? In fact, we tend to be impressed by things like robot arms barely managing to flip a pancake, or humanoid robots slowly climbing stairs. For that matter, we're just now starting to manage automated cars, something that is everywhere in science fiction over the last century.

      What tends to be impressive about these sorts of predictions is that there are so many things we take for granted that people from past eras couldn't begin to imagine, and so many things they could easily imagine that are nowhere near being possible.

      • by wierd_w (1375923) on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:24PM (#41665387)

        I agree. Explaining the extreme difficulty involved with machines even approaching that level of autonomous function would be hard to do indeed.

        Even today, few people realize how excrutiatingly difficult AI really is. Something as intelligent as a mouse would be a radical accomplishment. (And we routinely make science fiction where AIs with superhuman intellect are commonplace...)

        Like everything, the devil's in the details. Sadly, this is something that routinely goes unnoticed or unappreciated, even today, where the reality stares us brazenly in the face and mocks us openly. (How many times have you had to deal with the starry-eyed executive, who has "a great idea"?)

        Many of the things we have today came from trying to solve the frustratingly difficult, but seemingly simple things people have imagined for ages. Like going to the moon. I would be hard pressed to make an all-inclusive list of things around me at this very moment that exist exclusively because we dared to tackle that seemingly simple problem, [which it turns out wasn't so simple.]

        I just think it prudent for people daydreaming about the future to rationalize that the future world where your romantic idea becomes real, is one that you simply cannot understand, because of all the knowledge and social changes it brought in the intervening time.

        When I think about a future with strong ai in it, I imagine a future where goatse-esque things are commonplace, and even appearing on things like gameshows. Essentially phillip k dick on an ecstacy and crack smoothie. (With barbituates and chocolate chips blended in.)

    • by ljw1004 (764174)

      I think you're way off the mark! I remember reading St Augustine's "City of God Against The Pagans" written in the early 400s. I was struck that my thought processes as a computer scientist were much closer to him than to my peers. He had the pedantic logical mind of a computer scientist. My favorite example is his version of the Cogito - "I know I exist. The skeptics say I am mistaken in this, but by the same token they say I am".

      I think people from older eras were every bit as mentally adept and flexible

      • by wierd_w (1375923) on Monday October 15, 2012 @11:12PM (#41665653)

        The issue is not the lack of logic, or having weaker minds. (The exact counter argument could be made, in fact. The greeks had an entire profession built around training people to remember huge volumes of information, for instance.)

        The issue is the distance on cultural norms, and radical changes that disruptive technologies produce. (Compare the culture of the 80s, with that of 2012. What changed? What stayed the same? Why?)

        As for the 1880s mathematitian being daunted by factoring a 4096 bit integer, on paper... approach this rationally.

        A 4096 bit integer has more possible factors in an exhaustive search than there were human beings on the planet at the time. Assuming 100% utilization of 100% of the world population, factoring a single crypto block would take more time than the human race had previously existed up until that point. Even with technological devices of the time, running at a few hundred operations per second (per babbage), the absurdity of doing this so uncle sam wouldn't spy on your private correspondence would be dumbfounding.

        (People used cryptograms back then, sure. But nothing approaching the "overkill" of modern cryptography. When we measure "time to factor complete space" in terms of "time before universe dies of heat death", using modern, multi-gigahertz machines with billions of FLOPS each, *and* ubiquity of such horsepower, doing it on PAPER would be laughable, and a good mathematician would point out how impractical that is. Its like inventing superliminal processing, only to get porno from the future.)

        As for victorian era porno.. with exception to houses of ill repute, and dog and pony shows, the "pornography" of the era is easily trumped with a victoria's secret catalog. Goatse, tubgirl, and "2 girls, one cup" and their ilk would send victorians rushing for the door. Remember, "dog and pony" were the "extreme" of that era. The shit on the internet, both real and fake alike-- puts even the raciest stuff from that era to shame in terms of being scandalous.

        While wells might be willing to have an open mind about the future, I think he would draw the line at child porn snuff films, and people using the greatest accomplishment since the library of alexandria to wipe their asses with. (Intellectually speaking.)

        • by azalin (67640)

          While wells might be willing to have an open mind about the future, I think he would draw the line at child porn snuff films, and people using the greatest accomplishment since the library of alexandria to wipe their asses with. (Intellectually speaking.)

          Maybe you should read de Sade sometime. The days of Sodom contain stuff that would make even internet hardened people sick. We aren't talking about Goatse or 1cup anymore with this fellow, we are talking about stuff even hardcore bondage and fetish sites wo

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            While wells might be willing to have an open mind about the future, I think he would draw the line at child porn snuff films, and people using the greatest accomplishment since the library of alexandria to wipe their asses with. (Intellectually speaking.)

            Maybe you should read de Sade sometime. The days of Sodom contain stuff that would make even internet hardened people sick. We aren't talking about Goatse or 1cup anymore with this fellow, we are talking about stuff even hardcore bondage and fetish sites would not dare to show for real.

            Yes, but I think the point is that most ten year olds don't read de Sade as casual entertainment, unlike the crap on the internet.

            • by azalin (67640)
              I thought the point was, that all the poor time traveling great great ... grandfathers would be scared out of their wits by goatse and friends. To which I replied: "I don't think so".
              People have always found pleasure in rather bizarre entertainments. The internet has changed the availability of smut, but not it's range or scope.
              • by wierd_w (1375923)

                I was more aiming for the 'la la la, wow, this internet thing in the future is fantastic, I can get any..... omg, is that mdoing what I think he's doing!? What is wrong with these people!? "Trol-lol-lol"?'

                Eg, wells sits down at the free computer kiosk at the familiar setting of the library, starts researching things to see how culture has changed, and gets sub jected to the very worst the internet has to offer. Walked in expecting enlightenment. Gets a stark lesson in the futility that is man.

                Even better, r

    • by Teancum (67324)

      I wonder what that same HG Wells would have thought of looking at a farmer driving his air conditioned enclosed cab tractor plowing his field while talking on a cell phone negotiating a future contract with a trader in Chicago for the crop he is harvesting at the moment. Or for that matter looking at a bunch of airmen conducting sorties over Afghanistan while relaxing in a Las Vegas suburb.

      Perhaps more astounding would be to tell this time traveler that people went to the Moon, sampled a bunch of rocks, an

    • by Sique (173459)

      Fiberoptic communication, with such strange things as helical polarization would bake their noodles, not to mention such curious things as the GPS network. (Einstein didn't come along until much later. GPS wouldn't work without SR, due to earth's frame dragging.)

      I wouldn't count on that. SR was pretty much in place from a mathematical point of view with Hendrik Antoon Lorentz' Ether Theory of 1892, building on a framework by Hermann Minkowski and finetuned by Henri Poincaré. Until today we learn the Lorentz transformations in SR - and they predate the SR by 13 years. The only thing H.A.Lorentz didn't get right was the Ether. He still believed he needed a medium for lightwaves to propagate. But for calculations, Ether Theory and SR are equivalent, Albert Einste

    • by Burb (620144)

      "Our world would traumatize people from the 19th century." Victorians were not as universally repressed as popular belief would suggest. In public, there was higher standard of "official" morality, perhaps. But HG Wells had a quite colourful love life.

    • > Many of the things we know today, and even take for granted, would be seen as pure magic to a person from the 19th century.
      And to people today.
      > The finer points of how an IC work (such as the quantum nature of the bandgap, especially at nanoscopic scales) would be nearly incomprehensible to such a person.
      Yes, most people today have no idea about such things.
      > Fiberoptic communication, with such strange things as helical polarization would bake their noodles, not to mention such curious things as

      • Why is sex still a taboo subject, and violence considered normal?)

        Because sex is more pleasurable precisely because of it taboo nature. If you take away the taboo, you take a out a lot of the intensity and intimacy.

        Violence, on the other hand, is more public -- in fact a lot of the time that is the point.

  • by tibman (623933) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:09PM (#41664683) Homepage

    What's wrong with a Radium Fireplace? Keeps the place nice and warm.

  • by deodiaus2 (980169) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:29PM (#41664799)
    I think our predictions of the future (regarding the singularity, robots, biogenetics, wealth, energy, and space exploration) will be as off based as these were.
    This is interesting in its own right as it shows just how myopic these visions were.
    I always laugh when I see our future depicted in movies and TV shows. Looking at Star Trek, we see how much the architecture is so 1960's. The knobs and lights look right out of 1967. Even something like the CRT-TVs in UFO and Space 1999 are dated.
    • So true. It's amazing how constrained we are by our own experiences. I've been watching old Outer Limit shows recently, produced in the 1960's. Wonderful examples abound there, such as a future videophone that still uses a rotary dial. Of course, with AT&T being a monopoly again...

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Looking at Star Trek, we see how much the architecture is so 1960's. The knobs and lights look right out of 1967

      Yeah, never mind about warp drive, phaser weapons, communicators, automated sick bays and the rest, let's criticise the fucking set decor.

    • by xenobyte (446878)

      I'm actually surprised that so few shows back then used experts when it came to 'designing the future'. I mean, the reason Star Trek TOS looks so dated was because they took their current technology and surroundings and transplanted them to a spaceship. So you had a typical 1960's environment that just happened to be the bridge of a spaceship. Later, a lot of efforts were put into making the future actually futuristic, and those movies/tv-shows looks a lot less dated today, although there's a lot of huge mi

  • Steampunk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:47PM (#41664875)

    They're far too whimsical to be predictions of OUR present. They're best suited as material for a steampunk movie or anime, what people thought was possible using souped-up versions of the technology of the day. I doubt whether it's possible to predict what the future will look, although it should be possible to describe vaguely what type of technologies people will use. For example, it should be possible to describe a tablet computer in terms that a 19th century geek would understand, a portable magic lantern that can also serve as a camera, telephone, phonograph, etc. In a non-dystopian future, we're sure to have micro-versions of today's supercomputers, but whether it'll look like a smart phone, AR glasses, or something implanted inside our skulls is something for the next Steve Jobs to market to the gadget sheep of the future.

  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:46PM (#41665523)
    Looking at a lot of predictions of 'the future', a lot of them were right on, and a lot of them were "WTF".

    I wonder what a prediction today, of 200 years in the future, would be. Life in 2212. We've been tainted by Star Trek, etc All that stuff should be possible, NOW! But what will it really be like?

    My predictions:
    1. We will have landed men on the Moon again.
    2. We will have landed men on Mars (why? I don't know...)
    3. There will have been another nuclear weapon used in anger (this leads to a major restructuring of global politics)
    4. We still won't have anything like a warp drive
    5. We will have actually come up with a better power source. Cold fusion or similar.
    6. There will still be religious nutcases (See #3)
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      5. We will have actually come up with a better power source. Cold fusion or similar.

      No, in 200 years time that will still be 25 years in the future, just like AI.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @12:23AM (#41665933) Homepage

    We still don't have flying cars. It's clear that massive numbers of flying cars wouldn't work out well. But nobody has produced even a prototype of a useful thrust-type VTOL big enough to carry humans. One would have expected a military version by now. The stability and control problem is solved; little quadrotors under computer control are now incredibly maneuverable in tight spaces. Jet engines have enough power. The F-35 VTOL variant, like the Harrier, works, but the price tag is insane.

    The problem is probably related to jet engine cost. Jet engines good enough for manned aircraft don't get significantly cheaper below 6-passenger bizjet size. That's why general aviation is still using pistons.

    (Moller is part of the problem, not part of the solution.)

    • by WillAdams (45638)

      There's also the physics of energy density, &c. --- remember the ads in the back of Popular Mechanics for the hovercraft one could make using a vacuum cleaner? They'd work, but one couldn't go farther than the extension cord plugged into the wall.

      As a contraption gets smaller you lose more mass in proportion to mechanical structure and have much less volume

  • flying machines were already being developed (just needed fine tuning), gliders were woking, balloons were flying, the telephone was in use, electricity was lighting and heating homes, and the 'robots' were talked about as part of industrial fantasy. As nice as these are, and I'd like a set too, they represent many of the common thoughts of the future.

  • ...so the future can be predicted, in theory, to within an arbitrarily small epsilon neighborhood. But...there is a difference between "predicting the future" and "extrapolating the present." The latter is just one of a myriad ways of accomplishing the former. SF is replete with interesting and intriguing attempts at extrapolating and correlating social/political trends with technological trends. The key, I think, is in identifying which correlations remain stable as the axes along which we are making
  • I was just re-reading Catch that Rabbit to my daughter. I noticed that in 'The future' they spied on the malfunctioning multibot by watching it on the 'Visiplate' a flat screen TV/monitor.

  • What's interesting is how far off the mark the predictions of electricity-based technology these cards are. Lots of mechanical levers and knobs to control things. Also, miniaturization seems to have been missed.

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