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Science Technology

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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  • lame (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:37PM (#41664489)
    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!
  • 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.

  • Re:Predictions (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @11:28PM (#41665727)

    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 somewhere in the early-mid 90s, making predictions for the future. One of them was for the "magazine of the future" (i.e., on a computer), with no linear page numbering, everything just hyperlinked, embedded video clips, etc. Seemed pretty out there at the time but was, as it turns out, very accurate.

  • Re:Predictions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by IorDMUX (870522) <mark DOT zimmerman3 AT gmail DOT 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.

  • 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.)

  • Re:Predictions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @04:16AM (#41666671) Journal

    The communicator was basically a walkie-talkie, not attached to a phone network and only carried by a few elite people.

    It's been a while since I watched Star Trek, but I think this is wrong on two counts. First, it was a fully switched network: every call started with '{caller} to {callee}' and then the network made the connection. Second, the show almost never touched on civilians within the Federation except (occasionally) those on frontiers, so there's no evidence that they were not carried by everyone (although presumably Star Fleet had their own version with longer range and a more generic and uniform case than the civilian models). We did see that most civilian comms traffic involved fixed terminals, but only because the ones we saw were video conferences, and these tend to be much more convenient if you have a big screen and somewhere to sit.

  • 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.

It's time to boot, do your boot ROMs know where your disk controllers are?

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