Tag Archives: 1970s

Say hello to Life in the Future

Life in the Future - Delphic Study

I’d like to introduce you to Life in the Future, one of my all-time favourite books, which got a passing mention in my diary on 26th July 1986, 28 years ago today. It was published in 1976 and still graces my bookshelf.

My favourite bit of the book has always been the double-page spread above, illustrating a Delphic Study from the mid-60s in which a host of experts were asked when they thought specific technologies might become available. Their answers were collated and plotted on a timeline (starting in the 1970s and finishing with ‘Never’), with markers to show when 50% and 90% of them agreed a particular technology would be in use.

Life in the FutureThe predicted dates were only part of the fun for me. What really interested me was which technologies had been chosen. My favourites – truly children of their time – were:

  • Two-way communication with extra-terrestrials (50% of the experts were expecting this by about 2025, while the rest pessimistically chose ‘Never.’)
  • Automated language translators (should have been done and dusted by the early 70s if you believe the study)
  • Effective, simple and inexpensive fertility control (predicted to be available by 1985)
  • Economic regional weather control (1990-ish)
  • The widely accepted use of non-narcotic drugs for changing personality characteristics (somewhere between the 80s and 90s)

Re-read rather ironically from my vantage point here in the far future – some way past the previously mythical 2000 AD – the book as a whole provides a fascinating insight into 70s thinking.  The influence of the  preceding few years is obvious: the new liberalism and free thinking of the 60s, the 70s energy crisis and the expansion of nuclear power (the accident at Three-Mile Island was just a few years away), the rise of the environmental movement, significant improvements in medical technology  (the first heart transplant was already old news by this point), the development and early use of packet switching telecommunications networks, and so on.

Longer-term hopes featured in the study included the feasibility of education by direct information-recording on the brain, the breeding of intelligent animals as a low-grade labour force, the control of gravity by modifying gravitational fields and economic ocean farming to produce at least 20% of the world’s food. Wonderful stuff.

Despite the boundless technological optimism on show, the experts had to draw the line somewhere. They baulked both at the use of telepathy and ESP in communications, and at the idea of induced long-term comas used as a form of time travel.

Before long, I’ll be reading Life in the Future on a date beyond the end point of the study, which was around 2020. Compiling a list of likely technological change over the next 60 years would be just as difficult today as it was back in the 60s – but it might be fun to try (suggestions below please!).

Finally, it’s worth noting that while the study was busying itself with telepathy, controlling gravity and alien contact, it missed a few rather important developments that we take for granted today:

  • Instant access to a worldwide network of connected computers – from a device you hold in your hand
  • A system allowing you to search all the world’s knowledge – anytime you want, and from pretty much anywhere
  • In-vehicle video and audio navigation systems controlled by a global satellite network

…to name but three!

If you were taking part in a similar study in 2014, I’d love to know what key technology breakthroughs you’d expect between now and 2080. Who knows, if we compile a big enough list, the Internet could help us run a Delphic study of our own!Futuristic capes

*Life in the Future was written by Michael Ross-Macdonald, Michael Hassell and Stuart McNeill. I can’t remember how I came by it (I wasn’t keeping a diary back then!), but it’s essentially a broad and very readable look at predicting the future and how people affect it by the way they organise themselves and live their lives. I realised as I got older that  it was written with a clear environmental slant which was very new at the time. I owe it a lot.
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Life as a child of 2000 AD

2000AD Prog 1 coverDiary date: 26th February, 1985

My diary entry for this date briefly laments the fact that I was no longer buying my favourite childhood comic, 2000 AD. I distinctly remember the excitement of the very first edition on the same date in 1977 (which was why I was writing about it). It had a free mini-frisbee taped to the cover and promised space-age dinosaurs, an all-new Dan Dare, and a kind of bionic man called M.A.C.H-1. Interestingly, there was no mention of the comic’s most famous and long-lasting son, Judge Dredd, who didn’t appear until issue two, and even then didn’t make the cover.

2000 AD tapped perfectly into the 70’s feeling that the end of the century was one of those watershed moments before which anything was possible and at which everything would have changed. Knowing it was coming was like having your own personal and predictable singularity, constantly on the horizon.

Everyone used to work out how old they’d be in the year 2000, and wondered  about things like whether they’d be married and have children, or what job they might be doing. Anything and everything seemed possible. In the end – married and with two children at the time – I spent New Year’s Eve 1999 rather mundanely at work, watching  the office survive the much-hyped Millennium Bug.

The year 2000 gave everyone a kind of collective and optimistic milestone (the Millennium Bug aside) – something we were building towards together and which we shared. Now it’s done and dusted, the emphasis has moved quietly back to individual, cultural, sporting or national milestones. Perhaps the lack of a year 2000 equivalent accounted for at least a little of last year’s  buzz about the end of the world supposedly predicted by the Mayan Calendar on 21-12-12.

Meanwhile – and rather wonderfully and reassuringly – 2000 AD comic is still called 2000 AD, having managed to come to stand for an entire millennium rather than a single year.

And perhaps without even acknowledging it, the rest of the world has made exactly the same shift.