1950 Predictions About 2000

In 1950 Robert A. Heinlein wrote, on assignment, an article about what life in 2000 would be like, using his technique of extrapolation of social and technological trends for the majority of the content. He included 19 positive predictions, with short comments on each, and a short list of “negative predictions” – things that would not be developed. I’ve enjoyed rereading this article and its 1965 and 1980 updates (which can be found in his book Expanded Universe), and thought it might be interesting to list off his predictions here – taking just the basic 19 statements, not the essay they’re found in or the comments on each, to avoid copyright issues.

I’m placing it in Great Debates because I think there is fertile fuel for several debates in the content.


Like most long term predictions, most of these are wrong. And he did a lot better than most.

Predicting the future is pretty much impossible.

The sun will rise in the east… :smiley: :stuck_out_tongue:

Zev Steinhardt

Wow, good topic, Polycarp! He hit the nail on the head re sex, cell phones, and the collapse of the Soviet empire.

IMO, there are a number of things on this list that should have come true, and could have come true, but didn’t. His space exploration predictions should have come to pass, and could have. Why they didn’t is a good subject for debate. Prediction #3 could have something to do with it – fear (on the part of govt officials) of letting ordinary people get into space in any significant way. We might drop rocks on them (as Heinlein described in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”.)

No. 4, IMO, is another “should be right” – a preventive strike is just plain wrong. We should not do such a thing.

And #5 – why ARE we still buidling houses one by one, from scratch? Is this one of those situations where a powerful industry is not allowing developments to occur that it thinks would spell its demise?

I think the green revolution postponed #6 and #18. I HOPE he was right about #19.

Well, he seems to have gotten 2, 3, and 11 right. 8 might be right; 9 is partially right (the first human clones are due in January, which kind of counts as regeneration, provided the clone doesn’t mind giving up a kidney or some skin for transplants if needed…). 15 is still in progress…

He mentioned in a follow-up in 1980 that his predictions did assume the race for space would be important, and that our technological base would increase to support it; however, he did not predict that we’d gut the space program following the Apollo program, and that that was probably responsible for a sudden slow-down in technological breakthroughs, which would be required for most of his predictions to come through (fast transport, antigravity, conquering the solar system, interplanetary travel, medicine, SkyNet).

Well there is a pretty healthy manufactured housing market but for some reason people don’t want to buy them. Certainly in Southern California the price of the actual house is a pretty small compared to the land. If you gave the house part away for free we would still be worried about how lots of people cannot afford to buy a house.

Just to add to the topic, here are some predicitons for 2000 made in 1900 by Ladies’ Home Journal. I’m impressed with “Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits,” and “Hot and Cold Air from Spigots,” but most of the other predictions are hilariously offbase.

Very interesting, Eve! The Hot and Cold Air idea is close ot airconditioning, except that all the hot air is generated by a centralized factory.

My favorite from that list:
-Not only will it be possible for a physician to actually see a living, throbbing heart inside the chest, but he will be able to magnify and photograph any part of it. This work will be done with rays of invisible light. [a combination of X-rays and microcameras?]
-Figs will be cultivated over the entire United States. [hee hee!]
-Fast-flying refrigerators on land and sea will bring delicious fruits from the tropics and southern temperate zone within a few days. The farmers of South America, South Africa, Australia and the South Sea Islands, whose seasons are directly opposite to ours, will thus supply us in winter with fresh summer foods, which cannot be grown here. [spot on!]
-Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of today. They will purchase materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking. Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes or automobile wagons. [Pizza delivery?]
-Aerial War-Ships and Forts on Wheels. Giant guns will shoot twenty-five miles or more, and will hurl anywhere within such a radius shells exploding and destroying whole cities. (sounds like artillery shells, bomber planes, and nuclear missiles – but then it goes on to say:] Such guns will be armed by aid of compasses when used on land or sea, and telescopes when directed from great heights.
-The American will be taller by from one to two inches. His increase of stature will result from better health, due to vast reforms in medicine, sanitation, food and athletics. He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present – for he will reside in the suburbs. [this one cracks me up too.]


I must say I disagree. I found these predictions very insightful and often quite accurate. Given they’ve been written one century ago, I’m actually impressed…

How the heck are we supposed to build them? Grow them?
What about the flying cars? I want my damn flying cars!

Eh, Poly, when I read Heinlein’s list, I don’t see any sort of realistic predictions or extrapolations from 1950 technology–I just hear Post-Industrial Revolution/Early Cold War wishful thinking.

It’s kind of sad, actually.

Even in the parts about eating yeast and being “a little bit” hungry, you can hear the already-current perception that the American diet was too high in proteins and fats. “It might not be such a bad thing for us to have to cut back a little…”

And I have to say that the things he predicted we would never get are pretty much no-brainers. All of them are scientifically, physically, impossible, and were so even back in 1950.

Especially the part about “no end to war”. The only place I’m aware of that “an end to war” has ever been predicted is in the Bible, and we all know how scientific that is. :smiley:

I have to agree with clairobscur, they did a fantastic job! Below is my count of how they did. My list is, of course, my own opinion; feel free to disagree. See Eve’s link to get the specifics.
[ul]Dead On (or close enough):
6-Automobiles take over for horses
9-Transmission of photos
10-Transmission of moving pictures
18-Telephones around the world
21-Transportation of fresh food

Right in most details:
5-Details of transportation (no airplanes)
8-war predictions
15-protection of food in stores
23-Ready cooked meals (cooking isn’t an extravagence)
27-Advances in medicine

Sort of right:
12-Larger crops (too specific and too big)
13-Same as 12

Right in some details:
2-Right on height, wrong on health and living conditions
14-Flower manipulation
17-change in the education system
24-Vegtables grown by electricity
20-How we get power
26-Similar to 12
29-Really fast ships

Dead Wrong:
1-Population and growth of US
3-Amount of exercise
4-No ground level traffic in cities, no noise
11-Eradication of pest insects
16-Modification of the alphabet
22-Store purchase by tube
28-No wild animals


Just kidding.

Heinlein’s talking about a bunch of guys showing up at a jobsite, with a pile of raw materials, and a building a house, instead of the house being built on an assembly line and delivered in sections for final assembly at the property site. While this is being done, it’s not very widespread. About the only place where manufactured housing is not treated with scorn is Japan.

Look out your east-facing window tomorrow morning. :smiley:

Zev Steinhardt

But the sun won’t “rise” in the east. The Earth will rotate so that we see the sun again.

So there.

In Atlantic City we have a thermal utility company which provides steam heat to many of the casinos and other buildings in the area.

I was particularly amused by the prediction that we won’t be creating life in a laboratory anytime soon. I would have thought that by 1980, a person could have seen that the revolution in molecular biology would lead to that sooner or later. (For those who haven’t heard the news, the govt. just gave Venter a grant to create an artificial chromosome, with the ultimate goal being the creation of life from nonliving components. This isn’t an original idea of Venter’s, either- at least 5 or so years ago people were debating whether we should go ahead and start serious work on the creation of life, or whether it would be too dangerous.)

BTW, in the 1960’s it was so hard to sequence proteins and genes that a lot of scientists left the field for neuroscience, figuring that the brain would be easier to study. Not too long afterwards they figured out how to sequence genes easily, and the whole field was revolutionized.

Only slightly off-topic:

I remember there was a book by the authors of The Book of Lists which collected predictions by a number of experts, and the experts could be divided into three groups:

  1. Experts who are seriously asking what will happen in the next 50 years,

  2. Psychics who want to make sensationalistic predictions (Kissinger to become movie director!)

  3. People with an axe to grind. The reporter from High Times predicted that by the year 2000, marijuana will be legal, supported by government subsidy, and copiously consumed by 100% of the population of the U.S. Meanwhile, the sexperts predicted that all American adults will go to elaborate masquerade orgies three times a week.

In the case of tooth decay, Heinlein may very well turn out to be right – he’ll just have been premature by a few years: