Does anyone know of one single world event that was predicted 25 years or more before it happened?
September 11, 2011 12:38 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know of one single world event that was predicted 25 years or more before it happened I use Prediction as being a statement about a fundamentally unknown aspect of the future, and Event as a non-recurring event.
posted by terminus to Science & Nature (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
the american civil war? Given the compromises made to get everyone to agree on the constitution, I figure people anticipated the country might go that route.
posted by mulligan at 12:42 AM on September 11, 2011

I'm not sure what the motivation behind the question is (like if it's for a fictional story), but I gotta add that for every successful long-term prediction, I'm sure there's tons more that were unsuccessful.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:50 AM on September 11, 2011

...Or that there may have been successes that were deemed as such even though the original wording is vague and open to interpretation. Nostradamus comes to mind.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:53 AM on September 11, 2011

In The Economic Consequences of the Peace, published in 1920, John Maynard Keynes predicted that there would be war again within a generation. Not quite 25 years, but a real example nonetheless.
posted by number9dream at 1:06 AM on September 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

Probably not exactly what you're after, but here's Arthur C. Clarke in 1964 predicting instant communication.
posted by hypersloth at 1:25 AM on September 11, 2011

number9dream, it's a good example, but fails to cross my (arbitrary I admit) 25 year bar. So, thanks, but still looking :)
posted by nickji at 1:27 AM on September 11, 2011

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky laid the groundwork ideas for rocket flight in space and satellites being possible. Herman Potocnik wrote in 1928 about geostationary satellites communicating with Earth via radio. Arthur C. Clarke most famously built on this idea and predicted in 1945 that we would have geostationary satellites used for broadcast and telecommunications relays.

Geostationary satellites were put into orbit in 1964. I'm not entirely sure whether you'd count Potocnik's book as a prediction in that no satellite had been launched or proven feasible until 1957 with Sputnik, yet he predicted stable geostationary satellites with remote communication into space. Clarke's prediction was only 19 years ahead and really just put pieces of known science together in a revolutionary application.

Beyond that, the closest I can say to a prediction would be the United States ending slavery which was really a process rather than an event given that even the Missouri Compromise in 1820 was a clear sign that slavery was not going to last in a united nation. That, and others alongside Keynes predicting that WW2 would occur between the German national mood and the conditions in the Treaty of Versailles being completely impossible for the German public to withstand. That one was 1919-1939 though, thus another not hitting your 25 year bar.

So for an event, I'd say Herman Potocnik comes closest in that his prediction of geostationary satellites was 36 years ahead of its time and 29 years ahead of the elliptical Sputnik.
posted by Saydur at 1:33 AM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes, Potocnik appears to meet all the criteria, especially because no satellite had been launched - a genuine prediction. Got to read his works. Thanks. That's one. Any more??
posted by nickji at 1:48 AM on September 11, 2011

In 1821, Alexis Bouvard predicted the existence of an eighth planet, on the basis of mathematical modeling of irregularities in the orbit of Uranus. Neptune was discovered in 1846.

Edward Bellamy's 1887 novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887 predicted skyscrapers, credit cards, and something like a television.

Jules Verne 1863 novel Paris in the Twentieth Century predicted skyscrapers, high speed trains, calculators, cars, and a worldwide communications network.

(And, yeah, I am just stealing these from Wikipedia's List of predictions..)
posted by Ahab at 1:59 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

In 1821, Alexis Bouvard predicted the existence of an eighth planet, on the basis of mathematical modeling of irregularities in the orbit of Uranus. Neptune was discovered in 1846.

That seems to me to be less a prediction and more tantamount to the discovery itself.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:12 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Interesting selection, but only credit cards seem to possibly fit the bill. Bouvard does not meet the fundamentally unknown criterion, since he used maths. Skyscrapers also seem to fail that requirement. TV seems a natural extension of radio, which was invented in 1895, many people then predicted transmission of pictures would occur; ditto for high speed trains, calculators, cars and even communication network I think. I'd have to read the book to see if credit cards make it onto the list. Thanks for the info.
posted by nickji at 2:54 AM on September 11, 2011

Should have said Bouvard used a mathematical approach to analyzing existing knowledge
posted by nickji at 2:55 AM on September 11, 2011

Emmanuel Todd "La chute finale" 1976, predicted the break down of the Soviet Union.
(Not 25 years, but still amazing, especially given his age at this time with 25)
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:04 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

In 1801, Edward Jenner foresaw that inoculation would eventually lead to the worldwide eradication of smallpox:
An hundred thousand persons have been inoculated in these realms. The numbers who have partaken of its benefits throughout Europe and other parts of the globe are incalculable: and it now becomes too manifest to admit of controversy, that the annihilation of the Small Pox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice.
The last case of smallpox in a human "in the wild" was in 1977; there was one laboratory-acquired infection in 1978. It was declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1980.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:25 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

As number9dream say, World War 2 was widely predicted when the Treaty of Versailles was signed. That's only twenty years, but nail the start of the war with a year is pretty good, IMO.
posted by Leon at 5:14 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Global warming was predicted in 1975, and measurable consequences of the prediction were not expected to be seen for 50 years or more, but in the last few years, it turns out to be happening faster than originally thought/hoped, and evidence now abounds way ahead of the expected schedule. Not sure if that means the prediction wasn't accurate enough for you.

Global peak oil might qualify as well, but Hubert's accurate US-peak prediction was at most a 20 year prediction.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:18 AM on September 11, 2011

the fish: I just joined, so can't pose. A friend posted my question for me, hence I reply.
posted by nickji at 5:29 AM on September 11, 2011

Incidentally, I asked the question because of the predictions being made by the IPCC. I find it hard to believe that anyone can predict the world's climate 25+ years ahead, so was curious to see any past successful predictions. So far, the record doesn't seem to be very impressive.
posted by nickji at 5:35 AM on September 11, 2011

"Climate" is not a single or non-recurring event. A prediction about a single, non-recurring temperature event would be something like "On May 21st, 2035, the high temperature in St. Louis, MO will be 75 degF"
posted by muddgirl at 5:55 AM on September 11, 2011 [8 favorites]

The 1988 climate projections by Hansen et al. are about as consistent with what has happened to the climate as one could expect according to this 2007 Real Climate post. Nothing's changed in the climate system since then to think that those projections are any less consistent.

As an aside, note that the IPCC is an assessment body. It does not make climate predictions. They assess various aspects of the state of our knowledge of the climate system.
posted by plastic_animals at 6:29 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - please do not include lulzy comments about your own birth. nickji please do not threadsit and DEFINITELY do not turn this into an argument about climate change and global warming. Period.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:31 AM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Edward Jenner demonstrated that inoculation with cowpox could protect against smallpox in 1798. The global eradication of smallpox was certified in 1979. I'm guessing that if you went through the literature published anytime in the 191 years in between could find predictions by numerous doctors and scientists that "one day, the world will be free of smallpox."

Does the question include predictions that have been made by extrapolating from existing trends? Things like life-expectancy, the extinctions of various animals particular regions, world population estimates, disease incidence etc? Because I would expect many of the predictions made in the early 1980s about what our life-expectancy should be today, for example, would be reasonably accurate.
posted by kisch mokusch at 6:42 AM on September 11, 2011

I use Prediction as being a statement about a fundamentally unknown aspect of the future

If it's fundamentally unknown, then you're basically asking has anyone ever made a completely arbitrary guess that came true 25 or more years later? People do this all the time.

Are you asking about specific codified instances? If so your question needs clarification, but assuming so:

When the Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells predicts television, nuclear war, urbanization, highways, regular commercial air flight… all sorts of shit. It was written in 1898. His other works from the same period, A Story of the Days to Come has similar predictions.

Brave New World by Huxley predicts test tube babies and a society held in harmonious contentment by the over-prescription of mood and state-altering drugs.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:56 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it's fundamentally unknown, then you're basically asking has anyone ever made a completely arbitrary guess that came true 25 or more years later?

Yeah, pretty much the way this is framed, there is no answer. Even the "science fiction predicted X" answers aren't really true -- Vern imagined the Nautilus, but he wasn't really predicting an atomic submarine, just a submarine (which already existed) that had some sort of energy source that didn't require the vessel to surface relatively quickly. Or, you know, Gibson imagined the web, but it doesn't really act anything like how he describes it, so all he did was make a (moderately) educated guess that this is the state of computer-mediated communication now, in X years it will be better/faster/cheaper/whatever.

Even prophets (of whatever stripe) are extrapolating from what they already know. "Nero will get his" will almost certainly come true, because we have established that Nero exists, and all human beings get theirs, unstable Roman Emperors more than most. "At [some unspecified time] a prophet/god/liberator/whatever will come" is going to either lead people to keep trying on the prophecy until it sticks or b) forget about the prophecy and the prophet.

Science relies on observation of extant phenomena, so that's out, and prophecy relies on even a pig with a bad cold finding a truffle occasionally, so pretty much you've eliminated everything.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:14 AM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sorry, that's "Verne."
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:25 AM on September 11, 2011

I find it hard to believe that anyone can predict the world's climate 25+ years ahead

It might help to realise that they're not predictions based on the climate, they're observations of physics and maths - this gas has these thermal properties, which differ from the properties of this other gas. Should the gas makeup of the atmosphere change in X way, the thermal properties will therefore change in Y way. The rate at which we emit some of these gases is known, because the chemical equations of burning fuels is known, and almost all fuels are purchased, and therefore measured and tracked. The volume of the atmosphere is known, and the volume of the new gases is known, and the thermal effects of the difference is known. Once you're looking at those numbers, it's hardly rocket science to predict climate change, it's as trite as saying "6 is more than 4", the difficult part is predicting how much, how fast, and in what forms - and that's really complicated, as carbon affects it own cycle, among many other very complex issues.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:33 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

they're not predictions based on the climate

I mean the original 1975 predictions. We do have climate-based predictions today, based on things like observing how the climate reacted aeons ago in the past when the atmospheric makeup was different/shifting, etc.

posted by -harlequin- at 7:39 AM on September 11, 2011

Lebniz predicted mechanical calculating machines. Such machines were not made for hundreds of year.
posted by pmb at 7:45 AM on September 11, 2011

The ozone hole may be of interest, since it's also atmospheric, and a success story. CFC's were fingered in 1976, it was predicted to take 50 or so years for the hole to dissipate once CFCs were phased out, and 30+ years on, the prediction looks valid - the hole is definitely shrinking as expected, but as expected, will take many more years to disappear.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:46 AM on September 11, 2011

In a sense, Darwin predicted DNA, and it was 200ish years before it was discovered. (Origin of Species describes in great detail the mechanisms by which traits are inherited, and that's all fine and dandy until you realise that the DNA and chromosomes and other systems he's talking about weren't known at all back then, and he's quite accurately describing the inner workings of a black box from 50 years of carefully observing its output)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:52 AM on September 11, 2011

Mod note: seriously folks, answer the question as asked or just keep on moving. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:15 AM on September 11, 2011

Somewhat relevant, but interesting: supercomputer predicts revolution.
posted by zadcat at 9:16 AM on September 11, 2011

In 1871, Dmitri Mendeleev predicted the discovery of, and the basic physical properties of, the element we currently know as technetium. Technetium was discovered 66 years later.
posted by Flunkie at 9:17 AM on September 11, 2011

George Orwell, 1984.
posted by txmon at 10:46 AM on September 11, 2011

I'm just finishing reading Snow Crash for the first time. And though it's only 20 years old, I am amazed at all the things Stephenson predicted in this book that have come true.
posted by Xurando at 10:53 AM on September 11, 2011

the 1966 book Giles Goat-Boy by John Barth predicted the use of HTML (and contains a summary encyclopedia of hyptertext usage) well before it was deployed for common use in 1992, which seems to fit your criteria. However, the word "hypertext" was coined by another author in 1963, and it's an advancement in worldwide technology rather than an event - but isn't it fascinating?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:53 AM on September 11, 2011

In 1705, Newton's friend Edmond Halley calculated that a comet which had appeared in 1682 had approximately the same orbit as two earlier comets which had been observed in 1531 and 1607. He hypothesized that all three were in fact the same comet, and predicted that it would return in 1758.

Halley died in 1742. The comet, now known as Halley's comet, was observed in December 1758. This was one of the earliest and most spectacular tests of Newton's laws of motion.
posted by russilwvong at 3:11 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

The earliest predictions of carbon dioxide driven global warming go way back: "any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth's surface by 4°" - Svante Arrhenius in 1906. He didn't get the timing right though because he didn't foresee how far coal consumption would rise.
posted by Canard de Vasco at 6:52 PM on September 11, 2011

This isn't much help, but I recall reading somewhere that a science fiction author predicted the use of domain names on a global computer network, and specifically predicted that "good" memorable domain names would be quickly snatched up and monopolized. No idea whether it fits the 25-year qualification or who the author was. Anyone know?
posted by jayder at 8:36 PM on September 11, 2011

This interesting page suggests that a gyro-stabilized personal conveyance like the Segway was predicted by Robert Heinlein in a 1940 short story:

Robert A. Heinlein again. In a 1940 short story, “The Roads Must Roll,” RAH described the “Tumblebug,” a one-person vehicle that is stabilized gyroscopically, much like the Segway Human Transporter (now available) or the Bombardier Embrio (which is still in development). The same story described a public transport system, the “rolling road,” that is similar to mass people-moving devices now in use at large airports.

A tumblebug does not give a man dignity, since it is about the size and shape of a kitchen stool, gyro-stabilized on a singe wheel…. It can go through an opening the width of a man’s shoulders, is easily controlled, and will stand patiently upright, waiting, should its rider dismount.

posted by jayder at 8:44 PM on September 11, 2011

Not to get too far on a tangent, but: One-wheeled personal vehicle.
posted by NMcCoy at 10:51 PM on September 11, 2011

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