We were promised jet packs.
June 29, 2019 11:27 AM   Subscribe

What are some futuristic things we were supposed to have by now? What are some futuristic things we have now that weren’t predicted?
posted by pxe2000 to Grab Bag (45 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
When my friend was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 11 she was told they were ten years from a cure. We’re 42 now.
posted by something something at 11:31 AM on June 29 [14 favorites]

According to the 21st Century Expo in Seattle in 1962, by the year 2000 we could all be working 24 hour weeks due to automation, yet still be making the equivalent of $110,000 a year.

Also monorails everywhere.
posted by gc at 11:41 AM on June 29 [15 favorites]

Flying cars; nuclear fusion (depending on your start date for "by now" .. fusion's been 30 years in the future for most of my life)

One we do have (and I worked on in late '70s): a pocket device which can translate from one language to another. My phone does it!

Futuristic things we didn't expect: breakdown of western democracy
posted by anadem at 11:51 AM on June 29 [14 favorites]

I was told that by now the majority of us would be unable to walk on our own, that due to atrophy and not needed to walk anywhere we’d be wheelchair bound (ala Wall-E).
posted by Sassyfras at 11:53 AM on June 29

I remember hearing somewhere around 20 years ago that "if you're under 40, you don't need to worry about Alzheimer's disease" because it would be cured by the time we'd have to worry about it. Not so much.
posted by Daily Alice at 11:54 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]

- Cure for cancer (mixed record: it was not expected to be as complicated as it turned out to be)
- Domestic robots (does Roomba count?)
- Flying cars (nope)
- Atomic-powered cars (nope)
- Videophones (which we have, sorta, but most people don't want to use)
- Food in pill form (nope)
- Weather control (nope)
- Universal prosperity (nope)
posted by adamrice at 11:56 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]

Space hotels / colonies / moon bases like in 2001.
posted by Reverend John at 12:04 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]

I was told:
  • ...easy access to cheap computing would democratize everything
  • ...marvels of efficiency would reduce poverty to income disparity and income disparity to mere aspirational dreams and pluckiness
  • ...the long tail would pluck everything good out of obscurity and bring it to market segments who'd appreciate their finer qualities
  • ...that the downfall of society would be the result of earth shattering events such as nuclear war or zombie infections.
In short I grew up in a meritocracies-are-great-so-long-as-you-look-like-us-and-don't-look-too-hard=at-what-our-parents-and-grandparents-did-to-those-we-deem-without-merit place and time and read too much science fiction.
posted by mce at 12:09 PM on June 29 [6 favorites]

If you look at old copies of Popular Mechanics, especially those from to 1950s, you'll note that everything flies, runs on atomic power, and has epic tailfins. Oh, and the Portland Cement Association was running ads for an all-concrete blast-resistant house.
posted by pipeski at 12:19 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]

Cyberpunkish: We did get better and better prosthetics, but nowhere near the level of brain-integration promised, yet. Exoskeletons are still in trial phases.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:29 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]

Space colonies
posted by thelonius at 12:41 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]

Although there may be some isolated examples, scifi as a genre largely failed to predict the cellphone.

There are devices that serve a similar function, like the Star Trek communicators. And there are works that saw further ahead to something more like the smartphone - a more general purpose computer & communications device in a pocketable format.

But the idea of just taking a telephone, with a phone number, and seamlessly turning that into something everyone would just carry in their pocket everywhere, feels like it was broadly not anticipated until it happened.
posted by automatronic at 1:03 PM on June 29 [12 favorites]

1. Wireless everything. (We still need damn cords everywhere.)
2. A way to get songs from an L.P. directly transferred to our iPhone playlists. WHEN? WHEN? WHEN?
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:18 PM on June 29

Well, I saw this guy buzzing through Gothenburg the other week, on some electrically-driven single-wheel balance thing ant thought, that's a modern way to go to work. On the minus-side, bones knit just as slowly as before.
posted by Namlit at 1:33 PM on June 29 [5 favorites]

Anytime I watch any videos from the 50s about "the future!" it always includes complicated equipment with banks of knobs and dials. At that time they did not foresee the design aesthetic for being as streamlined and smooth as possible. To hide the buttons and/or make everything touch-sensitive or voice-activated.
posted by acidnova at 1:35 PM on June 29 [9 favorites]

Easy, DIY menstrual extraction.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:50 PM on June 29 [16 favorites]

a pocket device which can translate from one language to another

We were promised this but we do not have it. What your phone thing gives you is a rough translation but no more. I went to a conference in 1979 where it ws said tht we would have FAHQT ( Fully Automatic High Quality Translation) within fifteen years. No-one in the field now says it is anywhere near.
posted by TheRaven at 2:12 PM on June 29

In my childhood, I had this book, published in 1959, called You Will Go to the Moon.

I didn’t.

But I do remember in grade school, about 1964, reading a description of an amazing kind of future oven and being very sure that, even if such a magical thing existed, I would never have one. Of course, that’s a microwave.
posted by FencingGal at 2:12 PM on June 29 [9 favorites]

A solution to the nuclear waste problem.
Working more than zero hours a week.
posted by scruss at 2:50 PM on June 29

male contraception
posted by blob at 3:08 PM on June 29 [9 favorites]

Here's my list of disappointments:
  • 401k's would work better than company retirement plans.
  • Stream-lined (and maybe even fairer) US Income Tax Code. I would give that prediction about a D- grade.
  • For the most part the US still doesn't have affordable higher education, but we have managed to increase the number of adjunct professors.

posted by forthright at 3:35 PM on June 29

All These Worlds (except Europa).
posted by heatherlogan at 4:18 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]

Futuristic thing we have that was not predicted is true diversity in society. In SF “equality” often meant that women were treated like men, instead of challenging the systems that elevated men and valuing feminine-coded things. Same
with race, we would be “colour-blind” by treating everyone like they are white, but the reality is more complex.

Education has not changed as much as expected. Still a lot of rote learning, learn to line up, regurgitate what you have been told instead of investigation and developing critical thinking skills.

There is no cure for cancer but it (along with a bunch of other previously fatal diseases) have become chronic conditions thanks to research and recognition of the social detireminatants of health. When Terry Fox was diagnosed with cancer in 1977 the five year survival rate for his cancer was 5%, - it is now over 80% and amputations are rare.

The ease of spreading information would make us all smarter - I think the spread of flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers kiboshes that idea.
posted by saucysault at 4:22 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]

When they said we shall overcome some day, as a child I thought that day was coming soon.
posted by hungrytiger at 5:20 PM on June 29 [11 favorites]

In the late 1970s, lots of mainstream publications were absolutely sure that the planet would run out of oil in 10 years.

Also: Star Trek totally had the iPad.
posted by Melismata at 6:22 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]

I feel like most people expected newspapers to stick around in the future and didn't predict that they would collapse into irrelevancy as quickly as they have now and that we would live in a "post truth" world

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are around the corner, but not in the way some were imagining. Though, speaking of which, why don't we have Kaneda bikes yet?

Blade Runner told us we'd have off-world colonies and murder droids, but that Pan Am would still be around.

According to Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series, we'd be on Mars next year.

I don't think people expected that the Internet would run on cat pictures and porn.

I wonder if our psychological addiction to social media maps to Brave New World's concept of soma
posted by bl1nk at 7:00 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]

Weather control.
posted by inexorably_forward at 10:24 PM on June 29

posted by kirkaracha at 10:47 PM on June 29

We would travel by high speed moving walkways (Heinlein's The Roads Must Roll)
posted by kokaku at 3:38 AM on June 30

The full implementation of the ADA, and full inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:31 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]

Automatic kitchens. Push some buttons and dinner is served! I really want n autochef ala JD Robb's Eve Dallas series.
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:18 AM on June 30

Gender equality.
posted by catesbie at 7:22 AM on June 30 [5 favorites]

This thread prompted me to dig up an online copy of Usborne's Book of the Future, which was written in 1979 and blew my preteen mind. They predicted that we would go back to the Moon to mine it and ship resources back via railguns, and that our 2020 Olympics would be held in that lunar colony. So there's definitely some goofy optimistic stuff in there, but they also knew enough about current trends to predict things like e-mail, fish farming, high def flatscreen TVs, genetically modified crops, and AI automation taking over for manufacturing jobs. Though, fwi, they also assumed we'd be talking to each other via wrist radios and using pipelines to move raw materials (besides oil) from city to city
posted by bl1nk at 7:49 AM on June 30

Marriage equality. I never dreamed that acceptance of gay people would come so far in my lifetime. Still not perfect of course, but widespread.
posted by cats are weird at 10:39 AM on June 30 [4 favorites]

Atomic fission reactors are an interesting case. We've had them, but maybe they will disappear.

I don't remember any prediction of the decoding of the human genome, much less the decoding of the genomes of any number of other species. OTOH, it has not yet fulfilled it's promise (though it's still pretty new science).

The understanding that the Andromeda Cluster was a different galaxy, and that therefore that the universe is larger than the Milky Way, is new in my lifetime (I'm 72). The whole science of the universe outside the Milky Way is new since the Hubble Telescope about 20 years ago.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:07 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]

ya the jetpack is a huge disappointment for me. I believe the most unexpected is the smartphone & social media. And instead of using it to open our minds we use it to close them.....
posted by patnok at 12:57 PM on June 30

Some of the technology that Bowie's alien character brings with him in The Man Who Fell to Earth seem to have a real-life analog. I remember the self-developing film which may or may not have predated the tech that polaroid had at that time (movie was released in 1976). But weirdly, what always stuck with me were the glasses Bowie wore which could darken thw lenses and become sunglasses. I had seen the movie in the late 90s some time before transition lenses were available on the market and it blew my mind that those glasses had become real.
posted by acidnova at 1:50 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]

Ray Ban Ambermatic was available in 1974 and photosensitive prescription lenses were available at least as early as the mid-80s.
posted by splicer at 2:51 PM on June 30

Anytime I watch any videos from the 50s about "the future!" it always includes complicated equipment with banks of knobs and dials. At that time they did not foresee the design aesthetic for being as streamlined and smooth as possible. To hide the buttons and/or make everything touch-sensitive or voice-activated.
Well, not so much “design aesthetic” as “drive to cheapness.” It’s cheaper to have fake-o-rooney software-simulated controls than actual switches you can touch. As fo voice control, it is one of those things we were promised that has not arrived. I don’t NKVD you can legitimately call it “control” if it can’t be depended on to work all of the time.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 3:33 PM on June 30

All our food needs would be met by harvesting the limitless bounty of the oceans.

Micro plastic particles isn't much of a surprise but it wasn’t talked about much in the 70s. Chemical pollution and litter were more immediate concerns- nobody dreamed that unrefillable plastic beverage containers would be a allowed onto the market.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:46 PM on June 30

My biggest impression from 1950s futurism was the future would be amazing, equitable, affordable, comfortable--nay, luxurious--and free of worry.

Zero for five isn't too bad.
posted by maxwelton at 2:36 PM on July 1

An interesting aside: Many scientists watching Star Trek during the 60's found the faster than lightspeed travel in spaceships a believable future possibility, but a computer you could talk to through handheld devices? No way. It will never happen.
posted by xammerboy at 10:47 PM on July 1

My biggest impression from 1950s futurism was the future would be amazing, equitable, affordable, comfortable--nay, luxurious--and free of worry.

FWIW, the human impulse to believe that the future would be wonderful, leisurely, and a glorious redemption of our daily state of drudgery, that dream is eternal and constant. It’s just 1000 years ago in Western minds, the intermediate step that would bring it about was Divine Armageddon and the destruction of all life.

So maybe not much has really changed.
posted by bl1nk at 4:23 AM on July 2

On a smaller scale, when barcode technology in the grocery store was introduced, the idea was that the cashier would have a bag ready, scan your item, and put it in the bag immediately, making your trip faster and more efficient. Instead the cashier scans it and sends it down a belt to another person (who may or may not exist) to bag your groceries. Just like it always was with the button-type cash registers.

I don't know what that bothers me so much, but I just feel lied to.
posted by CathyG at 1:40 PM on July 2

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