Arthur C. Clarke predicted wireless: What the ’60s got right (and wrong) about today’s tech

Isaac Asimov isn't the only science fiction writer of yesteryear whose theories and writings have proven prescient

Topics: Scientific American, arthur c clarke, science-fiction, 2001: a space odyssey, Isaac Asimov, , , ,

Arthur C. Clarke predicted wireless: What the '60s got right (and wrong) about today's tech
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific American
In 1964—exactly 50 years ago—sci-fi author Isaac Asimov wrote up his predictions about what life today would be like. He had a lot of hits and a lot of misses, as I wrote in my Scientific American column this month.

But Asimov wasn’t the only person to look into the technological crystal ball. Fifty and 60 years ago gee-whiz films depicting life today were a staple—a sure way to wow audiences. Today these fanciful visions of the future live on, on YouTube. Let them be a warning to anyone today who’s inclined to make a prediction about life in 2064.

Disney: This YouTube video from 1957 lets you relive Disney’s “House of Tomorrow,” brought to you by Monsanto. (Monsanto was then a plastics company, which explains the bizarre emphasis on plastic as the material of the future. “Is everything made of plastic?” asks the narrator. “Almost! Dishes, cups, countertops, walls, floors, ceiling, tabletops, shelves and cabinets. Plastics in all their colorful, functional and beautiful versatility!”)

In the Disneyficated future you never unload your (ultrasonic) dishwasher; your dishes just stay there until you’re ready to use them. Your thermostat controls let you dial up not just heat or cooling but even “the scent of roses or salty sea air!”

As it turns out, though, there’s more technological progress predicted than social progress. The woman’s place in that “futureland” is still by the (microwave) oven. “Imagine how wonderful it would be to live in a house like this!” says the housewife, putting on her apron. “Just imagine—I’d be getting dinner in this kitchen!

The BBC: In this “Britain of the Future” video, depicting life in the year 2000, the tendency (as often happens) is to overstate the speed and reach of change. “We should assume a peaceful world, and plan on that basis,” intones our anchorman. “We will be able to choose the sex of our children.” (Well, right—we can, but few do.) And in that future we can even select offspring with superior mathematical abilities.



Give the sages credit, though: they correctly foresee improvements in software and in home-entertainment systems. “On the television itself,” one gentlemen explains, “we can expect the screen to get bigger, but the set to get much slimmer—in fact, it’s sometimes said now that it might be possible to make the television set so slim that it could be hung on the wall.”

The GE Kitchen: This one, from 1956, is a subtle plug for Frigidaire appliances. Our hero, a housewife, dances and twirls through her futuristic kitchen as narration describes the magnificence of her life—in rhyme. “Tick-tock, tick-tock, I’m free to have fun around the clock!”—thanks to the automated oven that alerts her with a chime when the food is finished.

You’ll note that her refrigerator is glass-doored so that she can see what’s inside. That’s not a bad idea, actually; might be nice to see it catch on in more current models.

Bell Systems: In this corporate video made for the 1964–65 World’s Fair Bell Systems showed off systems it was then developing.

First, what we now know (or, rather, remember) as the pager. “Keeping in touch by means of the amazing new Bellboy is the Bell System’s answer today for doctors, salesmen, delivery men or anyone who must be available at all times in the fast-paced world of Century 21!” the narrator says. “When you hear the signal on your Bellboy, you can go to a phone to call your office or home and get the message.”

Bell also showed off touch-tone dialing, which it would introduce the following year.

Finally, there was the Automatic Dialer, which never did catch on. “Just listen for dial tone, insert a number card and press the start bar; the Bell System Automatic Dialer dials for you more quickly and easily than you can do it yourself.” (And with Direct Distance Dialing, “Most calls go through in 20 seconds or less!”)

Arthur C. Clarke: Isaac Asimov wasn’t the only sci-fi writer making predictions in 1964. In this video author Arthur C. Clarke nails almost all of his predictions for the year 2014, including wireless communications: “We can be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be… It will be possible in that age, perhaps only 50 years from now, for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London.”

Clarke also insists that he’s “perfectly serious” when he says that “we may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on patients in New Zealand.” He’s right again. Robotic remote surgery is already becoming more common.

He whiffs on only one guess: that, thanks to wireless global communications, cities as business hubs will no longer be necessary. “Men will no longer commute; they will communicate…. They will travel only for pleasure,” he says.

What he does best in this video, though, is to comment on the very nature of making high-tech predictions. “Trying to predict the future is a discouraging, hazardous occupation because the prophet invariably falls between two stools. If his predictions sound at all reasonable, you can be quite sure that within 20 or at most 50 years the progress of science and technology has made him seem ridiculously conservative.

“On the other hand, if by some miracle a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place, his predictions would sound so absurd, so far-fetched that everybody would laugh him to scorn.”

We hear you, Arthur.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...