One of the conceits of the present age is the smug amusement we feel when we see written or recorded histories of past generations’ predictions of the future. George Jetson may have been a mere cartoon character, but 1960s prognosticators likely would have expected your present neighborhood to have a few more space ports and robots than are actually there.
So this 1967 video has generated some remark and amusement. In it, Walter Cronkite takes viewers through a mocked-up kitchen as it might appear in 2001, which sounded a lot further off in 1967 than it actually turned out to be. The process of food preparation and dish disposal shown in the video appear to be an interesting cross between The Jetson family and a child’s Easy Bake Oven.
However it was this quote that captured my attention:
Meals in this kitchen of the future are programmed; the menus given to the automatic chef via typewriter or punched computer cards
At this moment, we laugh a bit at poor Walter, thinking about using a typewriter or IBM punch cards to “program” our dinner menu tonight. But there are some lessons here that can be instructive as we predict what lies thirty-plus years in our own future:
- First of all, he got quite a few things right, and those tended to be around human behavior, specifically people’s desire for convenience. Although the mechanics look a bit different, the idea of rapidly heating up pre-packaged meals that provide a pleasant eating experience and easy clean-up are very much part of our world today.
- He demonstrates the hardest problem with predicting long-term solutions to current problems: the technology is always changing, so we envision that the only tools at the future’s disposal are the tools and metaphors we are used to today. Think how excited an executive from Smith-Corona was in 1967 to envision the kitchens of tomorrow being controlled by his super-advanced typewriters.
- Perhaps less obvious, but worthy of remark: the future doesn’t simply reveal itself and confirm/deny earlier predictions. It is, in part, shaped by those predictions. The people who create the first draft of a term sheet, first speak up in a brainstorming session, have the courage to put themselves “out there”, open themselves to immediate rejection or later ridicule. But without those small acts of courage, and without bold public predictions that shape vision, the process of innovation cannot even begin.
One of my favorite quotes about predicting the future comes not from a technology prognosticator, but from author James Gleick writing about chaos theory in his book Chaos: making a New Science : “Clouds are not spheres. Mountains are not cones. Lightning does not travel in a straight line”.
And so it is with future innovations, which will continue to surprise us.
However, predicting the future is fun. I am interested to hear your thoughts about how the world will be different 30 years from now. How will people be living differently?