Gerard O’Neill is best known for The High Frontier, his book on free-space settlements,1 but only slightly less well-known is 2081, his 1980 book looking 100 years into the future. Now that we’re two-fifths of the way there, I thought it would be fun to cherry pick a few of his predictions and see how they turned out.
I expect that the preservation of privacy is going to become one of the key legal battlegrounds of the next century in nations where the freedom of individuals is protected.
A google search for
2019 had 10.9B results. Privacy was also a bit of a 2019 theme at Stratechery.
It seems that even in 2081 electric cars will be limited to short range, light loads, and sluggish performance. They’ll be used mainly as commuter vehicles that can be plugged in for recharging each night, because batteries can’t be charged nearly as fast as gas tanks can be filled. One could imagine “charging stations” where batteries would be mechanically removed from cars and replaced by freshly charged units, but that seems an awkward solution to a problem, and I doubt that it will be competitive with other options.
Li-ion battery technology has already invalidated some of this, but at least for now nightly charging is still the norm, and we’ve definitely begun the slow but inexorable move to electric cars.
…everyone will have the “Dick Tracy wrist radio” that’s been talked of for half a century, but its signal will usually go only to the nearest relay point, no farther than walking distance.
Apple Watch anyone? And it turns out that we’ve pretty much covered all densly populated areas with wireless relay points.
The construction of space colonies will follow a similar pattern, so that by the year 2010 or thereabouts there will be many space colonies in existence and many new ones being constructed each year.
I don’t think there’s any prediction in the entire book that’s faired as poorly as progress on space colonies. We do try and keep at least three people in LEO at any given time though, at enormous expense.
I found that from then on I could take that “slate” anywhere and have it display any page of the book on command. The display was a liquid crystal, and evidently the slate’s memory was capable of storing more than a hundred thousand words.
We call these Kindles, but 100k words is kid stuff.
…pick up merchandise in a store and walk out with it, free of the delay of waiting in a checkout line.
It’s not widespread yet, but there’s an Amazon Go in downtown Seattle.
If I needed to find a taxi or a restaurant or any other point in the terminal, I had only to ask for it. Then the computer, speaking through the wireless phone, would confirm the destination, replying in whatever language I used, and the cart would lead me to it.
“Hey Siri, get me walking directions to the nearest Sushi restaurant.”
…underground high-speed vehicle called a “floater,” which ran in vacuum through a tunnel, supporting itself on magnetic fields.
It doesn’t exist yet, but this is the love-child of hyperloop and the Boring Company.
if I just spoke in a normal tone in any room the house computer would hear me and carry out my instructions.
the computer was set up to respond only to instructions that began with the word “Arthur.”
He totally missed on this one: she only responds if I start with “Alexa”.
…we can expect in a few decades to find lamps that simulate sunlight very closely, while achieving close to the maximum possible efficiency.
The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”.
[The computer] sends and receives electronic mail, timing its calls to take advantage of low rates.
LOL on the anachronism of timing calls to take advantage of low rates, or a willingness to wait on email.
…many people would find it attractive to be able to receive a telephone call anywhere, rather than having to hover around a particular phone booth,
Yeah, cell phones seemed to have panned out.
But for high-quality, glossy reproduction of colors, as in art books, maps, and slick-paper magazines, I doubt that even in 100 years there will be anything to equal the printing of ink onto paper.
There’s still room for argument on the supremacy of high-gloss offset printing, but a pro-motion iPad screen or Apple’s new $6k reference monitor is getting damn close.
Not bad Professor O’Neill. It makes me seriously wonder if Musk, Bezos, and Jobs had this on their bookshelves.
But to end on an uplifting note…
Most of the harm done in the world is out of stupidity, not by design.
Welcome to the 20s.