The Future of Yesterday is Not Today
Humans are notoriously bad at predicting the future. Soofa is dedicated to bringing the city of the future to fruition today. "But how can you say what the city of the future is," you say, "if humans are bad at predicting the future?" Well, my friend, there is a different between speculating about the future and creating the future. Because the future doesn't just happen, it is created! That said, it's also a lot easier to reasonably predict what technologies will become commonplace 5-10 years out and plan accordingly. Predicting how the world will look in 2075, however, is a totally different matter. Here's a look back into how wrong (or right!) predictions from 50-90 years ago were, courtesy of Popular Mechanics.
Even though this image is almost 90 years old, it looks like a pretty cool city! In Boston, major roadways downtown got moved underground (the Big Dig), though the process was anything but simple. Anyone who has ever tried to get to the Boston airport via tunnel (always an anxiety-provoking experience) can see the benefit of a fast versus slow motor traffic level. The people of 1928 would be shocked to hear that "future cities" created today are much more focused on enabling data collection than building underground roadways. How could they have envisioned this, given that sensors and data were not even concepts at the time?
So, today, we predict smart cities of the future to be packed to the gills with sensors, devices that talk to each other to reduce friction, and smart objects. This path seems inevitable, but maybe they felt with the growing amount of motor traffic that multi-level roadways were inevitable! A lot of people also feel that 3D printing will be a big part of future cities- everyone will have one in their home that creates objects they order / buy online. How will driverless cars and a reduced number of delivery trucks change the way our roadways look? By the time this prediction is 100 years old, we may be shifting towards less traffic on roads, after hitting "peak car" saturation.
This prediction for the connected home isn't too far off, but not in the way they envisioned.
"This future home will probably be equipped with a number of control centers, from any one of which the homemaker can give her commands to appliances at work in the kitchen and laundry. Electric ranges already are equipped with automatic controls for temperature and cooking time, but there is no practical reason why these operations together with the other appliances cannot be controlled remotely from any room in the house."
We aren't automating appliances to such a degree yet, probably because household tasks aren't huge pain points. That said, connected home devices are growing in numbers, and eventually there will need to be a master control (remote). Maybe that will remain the smartphone, in app form, but today controlling connected devices is still a heavily siloed process. It's doubtful a service helping automate your washer and dryer would gain any traction today. Something more useful would be fitness tracker or alarm clock integration with your coffee maker! This isn't a distant dream, by the way. It's possible now, with a bit of bootstrapping via IFTTT and Apple HomeKit. But the average person can't program their coffee maker, so it'll be a few years before this synchronization is practical. But, homes with components that talk to each other are definitely the future.
There has been a lot of talk about vacuum tube or pneumatic trains/pods since the 50's. American trains have also not improved much since around that time. We see some futuristic trains globally - such as maglev train (magnetic levitation) found in China and Japan. In fact, the Japanese maglev just broke the world speed record, hitting 374 mph in a test run.
Interestingly, both the vacuum-powered trains and vertical takeoff planes are things that Elon Musk is either working on or talking about. SpaceX's rockets are incredible thanks to their vertical landing capabilities (well, planned capabilities, they are still working on this). Even in 2015, these concepts are described as "futuristic". So, in some ways, the future has been so much more impressive and incredible than anyone could have predicted - who saw Wifi coming? At the same time, though, we are just now beginning to be in a position to create some of these other technologies. For example:
Although the prediction that "tomorrow's farmer... will be rather a radio navigator and dispatcher than a tiller of the soil" via controlling robots is a little bit off, we do know that sensor tech has a rapidly growing role in agriculture. The 2015 definition of robots is also a little different from the 1939 one. An autonomous machine controlled by GPS and sensors is technically a robot, but not what most people would define as one.
"If Old McDonald had a farm today, he could manage it from his laptop computer and map it with an application on his handheld device. When he was out in the field, his tractor’s guidance system could know its position to within less than an inch, turning his planters and sprayers on and off accordingly. A boom height control system would make sure that his sprayer did not hit the ground and a yield monitor on his combine would measure the exact volume of his harvest, in real time. Soil moisture sensors networked via cellular modems, soil density sensors on his planters, and infrared crop health sensors on his tractor would gather a wealth of data that his agronomist would use to prepare a prescription map for the next season. In a few years, that data stream would also include aerial imagery collected by his unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and his tractor would also be running unmanned as a robot in the field." Link
Not too bad of a prediction, then!
Finally, we have the most off-base prediction of all: 1950, "When the housewife of 2000 cleans she simply turns the hose on everything."
Given how wrong we've been in the past, I can't wait to find out how wrong we are about the future!