Science-fiction author Robert Heinlein wrote several predictions for the year 2000 and beyond in his article “Where To?” which was first published in the February 1952 edition of Galaxy Science Fiction:
AXIOM: A “common sense” prediction is sure to err on the side of timidity […] AXIOM: The more extravagant a prediction sounds the more likely it is to come true […] So let’s have a few free-swinging predictions about the future. Some will be wrong – but cautious predictions are sure to be wrong.
1. Interplanetary travel is waiting at your front door — C.O.D. It’s yours when you pay for it.
2. Contraception and control of disease is revising relations between the sexes to an extent that will change our entire social and economic structure.
3. The most important military fact of this century is that there is no way to repel an attack from outer space.
4. It is utterly impossible that the United States will start a “preventive war.” We will fight when attacked, either directly or in a territory we have guaranteed to defend.
5. In fifteen years the housing shortage will be solved by a “breakthrough” into new technologies which will make every house now standing as obsolete as privies.
6. We’ll all be getting a little hungry by and by.
7. The cult of the phony in art will disappear. So-called “modern art” will be discussed only by psychiatrists.
8. Freud will be classed as a pre-scientific, intuitive pioneer and psychoanalysis will be replaced by a growing, changing “operational psychology” based on measurement and prediction.
9. Cancer, the common cold, and tooth decay will all be conquered; the revolutionary new problem in medical research will be to accomplish “regeneration,” i.e., to enable a man to grow a new leg, rather than fit him with an artificial limb.
10. By the end of this century mankind will have explored this solar system, and the first ship intended to reach the nearest star will be a-building.
11. Your personal telephone will be small enough to carry in your handbag. Your house telephone will record messages, answer simple inquiries, and transmit vision.
12. Intelligent life will be found on Mars.
13. A thousand miles an hour at a cent a mile will be commonplace; short hauls will be made in evacuated subways at extreme speed.
14. A major objective of applied physics will be to control gravity.
15. We will not achieve a “World State” in the predictable future. Nevertheless, Communism will vanish from this planet.
16. Increasing mobility will disenfranchise a majority of the population. About 1990 a constitutional amendment will do away with state lines while retaining the semblance.
17. All aircraft will be controlled by a giant radar net run on a continent-wide basis by a multiple electronic “brain.”
18. Fish and yeast will become our principal sources of proteins. Beef will be a luxury; lamb and mutton will disappear.
19. Mankind will not destroy itself, nor will “Civilization” be destroyed.
Here are things we won’t get soon, if ever:
- Travel through time.
- Travel faster than the speed of light.
- Control of telepathy and other E.S.P. phenomena.
- “Radio” transmission of matter.
- Manlike robots with manlike reactions.
- Laboratory creation of life.
- Real understanding of what “thought” is and how it is related to matter.
- Scientific proof of personal survival after death.
- A permanent end to war. (I don’t like that prediction any better than you do.)
Most of Heinlein’s predictions were rather optimistic, which reminds me of T. Baron Russells’s predictions for the 21st century in his A Hundred Years Hence (1906). Heinlein acknowledged this when he revisited his predictions fourteen years later in his 1966 book The World of Robert A. Heinlein, a collection of his science-fiction stories, published in 1966. For example, for his prediction that the housing shortage will be solved by a “breakthrough”, he said, “Here I fell flat on my face. There has been no breakthrough in housing, nor is any now in prospect.” He repeated the same sentiment when he reconsidered his predictions once again in his 1980 book Expanded Universe.
Similarly, in 1966, he was also disappointed that his prediction about the discovery of intelligent life on Mars seemed unlikely to happen. In 1980, he said that the photographs by the Viking landers in 1976 just further affirmed his prediction was wrong. Nonetheless, he still had his hopes up when he remarked, “But the new pictures and the new data make Mars even more mysterious. I’m a diehard because I suspect that life is ubiquitous […] Almost all discussion has been about Life-as-we-know-it… but what about Life-as-we-don’t-know-it?”
“Prediction of gadgets is a parlor trick anyone can learn,” Heinlein concluded, “but only a fool would attempt to predict details of future history (except as fiction, so labeled); there are too many unknowns and no techniques for integrating them even if they were known. Even to make predictions about overall trends in technology is now most difficult.”