Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Past predictions of the future

Page from the original Popular Science article

Making predictions about the future - what cities will look like, what technology will be available, how life will be different from now - seems to be a popular pastime among techies. I have often used articles with my students in which innovators predict which gadgets will be invented or which current innovations will change our lives.

For example, in my post of September 8, 2013 - The City of 2050 - I wrote about a BBC article that speculates what life might be like by that year.

I recently found an article from the fastcoexist website that referred to a 1925 article from Popular Science magazine in which then-president of the Architectural League of New York, Harvey W. Corbett, made some predictions about what future cities will be like, and even included some drawings of his ideas.

Link to article:

Link to original article in Popular Science archives:

The fastcoexist article is impressed that so many of Corbett's predictions of which changes will have to be made relate so well to life in cities today. For example:
  • cities would become increasingly crowded;
  • something would have to be done to make transportation more efficient;
  • new ways of transporting parcels and goods would become necessary;
  • roads would have to be redesigned to handle increased traffic;
  • city centers would have to become more people-friendly.

Students could read his ideas for dealing with the above changes, and view his drawings of what his ideas look like, and compare their effectiveness to solutions that have been developed. Or to discuss their viability in cases where solutions have not yet been developed.

As a follow-up activity, students could read about other predictions from the past, and see which ones were accurate - and which ones seem rather funny now.

Some websites for this:

This article focuses on predictions made by science fiction writers in the past.

This is a wider range of predictions, not only from science fiction writers, but also some as old as 1600 from different sources.

This BBC article focuses on predictions made by the American engineer John Elfreth Watkins in 1900 in an article he wrote for Ladie's Home Journal, What May Happen in the Next 100 Years.

Another interesting activity is for students to read predictions for the future being made today. For example these 5 predictions from Mark Zuckerberg:


Students can discuss whether they agree with these predictions, or believe something else will happen. This in turn could be used as a basis for persuasive speeches.

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