A Film From 1967 Predicted Our Technology Fairly Well

The video below was made by the Philco-Ford corporation in 1967. Philco was a battery company that, after about 40 years in business filed for bankruptcy and was bought by Ford in 1961. By then, it had branched out into computer systems so it made this film probably to drum up business for them. It’s a very interesting view of the future from the ’60s, especially since we know how it turned out, and even 20 years after.

Let’s go through each of the 32 predictions in the video and see how it stacked up to 1999, and also how we’re doing in 2017. To save you the suspense, counting things that at least somewhat came true, the score for 1999 was 50% (16 came true-ish), and 75% for 2017 (24 came true-ish). An F for its goal year, but a C+ for the current year, which is not bad at all for 50 years ago.

And interestingly, most of the mis-predictions weren’t so much because the technology still isn’t here by now (like flying cars, for example), but because the market just hasn’t wanted them, like modular housing. Given another couple of decades, we might be looking at just a couple more coming true due to technological advances.

1. Modular housing with hexagonal pods that can be attached together

1999: Mostly false

2017: Mostly false

Manufactured housing is certainly a common thing, but it’s not very popular. People buy it more out of necessity than desire. And it doesn’t usually quite work as described, with additions being easy. Usually anyway — some people do live in modular houses, and it’s becoming more widespread.

2. The age of 44 is “not so old”

1999: True

2017: True

In the 1960s, a 44 year old woman was way past middle age. Nowadays, 44 is usually very much considered not that old.

3. The father works for an effort to colonize Mars

1999: False

2017: True

There are currently a handful of serious efforts to colonize Mars, most notably SpaceX’s and NASA’s. That wasn’t the case in 1999.

4. He’s working on GMO foods

1999: Mostly true

2017: Mostly true

In the video, he’s working on a peach with a rind like a tangerine, and indeed genetically modified foods first sold in the mid-1990s. Nothing as crazy as that, and it’s gotten a lot of pushback, but GMO foods are certainly here and eaten by millions.

5. He’s got a “workbench with an electronic screen” that lets him see images for work

1999: True

2017: True

This was a big misstep the video took — not realizing that computer consoles would become multipurpose. In the video, the house is full of special purpose consoles and screens, like this one. But in reality of course, the dad could look at his work images on any computer screen, not just that specialized “workbench”.

6. They have a central home computer which is “secretary, librarian, banker, teacher, medical technician, bridge partner, and all-around servant” and “all pertinent information about this family: its records, its tastes and reference material, is stored in its memory banks, available instantly to every member of the family”

1999: Somewhat true

2017: Mostly true

Another big misstep here: failing the predict the Internet. In the video, the house computer stores and processes everything. The functionality is available now, especially thanks to smartphones, but the infrastructure is almost entirely offsite: the library, the bank, the courses, medical data, even a lot of games are all stored on a computer on the Internet. So all of it is instantly available to the family, but it’s not stored locally in the house, and it’s not all stored on the same computer — instead it’s disparate systems all over the globe.

The family computer in the video does communicate with other computers, as we see later, so the disconnect isn’t the Internet itself — instead it was probably that they didn’t foresee the data transmission speeds that we now have. At the transmission speeds of the 1960s, it would have to have been local to be instant.

7. The kid goes to school two mornings a week, but he’s home schooled by computer programs “which allow him to progress as rapidly as his awakened mind can absorb the audio-visual lessons”

1999: False

2017: False

Again, not a technological hurdle — all of this is very much doable today, and somewhat so even in 1999. But people don’t want their kids in the house with no friends all day. School, as it turned out, is as much a social institution as it is a learning one.

Also, it’s strange that he would only be going to school twice a week — they must’ve really slimmed down the curriculum.

8. He gets tired of learning and watched cartoons on another computer screen

1999: Somewhat true

2017: True

A kid would most likely not watch cartoons on a computer in 1999, but he could’ve pulled up a VHS tape on a TV in the living room. But now he can watch cartoons on any phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop.

9. The guys appear on a video screen from other rooms in the house asking mom for lunch

1999: False

2017: Mostly false

This was just not possible in 1999, but it’s very possible now. Few people have a computer monitor in the kitchen, but the mom could have a laptop open with Skype or FaceTime running. And of course, she’d have her phone. But this still doesn’t happen. Why? Because of another technology the video didn’t foresee: texting. The kid and dad would most likely text the mom in the kitchen rather than video conference with her.

10. The kid uses a blow dryer built-in to the vanity to dry his face

1999: False

2017: False

Another thing that’s very much possible, that no one wants. The hand dryers in public restrooms are slow and terrible enough that no one would want to bring that experience in their homes. Not to mention that it’s a lot more expensive to run, on top of being much, much slower than a hand towel.

11. The mom pulls up a pre-set lunch menu on the computer, looks at alternatives, makes a modification, then gets nutritional advice from the computer and prepares the meals with some button pushing in about a minute because “most food will be stored frozen in individual portions. The computer will keep a running inventory on all food stuffs, and suggest daily menus based on the nutritional needs of the family. When a meal has been selected, the various portions are fed automatically into the microwave oven, for a few seconds of thawing or warming.”

1999: Mostly false

2017: Somewhat true

This one’s interesting because the technological and social pieces are currently falling into place for this vision, and it may well be true in another 10 years:

  • Frozen food: yes, ubiquitous. Not the go-to thing for most people, but everyone has frozen meals in their freezer.
  • Computerized inventory of food stuffs: no, but it’s getting there. Smart fridges haven’t taken off yet, but that’s probably because no one’s figured out a good user interface yet. One of the things they do, however, is keep track of the food in it. If that data went someplace in the cloud, that service could absolutely suggest daily menus. The technology is there, and it’s compelling, but no one’s built something successful in the market yet.
  • Nutritional recommendations: yes. The amount of phone apps and websites that do this is astounding. But, it’s all based on manual input so far, which is a lot more annoying than the automated workflow in the video.
  • Fast cooking: they were right on the money with the microwave oven. In the 1960s, it was only available in commercial kitchens, but by the 1980s, it was everywhere, just as the video predicted.

12. “The house of 1999 will be virtually maintenance-free. A central atmospheric system will maintain constant year-round temperatures and control humidity, bacteria, pollen and dust.”

1999: Mostly true

2017: Mostly true

That’s a pretty accurate description of a central HVAC unit. Temperature being the main focus there, humidity control being a by-product, and bacteria, pollen, and dust being controlled with various levels of intake filters.

13. “Clothing of the non-disposable variety will be stored in cleaning closets, where a chemical vapor atmosphere, and an ultrasonic vibrator will remove dirt particles.”

1999: Somewhat true

2017: Somewhat true

They got the spirit right here, but not the specifics. Instead of using that vibrating smoke closet, we’ve achieved automated clothing cleaning with the washer/dryer combo. And while we don’t have disposable clothing per se, clothing is certainly cheap enough that it could be, and sometimes is, disposable.

14. “Fingertip shopping will be one of the many homemaker’s conveniences.”

1999: Mostly true

2017: True

Over the past 20 years, online shopping has become a staple of virtually every household, and especially recently when 2 day shipping has exploded in popularity.

15. There’s a “household monitor screen which maintains a watch on critical areas in the house, swimming pool, or yard.”

1999: False

2017: True

Many households have one or more inexpensive surveillance cameras installed.

16. “What the wife selects on her console, will be paid for by the husband on his counterpart console. All bills and transactions will be carried out electronically. A central bank computer will debit the family’s account the amount of purchases and credit the department store, for example, informing the family’s home computer at the same time.”

1999: Mostly false

2017: True

Online banking has really taken off in the past decade, to the point where you can do it all from your phone. Paying bills, credit cards, looking at budgets, etc is all done on the computer by most people.

17. “Father, at the touch of a button, receives an instantaneous printed copy of his budget, the amount of taxes he owes, the payments left on the car, and so forth. All documents and household records are available on the video screen for immediate reference.”

1999: True

2017: True

The household printer’s been around since the 1980s.

18. “Also at his disposal is an electronic correspondence machine, or a home post office, which allows for instant written communication between individuals anywhere in the world.”

1999: True

2017: True

I’m not sure why their home post office needed a pen as opposed to a keyboard, but this obviously came true by the early 1990s with e-mail, instant messaging and later, SMS. Again though, they predicted a special purpose machine, as opposed to this being just another function of a computer screen.

19. “To maintain these and hundreds of complex electronic circuits, a monitor checks all circuits every few seconds, and inserts a backup circuit if and when trouble develops, and alerts the communal service agency for replacement.”

1999: False

2017: False

This might sound like one of the strangest predictions to us, but that’s because the video again failed to predict a very important invention: the packet-switched network. Prior to it, circuits had to be physically connected to each other, so that current could go only where it was needed, because current was the information. So as it turned out, this maintenace nightmare was designed away by having everything be connected all the time, and making only the data go where it needs to.

20. “The home energy center, with it’s fuel cell, furnishes power, provides absolutely pure water, burns waste, and heats or cools the rooms.”

1999: False

2017: Mostly false

This might be true in another few decades, but the only piece of it available now is solar power with batteries that power the house and the HVAC systems. However, that’s not tied into water purification and sewage systems yet.

21. Photochromic windows

1999: False

2017: Mostly false

It’s not in wide use yet, but “smart glass” that can control the amount of light passing through it is available and becoming more and more popular.

22. Ocean farming

1999: False

2017: False

This is the one prediction that just doesn’t make sense. Why would anyone willingly grow food in the ocean? Hydroponic gardens, sure… but this is just a whole other level of crazy.

23. An electronic musical keyboard

1999: True

2017: True

Electronic synthesizers were already becoming a reality in the 1960s, and like the microwave, they became widely available in the 1980s.

24. Father “enters this home health center. He lies for, perhaps 15 seconds, on a kind of medical couch. His weight, temperature, pulse, respiration, blood pressure, and electrocardiogram are routinely recorded. At the same time, his body is scanned for any isolated temperature pockets that signal oncoming disease or localized infection. At the end of the examination period, the computer calculates the amount of exercise necessary to balance Mike’s food intake and maintain proper muscle tone.”

1999: False

2017: Somewhat true

This is another one that mostly exists in spirit. With wrist wearables like the FitBit and Apple Watch, along with smart scales and health apps, we have an ecosystem of gadgets that approximates much of this home health center. Blood pressure and ECGs aren’t yet common, but could be soon, and there’s no full body scanning gadget yet though.

25. “The computer now relays any important physical changes to a central community medical center, where Mike’s personal physician will be alerted for further diagnosis.”

1999: False

2017: Mostly false

We’re at a point where this is possible, but in practice not yet widely adopted. However, in theory, your Apple Watch and smart scale could certainly upload the data to your doctor.

26. Father video chats with a friend that lives far away, somewhere cold

1999: Mostly false

2017: True

Video chat in the late 1990s was terrible, but now it’s amazing and commonplace.

27. Father and his friend talk about easily jet-setting to California or Mexico for a round of golf

1999: Somewhat true

2017: Somewhat true

Air travel has gotten a lot cheaper and more convenient, with a lot more destinations, so that you can get basically anywhere in the world in 24 hours, and the most it’ll cost is the price of three iPhones. But, it’s generally expensive to go last minute, and inconvenient enough that you wouldn’t get on a plane for a round of golf.

28. Father checks the weather on his computer

1999: True

2017: True

This was, as predicted, one of the earliest services to be offered online.

29. Mother has a lot of free time, because there’s not much to do around the house, so she does pottery

1999: Somewhat true

2017: Somewhat true

We do have a lot more leisure time now than we did in the ’60s. However, few people use that time to improve themselves. Mostly, it’s spent watching TV or taking on new activities, such as helicopter parenting.

30. The kid plays chess on a real chess board that’s linked to the computer, which relays the moves to his dad, who’s somewhere else

1999: Mostly true

2017: Mostly true

The real chessboard is possible, but not something most people would care to invest in. The video failed to predict the electronic inputs we have, since there was no mouse or touch interface back then, so they likely couldn’t think of a nice way to play chess on a virtual board.

31. At a party, the dad plays, on a giant screen, a video he recorded the other night

1999: Mostly true

2017: True

This is a lot easier to do now with iPhones and AirPlay, and basically identical to the video, but even in the ’90s, one could plug their camcorder into a projection TV and show something they recorded to a group.

32. He agrees to make a 3-D copy for his friend

1999: Mostly false

2017: Mostly true

The 3-D fad is dying, but if it had kept going strong, this would be completely true. Cheap 3-D cameras are the missing piece here, and making a copy of the video would be trivial now. In 1999, home 3-D technology wasn’t a thing, and making a copy of a video tape wasn’t easy, but it was doable.

In the end, the video does a pretty good job of predicting the lifestyle of the early 21st century, but it misses key details because it didn’t predict much of the infrastructure that ended up making that lifestyle possible: general purpose computers, the fast, packet-switched Internet, smartphones, texting, and graphical computer inputs.

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From YouTube, via Neatorama

African Lungfish Can Sleep In the Desert For Years

Your first reaction to the following video will probably be that it’s a fake.

But no, it’s totally real. The mudfish they’re talking about are called West African Lungfish and they’re one of four African lungfish species. And they can indeed live in the desert, inside a cocoon, for up to five years. And yes, they do have to appendages at the back that look kind of like legs. Even crazier, they can breathe air, because they have — in addition to gills, and as the name suggests — an actual lung.

What happens is that the West African weather has wild rain swings between wet and dry seasons (and sometimes there are droughts), so entire rivers can dry up. When the lungfish end up on a dry riverbed, they’re still ok, because they switch to breathing air. Then they burrow into the mud, before it dries up, by eating the mud and excreting it through their gills. Once they’re safely underground, they curl up and release a mucus that dries up around them to form that cocoon from the video, which basically Ziplocks them in, so they don’t lose any more moisture. They then enter suspended animation, which is called aestivation. It’s basically the same thing as hibernation, but while that happens when it’s too cold out, this happens when it’s too hot out.

They can remain in aestivation for years, until it starts raining again and the river beds fill up with water, softening the cocoon and allowing the lungfish to burrow out of the mud and get back into the water. The African people have gotten pretty good and finding the cocoons and sometimes they dig them up and store them, so they can have fresh fish at their disposal.

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Amazing Color Night Vision!

This was shot with an SPI X27 camera.

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Social Security Numbers Are Kinda Sorta National IDs 

C. G. P. Grey has a video on Social Security numbers, and how even though they were explicitly not meant to be used for identification — it used to plainly state that on the card — their  ubiquitness made it too tempting for the IRS and various financial companies to not use them for identification. So now, they’re national ID cards in all but name, and very very poor ones, because they are horribly insecure.

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Pink Used To Mean A Yellowish Color

Mental Floss has an interesting article explaining how back until about the year 1600, the word “pink” used to refer to the greenish-yellow color that lakes get from floating vegetation. This probably comes from the German word pinkeln, which means “to urinate”. But, “pink” has a lot of other meanings, including as a verb. So one of the definitions of “to pink” is “to perforate in an ornamental pattern”. No one’s sure how its meaning as a color went from urine-yellow to pale red, but the best theory is that it came from Queen Elizabeth. She loved pinked carnations, which happened to be colored pink (as in pale red) but were called “pinked” because they have notched, or pinked petals. So, the idea is that the word was first applied to the carnations because of pattern of the petals, but then people started using it to refer to the carnations’ color instead.

Pinked Pink Carnation

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From Mental Floss

Jogging Creates The Most Brain Cells

The New York Times reports on a new study that had rats try three different kinds of workouts:

  1. Aerobic: running on a treadmill or wheel
  2. Resistance: climbing on a wall with weights attached, to simulate weight training
  3. High Intensity Training (HIT): running very fast, interrupted with periods of not doing that

They then measured how many new brain cells appeared after seven weeks of the routine, and found out that from most to least by group, it was aerobic, HIT, and then resistance — with the resistance group basically having no new brain cells. The HIT group had some, but not nearly as much as the aerobic group. Moral of the story: jogging makes you smarter.

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via The New York Times

The 2016 Game of Thrones Election

Between Cersei Clinton and Walder Trump

 

A Supercut of Sorkinisms

If you’re an Aaron Sorkin fan, you know he has favorite phrases and plot lines. He especially recycled a bunch between Sports Night and The West Wing which, for one year, he was writing at the same time. In fact, both of the last episodes of their first seasons were titled What Kind of Day Has it Been? 

Writers are mere mortals after all, so stuff like this isn’t surprising, and in fact it’s kind of a signature they leave in their work. In the seven minute video below, some of Sorkin’s signatures taken from A Few Good Men, Malice, BulworthSports NightThe West WingStudio 60 On The Sunset StripCharlie Wilson’s WarThe Social Network, and Tom Hanks’ 1993 Oscar Speech “for some reason”:

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From YouTube

‘Game of Thrones’ Is Filming A Lot Of Peniscola

Peniscola from the beach (1985)

Peniscola from the beach (1985)

Watchers on the Wall has had a lot of blog posts lately about Game of Thrones being interested in Peniscola, Spain. For example, they report that there was a casting call for babies there, because Peniscola is a perfectly valid place name. And in October, the town — whose name supposedly and inexplicably evolved from the word ‘peninsula’ — is due to host some 600 extras without tattoos, also for the Emmy record-slaying series. They will be shooting in the historic entrance to Peniscola, and two plazas, one at the foot of the famous Castle of the Moon Pope, pictured above.

Additionally, the Khaleesi will be shooting some scenes in the small town of 8,000 people, which is also called “The Gibraltar of Valencia” — though that’s not its official name for unknown reasons, as its official name is Peniscola. Again, it means “peninsula”… why, what were you thinking of? OMG, grow up! You are SO immature. I can’t believe this.

penis cola

Also, Jon Snow is for sure still alive. The Daily Mail got a picture of him on set, all costumed up. He’s in Northern Ireland, not Peniscola.

Jon Snow on set in Northern Ireland

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via Watchers on the Wall and The Daily Mail

Seattle and Portland Are 72 Years Overdue For A Horrific Earthquake

Yes, you thought right: there hasn’t been a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest since it was discovered by Western civilization. There have only been seven recorded in the region, averaging 6.3 in magnitude and killing 14 people total. And Seattle is the least likely metropolitan area in the US to have a natural disaster of any kind.

In fact, until 50 years ago, no one thought that earthquakes were much of an issue at all, in that area. But then, tectonic plate theory became mainstream and scientists noted that earthquakes and volcanoes were prevalent all around the so-called Ring of Fire: New Zealand, Indonesia, Japan, Alaska, California, Mexico and Chile. Notice how we skipped right over the Pacific Northwest: the scientists noticed that too.

plate tectonics

The world’s tectonic plates. In the Pacific Northwest, the Juan de Fuca plate goes under the North American plate.

 

A very interesting article in The New Yorker tells us that these scientists then started drilling into the ocean floor off the coast of Washington state and found out that they could tell, from the stratification of the earth, when and how much land from the continent rushed into the sea — meaning, an earthquake had occurred, and how big it was. They went back 10,000 years and counted 41 major earthquakes, which means one happens every 243 years, on average. We know it’s been at least 210 years since there’s been one in that region, since Lewis and Clark went there in 1805. But how long has it been really?

Besides the ocean floor evidence for the year, we actually have some much cooler, and much more accurate data.  There’s a “ghost forest” near the beach in Washington State, by the Copalis River. It’s called that because it consists of a bunch of dead trees standing in sea water. The theory had been that sea water got into the forest and killed off the trees but, in the late 1980s, two scientists figured out that they actually all died at the same time, in the winter of 1699-1700. So, due to that sudden onset, they theorized that an earthquake actually plunged the forest about six feet into the sea.

Copalis ghost forest

Copalis ghost forest

That’s pretty cool on its own, but then in 1996, they got historical confirmation: the Japanese have been keeping track of tsunamis for over 1400 years, and they knew that earthquakes caused them. But there was one “orphan” tsunami for which they felt no preceding earthquake: it happened on January 27th, 1700, and we now know that the reason they didn’t feel the parent is because the epicenter was so far away, off the edge of the Pacific Northwest. Ten hours after it shook, the tsunami it created had crossed the Pacific and hit Japan. It also turns out that the Native Americans of the region also have stories about entire tribes being wiped out long ago by the earth sinking into the sea, and canoes being flung into trees. It would’ve been the seventh strongest earthquake known to history.

So there you have it: the last earthquake to hit Seattle happened about a hundred years before Lewis and Clark, and 315 years before now. Subtract the average of 243 years from that, and you get an uncomfortable 72 years of the region being overdue for a big one. The most recent deadly quake the US had, was a 6.9 magnitude one near San Francisco, in 1989: it killed 63 people. The one that destroyed San Francisco in 1906 was 7.8 and killed 3,000 people — the most of any earthquake to hit the country. The one that hit Japan in 2011 was 9.0 and killed 16,000 people. It was the strongest one that country, which gets weekly earthquakes, had ever seen and the fourth strongest known to man. The one coming to Seattle could register 9.2.

Earthquake magnitudes are logarithmic, so a 7.8 earthquake is 8x stronger than a 6.9 one, and a 9.0 earthquake is 16x stronger than the 7.8 one. To find out how much stronger one earthquake is than another, take 10 to the power of the difference between them; for example: 10**(9.2-6.9) = 199.53. This means that the one coming to Seattle could be 200x stronger than the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. (By the way, did you know the Richter scale has been obsolete since the 1970s? The above, and generally all earthquake measurements, are actually stated in the Moment Magnitude scale.)

And to be clear, this is not fringe science: FEMA officially believes that there’s a 37% chance of an earthquake with magnitude 8.0 to 8.6 hitting the Pacific Northwest in the next 50 years; a 10-15% chance it will be in the 8.7 to 9.2 range. Because the area is horrendously ill-prepared for an earthquake, it will kill 13,000 people, destroy the local economy (including Amazon and Microsoft headquarters) and take almost two years to repair the infrastructure.

However, all of this might actually not happen until after the year 2160: before the earthquake in 1700, the previous two were in 1310 and 810, which makes 390 and 500 years between them. In fact, the average period between the last five earthquakes in the area was 460 years: almost twice the length of the 10,000 year average. Maybe they’ve just slowed down over the past couple of millenia, or maybe we’re overdue for quicker ones. In any case, move over San Andreas Fault: the Cascadia Subduction Zone is the new thing to fear.

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via The New Yorker