Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Family Plane of 2030 A.D. (1930)

The June 15, 1930 Fresno Bee (Fresno, CA) published a piece about the year 2030 as envisioned by F.E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead. Super-airplanes, synthetic food, eugenics and a 16-hour work week are just a few of his predictions. An excerpt about transportation from the piece appears below. Bibliodyssey has a great collection of illustrations by E. McKnight Kauffer, which were used in Smith's book, The World in 2030 A.D.
In speaking of the "family" plane, a development conceded by almost everyone, Birkenhead adds that it will mean the relegating of the automobile to a most minor place in the field of transportation.

"By 2030," he says, "motor cars will probably have passed their zenith of popularity. A century later they will only be used for shopping, picnics and the amusement of youth. They will, in fact, sink to the level now occupied by the bicycle."

We may look forward then, it is to be supposed, to having our grandchildren tour the more out-of-the-way parts of the world and marvel at the "quaint" people who still chug here and there in automobiles even as we now smile at Bermuda where bicycles and horse-drawn buggies are the only forms of transportation allowed.

See also:
Sky Toboggan (1935)
Cyclonic Rocket (circa 1930)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Space and National Security (1963)

The 1963 U.S. Air Force film Space and National Security envisioned futuristic wars conducted in space. The clip above is taken from the fascinating NOVA episode, Astrospies. Many thanks to Matt Chapman of for bringing this clip to our attention.

As Matt points out, the "non-animation animation" is similar in style to many of the 1950s Disneyland TV episodes like Mars and Beyond, and Man and the Moon, as well as non-Disney films like Rhapsody of Steel.

See also:
Air Force Predictions for 2063 (1963)
2063 A.D. Book (1963)
Mars and Beyond (1957)
Man and the Moon (1955)
Rhapsody of Steel (1959)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NASA and the Internet Archive

Last week the Internet Archive announced a partnership with NASA ( which provides searchable access to video and still images from NASA's vast archives. Above is a 1957 artist's rendition of Project Red Socks, which was to be the "world's first useful moon rocket."

From the press release:
NASA and Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library based in San Francisco, made available the most comprehensive compilation ever of NASA's vast collection of photographs, historic film and video Thursday. Located at, the Internet site combines for the first time 21 major NASA imagery collections into a single, searchable online resource. A link to the Web site will appear on the home page.

See also:
Space Colonies by Don Davis
Nucelar Rocketship (1959)
Wernher von Braun's Blueprint for Space (1950s)
Rhapsody of Steel (1959)
Man and the Moon (1955)
Wernher von Braun's Space Shuttle (1950s)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Apple Computer in 1997 (1987)

This video from 1987 imagines the Apple Computer company of the year 1997, (tongue planted firmly in cheek). I can't decide if the iPsychiatrist or the R2D2-style hologram is my favorite Apple innovation through 1997.

See also:
Apple's Grey Flannel Navigator (1988)
Apple's Knowledge Navigator (1987)
Project 2000 - Apple Computer (1988)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Future Is So Yesterday

The Washington Post had an article on Sunday about the new Disney House of the Future. The piece touched on a lot of issues that involve postmodern paleo-futurism and reminds me of a February 23, 1997 New York Times article titled, "Disney Calls Future a Thing of the Past." An excerpt from the Washington Post piece appears below.
Disney -- so far into our heads, hopes and dreams that it is legendarily the Mouse that built the better people trap -- is now presenting not so much the future, but the future that it thinks we want. Wander around Tomorrowland and it no longer gleams with white plastic and blue trim. No "2001." It is an antique future, a bronze future, full of things that look like astrolabes channeling Leonardo da Vinci.

The future of the future is in the past?

"This is an aspirational future," says Disney spokesman John J. Nicoletti.

See also:
Disney Calls Future a Thing of the Past (1997)
Postmodern Paleo-Future
Tomorrowland, Disneyland Opening Day (1955)
Rebuilding Tomorrowland (1966)
EPCOT Publicity Materials (1981)
Mickey Futurism (1980s)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957-1967)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957)
Monsanto House of the Future Brochure (1961)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Joseph Corn on Future Shock (May 17, 2008)

This past May I sat down with Joseph Corn, co-author of Yesterday's Tomorrows, to talk about past visions of the future. We chatted over coffee at Brian Horrigan's house (Brian is the other author of Yesterday's Tomorrows) about the paleo-future of transportation, robot servants and the end of the world.

Joe challenged a lot of my assumptions about how to classify different decades and the way in which various generations view the future optimistically or pessimistically. A short excerpt from our conversation appears below.
Matt Novak: Have you ever read Alvin Toffler's Future Shock?

Joseph Corn: I did. I so vividly remember reading it in a campground in the Redwoods in Northern California.

MN: What did you think of it then and what do you think of his ideas now?

JC: [long pause] They deserve re-examination now, the concept of future shock. At the time of his writing . . . I didn't really find it that persuasive. People talk as if future shock is a major syndrome that deserves Medicare treatment today, and I sort of feel that way. The pace at which software changes and technology generally, although it is still filling in . . . Filling in the cracks is not the right metaphor . . . I've had a personal computer now for 25 years and it is so different. The web, plus wireless, plus speed, plus miniaturization in the laptop form makes it something different. As we carry these things around with us when we couldn't with an IBM PC.

MN: Do you think that all this technological change that you've seen recently, is that harming us? Because that seems to be the main thesis of his . . .

JC: I don't buy that. As a historian I'm very skeptical. I think we're trained professionally to be skeptical of . . . you might put it, in terms of the Golden Age fallacy. There was a moment when things were better and everything's been done since. I just can't buy that. One could worry and yet, I don't. I just see it as different. As fascinatingly different. I just don't see civilization going to hell in a handbasket. [long pause] At least I don't want to.

See also:
Future Shock (1972)
Future Shock - Electrical Stimulation (1972)
Future Shock - Skin Color (1972)
Future Shock - Babytorium (1972)

Monday, July 21, 2008

If I Had a Robot (1984)

My girlfriend Malorie sometimes tells the story of a robotics video she watched in 8th grade Science class. One particular robot in this video had a broken wheel and found itself unable to turn. (Or, more appropriately, the robotics team that was steering the hunk of metal found themselves unable to turn the robot.) Malorie started sobbing softly.

Try as it might the robot could not make its desired turn. Its little broken wheel jerked and jumped, but to no avail. Malorie then started crying uncontrollably, quietly pleading, "Why won't someone help that robot! All he wants to do is pick up the ball and put it in the middle so that he can get some points!"

This may be an extreme example, but it illustrates our ability to anthropomorphize robots. We've seen that humanity's vision of robot servants is even older than the term robot itself but the household humanoid robot is still a technology of the future. The latter may have as much to do with cultural roadblocks to human-wannabes than technological hurdles.

The introduction to the 1984 book If I Had a Robot: What to Expect from the Personal Robot speaks of this desire to see the artificial, mechanical man become "real" (provided they don't get out of hand). The book gives readers an imaginative peek at the personal robots just around the (1984) corner.

A selection from the first chapter of the book appears below.
Let us not shilly-shally in this matter; robots are interesting only insofar as they act like animals - nay, like people. The great romance of robotics is rooted in our longing for these artificial creatures to behave like natural creatures.

Our images are muddled, of course. We look on robots as forbidden fruit - the Golem, brought to life by the improper use of arcane knowledge. We fear them as we fear the Frankenstein monster . . . deliciously. At the same time, we like them, root for them, support them, hope they'll turn our brave, strong, good, and caring. It's hard to say now whether Isaac Asimov, writing the stories collected in I Robot in the faraway thirties and forties, was creating new concepts, or recording the chiefly unarticulated views and expectations of society at the time. But certainly, Asimov's magnificently crafted stories have largely determined the expectations of everybody in the Western World with respect to robots. With due respect to writers Capek, Williamson, Saberhagen, and the others. Asimov has dominated robotics thought for some decades now. How many of us have been waiting, waiting for those critters to start appearing among us?

And haven't we been lucky that Asimov is such an optimist! Logical purists may cavil at the Three Laws of Robotics, complaining, perhaps with reason, that the laws are inconsistent. That really doesn't matter. The robots in the stories are so likable - with an occasional rogue among them - that we want to deal with them directly, to get to know them, to be friends. All the automatic defenders and destroyers, are as nothing in our imagination, compared with Asimov's interesting creations, who try to make things work out for the better.

That's quite an accomplishment. Whether he created it all out of whole cloth or crystallized the latent hopes and dreams of people in general, Asimov has powerfully influenced popular thought on robotics - for the good, many of us think. Certainly the Star Wars robots are in the Asimov mold, determined by the life experience of George Lucas and his associates, who grew up in Asimov robot tradition.

And what about reality, if there is such a thing?

See also:
Will Robots Make People Obsolete? (1959)
We'll All Be Happy Then (1911)
Maid Without Tears (1978)
The Future of Personal Robots (1986)
Robo-Shop (1989)
Japanese Retail Robots (1986)
In a Cashless Future, Robots Will Cook (1996)
The Robot is a Terrible Creature (1922)
Our Dread of Robots (1932)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Micro Millennium (1979)

The 1979 book The Micro Millennium heralded the arrival of the microprocessor as a revolution that would forever change our lives. From the back cover of the 1981 paperback edition:
By the year 2,000 - 17 years from now - you will live in a world transformed by one tiny, cheap computer chip - the microprocessor!

Not since Future Shock and The Greening of America has any book illuminated so radical, so sweeping, so amazing a change in the daily lives of every human being. The microprocessor - the computer chip that processes huge amounts of information in a fraction of a second!

  • a pocket-size diagnostic aid for doctors, containing all relevant information
  • ultra-informed machines programmed to solve world problems
  • dolls and mechanical toys that respond to a spoken word
  • robots ready to cut the lawn

The possibilities are endless. Now renowned computer scientist Christopher Evans presents in a clear and engaging manner, the history, present influence, and future of the "microchip" - the tiny device that will forever alter our politics, education, economy, occupations - all of our daily lives!

See also:
Future Shock (1972)
Future Shock - Electrical Stimulation (1972)
Future Shock - Skin Color (1972)
Future Shock - Babytorium (1972)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BoingBoing Interviews Syd Mead

Joel Johnson over at BoingBoing Gadgets/BoingBoing TV has a great interview with futurist/artist/genius, Syd Mead.

See also:
Syd Mead Art for U.S. Steel (1960s)
Syd Mead

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Reluctant Optimist

Yesterday's Green Bay Press-Gazette (Green Bay, WI) ran a short piece about the Paleo-Future blog:
"It's been quite a journey," he said. "When I first started the site, I thought I had maybe a month's worth of material, but I dug deeper and who knew how many different versions of the future had happened during the 20th Century?"

Novak has taken a few things from digging around in the past to find out what today should have looked like to people half a century, or more, ago.

"If there's anything I've learned, it's that no one can predict the future with any degree of certainty," he said.

"And it's given me optimism. Because no one knows the future with any certainty, it's freeing and kind of feeling like, 'That's good; the future's not determined, and we can do what we want with it and try to make it a better place.'"

See also:
What the future didn't bring
New Hampshire Public Radio (Jan, 2008)
Paleo-Future in the Wall Street Journal
Article for MungBeing
Sincerity and the Paleo-Future
Postmodern Paleo-Future
Streamlined Cars of the Future

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weather Control of 2000 A.D. (1966)

The 1966 radio documentary 2000 A.D. looked at a number of different issues facing the people of the year 2000. Most of these issues, as we've seen in earlier posts, involve figuring out what we're going to do with our abundant free-time. Won't people get tremendously bored, only working three days per week? You bet your sweet jetpack they will.

This clip of the radio program transitions from what to do with your free-time into what we'll do to control the weather. Can't have mother nature messing up our extravagant vacations now, can we?
If we have all this leisure, for loafing or not, we'll be at the mercy of the weather. Or, will it be the other way around?

My estimate is that we will start to work seriously to modify thunderclouds to reduce lightning. I think that we'll be able to have some sort of estimate of whether we can control tornadoes and such local severe storms. I think that we will not try to modify weather on a very large scale yet by that time simply because the ramifications will be of such a nature that we would run into considerable political or international difficulties.

See also:
2000 A.D. Radio Documentary (1966)
Going Backward into 2000 (1966)
Transportation in 2000 A.D. (1966)
The End of Work (1966)
Foolproof Weatherman of 1989 (1939)
Communities May Be Weatherized (Edwardsville Intelligencer, 1952)
Closer Than We Think! Weather Control (1958)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cornucopia (1993)

According to the company Empruve, this futuristic multimedia device from 1993, "will become as much an integral part of our lives as the telephone, the television, the typewriter and the book." The photo and its caption (below) were found in the book Understanding Hypermedia.

According to the developer costs for Empruve's Cornucopia were between $4,000 and $5,000.
Advanced multimedia systems will become as much an integral part of our lives as the telephone, the television, the typewriter and the book. "Cornucopia" demonstrates how ergonomic a multimedia system can be. The system uses DVI technology and a CDROM drive, and combines an A4 paper white screen and a colour screen (for stills and motion video) with a new control device called a "tadpole."

See also:
Starfire (1994)
GTE's Classroom of the Future (1987)
Motorola's 2000 A.D. (1990)
Pacific Bell Concept Video (1991)
Connections: AT&T's Vision of the Future (1993)
Flowers by Alice (1992)
Apple's Knowledge Navigator (1987)
Apple's Grey Flannel Navigator (1988)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Movies Will Replace Textbooks (1922)

The 2006 book Future Hype: The Myths of Technology Change by Bob Seidensticker is a fascinating read. From page 103:
Schools have had a longstanding immunity against the introduction of new technologies. In 1922 Thomas Edison predicted that movies would replace textbooks. In 1945 one forecaster imagined radios as common as blackboards in classrooms. In the 1960s, B.F. Skinner predicted that teaching machines and programmed instruction would double the amount of information students could learn in a given time. Filmstrips and other audiovisual aids were fads thirty years ago, and the television, now seen as a supplier of brain candy, once had a sterling reputation as an education machine.

See also:
Thinks We'll Do Our Reading On Screen (1923)
Movies to be Produced in Every Home (1925)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Streamlined Cars of the Future

I was quoted today in the Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia) for a piece about the past and future of cars. An excerpt appears below.
In the first quarter of the 20th century, the developed world began an obsession with outer space. Comic-strip storyboards of domed futuristic cities and multilayered transport systems fired imaginations - and not just amongst children.

Our automotive pioneers were also looking forward, working to propel the newborn car - the horseless carriage - to meet a vision. And, shape-wise, it looked bubbly.

"The globule-shaped modes of transportation come from a 1930s obsession with streamlining," says Matt Novak, the founder of past-future commentary site "Creating streamlined modes of transportation gave the perception of efficiency and the perception that you were a part of the future was important."

See also:
What the future didn't bring
New Hampshire Public Radio (Jan, 2008)
Paleo-Future in the Wall Street Journal
Article for MungBeing
Sincerity and the Paleo-Future
Postmodern Paleo-Future

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mechanized Stadium of the Future (1958)

The November 2, 1958 edition of Closer Than We Think featured a "mechanized stadium."
The stadium of tomorrow might very well be adaptable to a variety of athletic and other events, thereby solving a practical problem that has long plagued sports promoters.

The mechanized arena depicted here contains self-propelled sectional grandstands made of a new lightweight high tensile aluminum. Such seating areas would be maneuverable and could be properly positioned for the event at hand with little difficulty. Thus the stadium would be as suitable for a baseball game as it would be for football, boxing or hockey.

And not only would such a stadium bring spectators right up to where the action took place - but as an added touch there might be an adjustable mobile glass roof to protect them from the elements.

Next week: "Turnpike Jet Lines"

Many thanks to Tom Zmudzinski for providing this difficult to find strip.

See also:
Sports Fans of the Year 2000 (1967)
Mile Run in 3:41 by Year 2000 (1965)
Lunar High Jump (1979)
Sport in Space Colonies (1977)
Olympic Games on the Moon in 2020 (1979)
Zero-Gravity Football (1981)
Future Without Football (Daily Review, 1976)
"Grasshopper" Golf Cart (1961)