Photo: Brock University
Celebrating its 80th anniversary in 1931, The New York Times asked some of the times greatest visionaries what the United States would be like in 2011, 80 years later.Great men such as W.J. Mayo, Henry Ford, Arthur Keith, Arthur Compton, Willis R. Whitney, Robert Millikan, Michael Pupin and William F. Ogburn all shared their views of what the future held (via Abnormal Use).
Some of the predictions were right on point while a few others missed the target.
Contagious and infectious diseases have been largely overcome, and the average length of life of man has increased to 50-eight years. The great causes of death in middle and later life are diseases of heart, blood vessels and kidneys, diseases of the nervous system, and cancer. The progress that is being made would suggest that within the measure of time for this forecast the average life time of civilized man would be raised to the biblical term of three-score and 10.
80 years ago medicine was divided among three orders of specialists -- physicians, surgeons, and midwives. Now there are more than 50 distinct special branches for the treatment of human ailments. It is this aspect of life -- its ever growing specialisation -- which frightens me. Applying this law to The New York Times, I tremble when I think what its readers will find on their doorsteps every Sunday morning.
Among the natural sciences it is rather in the field of biology than in physics that I myself look for the big changes in the coming century. Also, the spread of the scientific method, which has been so profoundly significant for physics, to the solution of our social problems is almost certain to come. The enormous possibilities inherent in the extension of that method, especially to governmental problems, has already apparently been grasped by Mr. Hoover as by no man who has heretofore presided over our national destinies, and I anticipate great advances for moving in the directions in which he is now leading.
The great inventions which laid the foundation of our modern industries and of the resulting industrial civilisation were all born during the last 80 years, the life time of The New York Times. This civilisation is the greatest material achievement of applied science during this memorable period. Its power for creating wealth was never equaled in human history. But it lacks the wisdom of distributing equitably the wealth which it creates. One can safely prophesy that during the next 80 years this civilisation will correct this deficiency by creating an industrial democracy which will guarantee to the worker an equitable share in the work produced by his work.
With better communication national boundaries will gradually cease to have their present importance. Because of racial differences a world union cannot be expected within 80 years. The best adjustment that we can hope for to this certain change would seem to be the voluntary union of neighbouring nations under a centralized government of continental size.
To make an 80-year forecast may be an interesting exercise, first of the imagination and then of our sense of humility, but its principal interest will probably be for the people 80 years on, who will measure our estimates against the accomplished fact. No doubt the seeds of 1931 were planted and possibly germinating in 1851, but did anyone forecast the harvest? And likewise the seeds of 2011 are with us now, but who discerns them?
The population of the United States 80 years hence will be 160,000,000 and either stationary or declining, and will have a larger percentage of old people than there is today. Technological progress, with its exponential law of increase, holds the key to the future. labour displacement will proceed even to automatic factories. The magic of remote control will be commonplace. Humanity's most versatile servant will be the electron tube. The communication and transportation inventions will smooth out regional differences and level us in some respects to uniformity. But the heterogeneity of material culture will mean specialists and languages that only specialists can understand. The countryside will be transformed by technology and farmers will be more like city folk. There will be fewer farmers, more wooded land with wild life. Personal property in mechanical conveniences will be greatly extended. Some of these will be needed to prop up the weak who will survive.
Inevitable technological progress and abundant natural resources yield a higher standard of living. Poverty will be eliminated and hunger as a driving force of revolution will not be a danger. Inequality of income and problems of social justice will remain. Crises of life will be met by insurance.
The role of government is bound to grow. Technicians and special interest groups will leave only a shell of democracy. The family cannot be destroyed but will be less stable in the early years of married life, divorce being greater than now. The lives of woman will be more like those of men, spent more outside the home. The principle of expediency will be the dominating one in law and ethics.
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