Yesterday's Future: Did These Far-Out Predictions Come True?


Left: A cartoon from the late '50s illustrates a variety of wonders from the future. Right: A flying car on the cover of Popular Mechanics in 1957. Source:; pinterest

Remember what the future used to look like? The wonders we thought we'd see often look quaint, and there's even a word for it: "retro-futurism." But sometimes predictions are correct, or relatively so -- take the 1962 book 1975: And The Changes To Come by Arnold B. Barach. In this work Barach guessed at what the future would bring in just a short 12 years. Many of his ideas did not come to fruition exactly as he imagined, or as fast as he imagined, but in a general sense he did get more than a few things right.

When it came to computerized learning, for example, he got an A-plus.

Education: The Computerized Classroom Of The Future

This illustration of 'push-button education' from 1958 is not unlike Barach's vision of future classrooms in 1962. Source:

Barach imagined a world where computers would be cheap and abundant, and one particular use for these “computing machines” would be in the realm of education. He speculated that each student would have his or her own machine to use in order to receive individualized lessons to maximize their learning potential.

These students of the future would complete multiple choice tests, and when they answered the questions wrong the computer would be prompted to bring up a review of the material in order to ensure they mastered the content. At the end of every day the computers would print out the students' results, which would be handed to a teacher for review, so the progress of these young learners could be tracked and charted.

While the way schools are structured does not directly mirror this prediction, the abundance of smart classrooms, computer labs, and tablet assisted learning far exceeds Barach’s hopeful expectations. Additionally, on the computer there are countless free resources students are given access to for maximizing their learning, such as Khan Academy and the myriad tutorials on YouTube.

Commerce: Buy Things On Your Computer

a mock-up of a "Traveling Salesman"

Another interesting device Barach dreamed of was a “Traveling Salesman.” This machine was thought to be a portable gadget that could display riveting sales presentations to potential clients in full color, and allow the customers the ability to make remote purchases.

In 1975, IBM released the first commercial laptop, partially fulfilling Barach's vision, in that it was a portable device. It only had a black and white resolution, but that early model paved the way for the powerful micro machines we all use today. True shopping didn't come about until we all hooked into the internet, and went bonkers for e-commerce. Presently, we are all able to purchase almost anything online, and get it delivered to our doorstep in the short time frame of 2 days, or even a measly 2 hours.

Transportation: Come Fly With Me

A flying car as depicted on the cover of Popular Mechanics in 1957. Source: Pinterest

Another popular prediction from this time period was changes in transportation such as self driving cars, and flying vehicles. While there does not seem to be much of a future for personal flying aircraft, self driving cars are soon to be a reality we will all have to learn to live with. Whether it be Uber, Google, or Tesla, these tech giants are all working on building an AI strong enough to confidently maneuver a road without the input of any lousy old human.

With many of these ideas fulfilled, it sure does seem that we really are living in the future dreamed in the '60s and '70s, and that leaves me hopefully to what tomorrow will bring for us today.