April 19, 2013
In the 1930s journalists from publications like the New York Times and Time magazine would regularly visit Nikola Tesla at his home on the 20th floor of the Hotel Governor Clinton in Manhattan. There the elderly Tesla would regale them with stories of his early days as an inventor and often opined about what was in store for the future.
Last year we looked at Tesla’s prediction that eugenics and the forced sterilization of criminals and other supposed undesirables would somehow purify the human race by the year 2100. Today we have more from that particular article which appeared in the February 9, 1935, issue of Liberty magazine. The article is unique because it wasn’t conducted as a simple interview like so many of Tesla’s other media appearances from this time, but rather is credited as “by Nikola Tesla, as told to George Sylvester Viereck.”
It’s not clear where this particular article was written, but Tesla’s friendly relationship with Viereck leads me to believe it may not have been at his Manhattan hotel home. Interviews with Tesla at this time would usually occur at the Hotel, but Tesla would sometimes dine with Viereck and his family at Viereck’s home on Riverside Drive, meaning that it’s possible they could have written it there.
Viereck attached himself to many important people of his time, conducting interviews with such notable figures as Albert Einstein, Teddy Roosevelt and even Adolf Hitler. As a German-American living in New York, Viereck was a rather notorious propagandist for the Nazi regime and was tried and imprisoned in 1942 for failing to register with the U.S. government as such. He was released from prison in 1947, a few years after Tesla’s death in 1943. It’s not clear if they had remained friends after the government started to become concerned about Viereck’s activities in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Tesla had interesting theories on religion, science and the nature of humanity which we’ll look at in a future post, but for the time being I’ve pulled some of the more interesting (and often accurate) predictions Tesla had for the future of the world.
Creation of the EPA
The creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was still 35 years away, but Tesla predicted a similar agency’s creation within a hundred years.
Hygiene, physical culture will be recognized branches of education and government. The Secretary of Hygiene or Physical Culture will be far more important in the cabinet of the President of the United States who holds office in the year 2035 than the Secretary of War. The pollution of our beaches such as exists today around New York City will seem as unthinkable to our children and grandchildren as life without plumbing seems to us. Our water supply will be far more carefully supervised, and only a lunatic will drink unsterilized water.
Education, War and the Newspapers of Tomorrow
Tesla imagined a world where new scientific discoveries, rather than war, would become a priority for humanity.
Today the most civilized countries of the world spend a maximum of their income on war and a minimum on education. The twenty-first century will reverse this order. It will be more glorious to fight against ignorance than to die on the field of battle. The discovery of a new scientific truth will be more important than the squabbles of diplomats. Even the newspapers of our own day are beginning to treat scientific discoveries and the creation of fresh philosophical concepts as news. The newspapers of the twenty-first century will give a mere ” stick ” in the back pages to accounts of crime or political controversies, but will headline on the front pages the proclamation of a new scientific hypothesis.
Health and Diet
Toward the end of Tesla’s life he had developed strange theories about the optimal human diet. He dined on little more than milk and honey in his final days, believing that this was the purest form of food. Tesla lost an enormous amount of weight and was looking quite ghastly by the early 1940s. This meager diet and his gaunt appearance contributed to the common misconception that he was penniless at the end of his life.
More people die or grow sick from polluted water than from coffee, tea, tobacco, and other stimulants. I myself eschew all stimulants. I also practically abstain from meat. I am convinced that within a century coffee, tea, and tobacco will be no longer in vogue. Alcohol, however, will still be used. It is not a stimulant but a veritable elixir of life. The abolition of stimulants will not come about forcibly. It will simply be no longer fashionable to poison the system with harmful ingredients. Bernarr Macfadden has shown how it is possible to provide palatable food based upon natural products such as milk, honey, and wheat. I believe that the food which is served today in his penny restaurants will be the basis of epicurean meals in the smartest banquet halls of the twenty-first century.
There will be enough wheat and wheat products to feed the entire world, including the teeming millions of China and India, now chronically on the verge of starvation. The earth is bountiful, and where her bounty fails, nitrogen drawn from the air will refertilize her womb. I developed a process for this purpose in 1900. It was perfected fourteen years later under the stress of war by German chemists.
Tesla’s work in robotics began in the late 1890s when he patented his remote-controlled boat, an invention that absolutely stunned onlookers at the 1898 Electrical Exhibition at Madison Square Garden.
At present we suffer from the derangement of our civilization because we have not yet completely adjusted ourselves to the machine age. The solution of our problems does not lie in destroying but in mastering the machine.
Innumerable activities still performed by human hands today will be performed by automatons. At this very moment scientists working in the laboratories of American universities are attempting to create what has been described as a ” thinking machine.” I anticipated this development.
I actually constructed ” robots.” Today the robot is an accepted fact, but the principle has not been pushed far enough. In the twenty-first century the robot will take the place which slave labor occupied in ancient civilization. There is no reason at all why most of this should not come to pass in less than a century, freeing mankind to pursue its higher aspirations.
Cheap Energy and the Management of Natural Resources
Long before the next century dawns, systematic reforestation and the scientific management of natural resources will have made an end of all devastating droughts, forest fires, and floods. The universal utilization of water power and its long-distance transmission will supply every household with cheap power and will dispense with the necessity of burning fuel. The struggle for existence being lessened, there should be development along ideal rather than material lines.
Tesla was a visionary whose many contributions to the world are being celebrated today more than ever. And while his idea of the perfect diet may have been a bit strange, he clearly understood many of the things that 21st century Americans would value (like clean air, clean food, and our “thinking machines”) as we stumble into the future.
April 11, 2013
A bright rainbow hangs in the sky, descending just over the horizon. The many people of Earth march slowly toward it, leaving behind the crumbling fist of war, oppression and international borders. Nothing less than the future is over that horizon; a future that is defined by a new world order where people are able to attain true happiness and leave behind the bleak conflicts of the early 20th century.
At least that’s how it was imagined by illustrator Fred Siebel and writer Vincent Sheean in the January, 1950 issue of Redbook magazine.
We may not have the one world government envisioned by Vincent Sheean, but we do have a version of the one-superpower world that he predicted would emerge. His vision left open many possible avenues by which this new world order might be achieved — many that left the United States, the Soviet Union or both in ruins. But however that cold conflict came to an end it would bring the dawning of a new age.
Sheean, writing in 1950:
Whatever shape your world may take in the year 2000 A.D., we can all be fairly sure that it will be one world. Whether through war or through peace, the nations fifty years from now will have learned to enmesh their sovereignties into a single supreme authority. They will have learned to do so because, difficult as it may seem now, no other alternative exists. One world or none at all is the choice.
If we examine the hateful and (to my mind) improbable possibility of war—atomic war between the great powers—we see that one or the other side must be destroyed. The A-bomb, the guided missile, bacteria weapons, make limited wars for limited objectives impossible between great powers. These powers are too powerful, and they have weapons, which once used, would lead into a completely unknowable future. If, however, anything survived, it is certain that one power alone (either the United States or the Soviet Union) would impose its version of world order upon the ruins. That single-power world is profoundly undesirable, because civilization will have been sacrificed to attain it. Barring war then, or a great depression, we can see that the next fifty years offer a tremendous prospect— and challenge. It is a fact that by increasing our production by only a tenth above normal expectations, the U.S. can provide enough to bring every American up to minimum living standards.
But Sheean held out hope that there was indeed reason to be optimistic about the year 2000. Tremendous scientific advancement and wondrous new tech like supersonic planes and a system of advanced highways (the Federal Highway Act of 1956 was still six years away) would allow humanity to achieve its full potential:
Vast advances in technology and science should let us insure our people against sickness, unemployment and the hazards of old age; lace the nation with 200-m.p.h., triple-tier highways and fill the skies with more comfortable, faster, perhaps supersonic air transports; build churches, schools, art galleries, lecture halls, libraries for everyone. Certainly power by nuclear fission will accelerate the most productive economic machine in world history. Nations will no longer be driven by hunger to overwork their soil and pillage other natural resources.
Thus, it is conceivable that we will have the time and the energies to attain the greatest of all goals — happiness — with values in art, music, culture, craftsmanship, intellect, and above all, in human relations. Without resolution of this issue—human relations on a world scale—productivity will mean little, for it will be devoted to only one ultimate weapon after another.
It seems to me that no atomic war will occur. We shall, indeed, work our way slowly, with much difficulty, through successive phases of “cold war” and uneasy peace arrangements, toward a world authority strong enough to establish and keep international order. This has been a dream for many men through the centuries. It now becomes a political necessity, the means of survival.
Sheean also argued that national sovereignty would become an antiquated notion.
This trend toward world authority will be contested bitterly for many years, because national sovereignty is something all men cling to. But sooner or later a number of overwhelming questions will impose themselves on everybody who thinks at all. Questions like these: Is national sovereignty more important than society itself? Is civilization not something bigger than either the nation or the society? When these questions are asked, over and over and over again, the tendency toward World Agreement, already strong in some areas, will become, I believe, irresistible.
Inspection and regulation of atomic energy enterprises will be established. World agreement, at top levels, will be achieved in a “crisis” — such as Berlin, Greece, or in southeast Asia — and we will have a pattern upon which, with many a failure and many a discouraging rebuff, men of good will will slowly build up and strengthen a world authority. Societies will continue to be different; nations will keep their identities in every respect, except the freedom to murder each other.
This one world government, Sheean writes, would not come without considerable debate. Americans in particular, he argues would be incredibly resistant to the idea of this transition.
The social and economic aspects of this slowly evolving process are very hard for any American, especially a Congressman, to contemplate. Whether our road lies through peace or through war, it is going to cost billions of dollars. There will be helpful factors: split-second communications, world-wide walkie-talkies perhaps, transocean facsimile newspapers, an international language, which would be of enormous aid in surmounting international barriers. There will be a helpful atmosphere, one freer of worry over cancer, tuberculosis and polio. Most important, there will be a constantly growing realization of the imperative need for a common brotherhood of man.
I dare guess that it will be peace, dangerous and difficult peace, leading at long last to a world authority for the government of international relations by controlled disarmament.
Controlled disarmament of the world is obviously far from a reality today. But thanks to the technological growth of the second half of the 20th century, it’s hard to argue that—despite the continued existence of very distinct national borders—we’re anything but a smaller world here in the 21st.
War, well that’s another thing entirely.
March 22, 2013
During World War II, many Americans had high hopes for what life would be like in the future. Sometimes this was fueled by advertisers who promised that great things were just around the corner. Sacrifice for your country now they said, and all of your wildest high-tech dreams would come true after the war. As we’ve seen before, this attitude was sometimes tempered by skeptics who warned that while there may indeed be great things ahead, Americans should keep their shirts on.
Once the war ended in 1945 inventors, corporations and advertisers kicked into high gear, scrambling to perhaps make good on some of the promises they’d made during the war. But that also didn’t stop the unrelenting torrent of predictions about the leisurely society of tomorrow.
One popular area of prognostication was about how people would be traveling in the near future. The average American would soon be taking to the skies, in hyper-futuristic airplanes with all the luxuries of a swanky dinner club. One of these skyward-gazing predictions appeared in a 1948 short film called The Northrop Flying Wing, produced for the Popular Science series of films. Designed by Jack Northrop, Northrop’s sleek design screamed “airplane of the future.”
The film explained that this airplane of the future would seat 80 people and provide gorgeous views of the countryside below through large plexiglass windows:
Now a preview of the flying wing transport of tomorrow. The mid-section provides ample room for 80 passengers. Spaciousness keynotes the luxurious main lounge, extending 53 feet inside the wing. And future air travelers will really see something. Through the plexiglass windows of the front wing edge, passengers have an unimpaired view of the earth unrolling thousands of feet below. Coast-to-coast flights in four hours may not be far away.
This high-tech flyer had its roots in the military, the film tells viewers, but much like other advancements of WWII, the Northrop-built planes held tremendous promise for peacetime uses:
Wing controls are like those of a conventional plane, except for elevons, combining functions of elevator and aileron. Today a potent defense weapon, it may revolutionize commercial flying. The dorsal tip of the plane provides an excellent vantage point to see the world go by. Snug as bugs in their magic carpet, air travelers can look down on mere earthlings as the double-quartet of mighty turbo jets whistle them through space.
This flying wing bomber is the twelfth type to be designed by John K. Northrop since 1939 — the latest edition to a family of planes that may some day may rule the air.
The world of air travel in the future will be one of luxury and efficiency, with plenty of booze for good measure:
Surprisingly enough, the luxurious wing is simpler to build than other planes. Being a single unit with a structure extending from tip to tip. The sleek air leviathan carries more cargo farther, faster with less fuel than any comparable plane.
And the bar will raise the spirits who don’t feel high enough in the stratosphere. The flying wing has the stability of a fine club and refreshments can safely be wheeled in. This new device is an electromagnetic table holder.
By the end of the short film the narrator has adopted a strangely paternalistic tone about technology. We’re told that the American public “quickly accepts” the fantastic miracles bestowed upon them by science:
The public quickly accepts all the miracles that science provides. Even skyliners like this will become commonplace. But the giant flying wing is more than a super-streamlined airplane. It is the fulfillment of scientific vision, and symbolizes the practical dreams of science for our world of tomorrow.
Viewers of the late 1940s are told that thanks to science, the world of tomorrow will be the fulfillment of a glorious vision — whether they like it or not.
November 1, 2012
There seems to be two occasions when people most enjoy making predictions: anniversaries (think the American Bicentennial, New Year’s, etc) and dates that include round numbers (any year ending in zero). Such was the case in 1950 when many people halfway through the 20th century enjoyed predicting what life would be like in the year 2000 — obviously the roundest numbered year of our modern age.
The January 1950 issue of Redbook magazine asked, “What will the world of 2000 A.D. be like? Will the machine replace man? How will our children and grandchildren spend their leisure? How, indeed, will they look?” The mag asked four experts — curiously all men, given that Redbook was and is a magazine aimed at women — about what the world may look like fifty years hence.
Aldous Huxley, author of the 1931 dystopian novel Brave New World, looked at working life in the year 2000. Specifically, how people might work in the home, in the laboratory, in the office, in the factory and on the farm.
Aldous Huxley began his article by describing the major challenges that would confront the world at the dawn of the 21st century. He predicted that the global population would swell to 3 billion people — a figure less than half of the 6.1 billion that would prove to be a reality by 2000.
During the next fifty years mankind will face three great problems: the problem of avoiding war; the problem of feeding and clothing a population of two and a quarter billions which, by 2000 A.D., will have grown to upward of three billions, and the problem of supplying these billions without ruining the planet’s irreplaceable resources.
Let us assume—and unhappily it is a large assumption—that the nations can agree to live in peace. In this event mankind will be free to devote all its energy and skill to the solution of its other major problems.
Huxley’s predictions for food production in the year 2000 are largely a call for the conservation of resources. He correctly points out that meat production can be far less efficient than using agricultural lands for crops. Moreover, he discusses the growing importance of synthetic materials (a reality we take for granted in so many ways today). His description of synthetics was incredibly prescient, if not very surprising, coming from a man whose most famous novel imagined a high-tech world built on mass production.
By 2000, let us hope, the peoples of the world will have adopted a program to increase the planet’s output of food and other necessities, while conserving its resources. Because all available land will be needed for food production, concerted efforts will be made to derive all the fibers used for textiles from inorganic materials or vegetable wastes. Food crops will be cultivated on the land now devoted to cotton, flax, hemp and jute, and, since wool will no longer be used, the huge flocks of sheep which now menace Australian and North American watersheds will be greatly diminished. Because of the need to give overworked soil a rest and to extract the greatest possible number of calories from every acre under cultivation, meat production, which is fantastically wasteful of land, will be cut down, and increasing attention will be given to the products, vegetable no less than animal, of the ocean. Landlocked inlets, lakes, ponds and swamps will be scientifically farmed.
In many parts of the world forests are being recklessly destroyed. To conserve them we shall have to develop new types of synthetic building materials and new sources for paper. That the production of a comic supplement should entail the death of thousands of magnificent trees is a scandal which cannot much longer be tolerated.
How will individuals be affected by all this? For many farmers the changes will mean a shift from one kind of production to another. For many others they will entail a transfer to the chemical industry. For the chemical industry is bound to grow more important as world erosion compels us, for the sake of the land, to rely increasingly on synthetics derived from practically inexhaustible inorganic materials.
The world of 2000 A.D. was seen by many to be one of increased leisure. But Huxley sees that potential for better working conditions and increased standards of living as obtainable only through a sustained peace. These same predictions of a leisure-oriented society, by Huxley and others living mid-century, would inspire the push-button cliche later parodied in the 1962 TV show “The Jetsons.”
Perhaps Huxley’s most inaccurate prediction is his assumption that an increase in productivity will mean an increase in wages for the average worker. As we’ve seen over the last half a century, increased worker productivity has not led to a dramatic increase in wages.
That enormous technological advances will be recorded during the next fifty years is certain. But to the worker as a worker, such advances will not necessarily be of great significance. It makes very little difference to the textile worker whether the stuff he handles is the product of a worm, a plant, a mammal or a chemical laboratory. Work is work, and what matters to the worker is neither the product nor the technical process, but the pay, the hours, the attitude of the boss, the physical environment. To most office and factory workers in 2000 the application of nuclear fission to industry will mean very little. What they will care about is what their fathers and mothers care about today—improvement in the conditions of labor. Given peace, it should be possible, within the next fifty years, to improve working conditions very considerably. Better equipped, workers will produce more and therefore earn more. Meanwhile most of the hideous relics of the industrial Middle Ages will have been replaced by new factories, offices and homes. More and more factories and offices will be relocated in small country communities, where life is cheaper, pleasanter and more genuinely human than in those breeding-grounds of mass neurosis, the great metropolitan centers of today. Decentralization may help to check that march toward the asylum, which is a threat to our civilization hardly less grave than that of erosion and A-bomb.
Huxley rightly predicts that the world would have to face the challenges that go along with having an aging population. Huxley himself would only live to see the year 1963, but he acknowledged what life would be like for young people reading his article.
If the finished product means little to the worker, it means much to the housewife. New synthetic building materials will be easier to keep clean. New solar heating systems will be cheaper and less messy. Electronics in the kitchen will greatly simplify the task of the cook. In a word, by 2000 the business of living should have become decidedly less arduous than it is at present. But, though less arduous, it will last on the average a good deal longer. In 2000 there will be more elderly people in the world than at any previous time. In many countries the citizens of sixty-five and over will outnumber the boys and girls of fifteen and under. Pensions and a pointless leisure offer no solution to the problems of an aging population. In 2000 the younger readers of this article, who will then be in their seventies, will probably be inhabiting a world in which the old are provided with opportunities for using their experience and remaining strength in ways satisfactory to themselves, and valuable to the community.
All in all, I’d say that Huxley’s predictions were fairly accurate in spirit. Like so many prominent people of mid-century, he fails to predict or consider the dramatic social changes that would occur which had a direct impact on the 21st century workforce. But his idea that “work is work” and people simply want to find the best work they can with the best conditions and pay seems to be a timeless observation.
What do you say? I’m by no means an expert on Huxley and would welcome the opinion of others who may be able to read between the lines and offer insight into his vision of the year 2000.
September 21, 2012
American advertisers made a great number of promises for the future during World War II. The American people were told that if they could just be patient with wartime rationing, or the number of resources being devoted to the war effort, we would all be assured better lives after the war.
The Association of American Railroads was no different, and in the March 18, 1944 issue of Collier’s magazine they ran an ad which promised great things in train travel after World War II was through. It’s interesting for those of us perched from the vantage point of the future to remember that other methods of transportation, such as commercial air travel and even automobiles, weren’t the established forms that they would later become. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 — which, at the time, was the largest public works project in American history and established our interstate highway system — was figuratively light years into the future compared to even the end of the war.
So what does the train of tomorrow look like? It has plush seating, fantastic views, good company and plenty of room to stretch your legs. You can even get some work done at a proper desk if you please. The ad feels like they’re promising you the poshest waiting room at the fanciest dentist in all of 1940s Denver. Or maybe that’s just what I see.
The text from the ad appears below and spells out the Association’s vision for railroads of the future, all the while apologizing for the stresses and inconveniences brought on by operating during wartime, with the movement of huge quantities of freight, civilians and troops across the United States. It’s understandable that they felt obliged to begin with an apology and a message of appreciation:
Some day this war will be won by America and her Allies.
Our first duty meanwhile is to meet the demands of the war. This we are doing.
The going hasn’t always been easy or comfortable. We believe you understand the reasons, and we appreciate your patience, your good-humored acceptance of inconvenience.
And we’d like you to know our ideas of comfort and style go far beyond what we’re able to offer today. That’s why we print the picture [above].
It will give you some idea of how we’d like to serve you — how we’re looking and planning ahead right now to make future railroad travel a thrillingly pleasant experience.
It can’t be done all at once. It will take money and time.
But you can be sure of one thing. Our goal is to give future America the finest transportation the world has ever seen.
As we’ve seen, there were skeptics in the popular press who warned that the American people shouldn’t get their hopes up too high about all the promises being made during the war. But I must admit that I’d love to see a train like this built today — vintage dentist office chic or otherwise.