Monday, January 1, 2018

Toward The Year 2018

If you wanted to hear the future in late May, 1968, you might have gone to Abbey Road to hear the Beatles record a new song of John Lennon’s—something called “Revolution.” Or you could have gone to the decidedly less fab midtown Hilton in Manhattan, where a thousand “leaders and future leaders,” ranging from the economist John Kenneth Galbraith to the peace activist Arthur Waskow, were invited to a conference by the Foreign Policy Association. For its fiftieth anniversary, the F.P.A. scheduled a three-day gathering of experts, asking them to gaze fifty years ahead. An accompanying book shared the conference’s far-off title: “Toward the Year 2018.”
But for every amusingly wrong prediction, there’s one unnervingly close to the mark. It’s the same Thomas Malone who, amid predictions of weaponized hurricanes, wonders aloud whether “large-scale climate modification will be effected inadvertently” from rising levels of carbon dioxide. Such global warming, he predicts, might require the creation of an international climate body with “policing powers”—an undertaking, he adds, heartbreakingly, that should be “as nonpolitical as possible.” Gordon F. MacDonald, a fellow early advocate on climate change, writes a chapter on space that largely shrugs at manned interplanetary travel—a near-heresy in 1968—by cannily observing that while the Apollo missions would soon exhaust their political usefulness, weather and communications satellites would not. “A global communication system . . . would permit the use of giant computer complexes,” he adds, noting the revolutionary potential of a data bank that “could be queried at any time.”

What “Toward the Year 2018” gets most consistently right is the integration of computing into daily life. Massive information networks of fibre optics and satellite communication, accessed through portable devices in a “universality of telephony”—and an upheaval in privacy? It’s all in there. The Bell Labs director John R. Pierce, in a few masterful strokes, extrapolates the advent of Touch-Tone to text and picture transmission, and editing the results online—“This will even extend to justification and pagination in the preparation of documents of a quality comparable to today’s letterpress.” And it’s Ithiel de Sola Pool—he of the free love and controlled economies—who wonders, five decades before alarms were raised over Equifax, Facebook, and Google, how personal information will be “computer-stored and fantastically manipulative” in both senses of the word: “By 2018 a researcher sitting at his console will be able to compile a cross-tabulation of consumer purchases (from store records) by people of low IQ (from school records) who have an unemployed member of the family (from social security records),” Pool predicts. “That is, he will have the technological capacity to do so. Will he have the legal right?”
The 1968 Book That Tried to Predict the World of 2018 | The New Yorker

I tried to find a free pdf version of this book but all I could find was that it's on Amazon.The reviews talk about the predictions that were correct not mentioned in this article. Interesting how a book like this gets put out and gets a lot of predictions right.

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