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25 Years Ago WIRED Predicted the Future. How Wrong Were They?

Tim Arends has written a number of articles analyzing the progress of technology including one on predictions made by Yahoo Internet Life

When the “Experts” Predicted the Future

Imagine you walk into a bookstore (“Bookstore? What’s that?” Work with me here.) You come across an intriguing title that promises to tell you what the future is going to be like 25 years from now.

That sounds cool,” you think, “Everyone wants to know what the future holds, but I don’t want to have to wait 25 years to find out if it’s right.”

Friend, you’re in luck, because I’ve managed to dig into the past and find a book that was written 25 years ago that attempted to predict the future. Now you get to see just how right (or wrong) the experts were without that excruciating 25-year-long wait. Aren’t you lucky?

The book is titled “Reality Check” by Brad Wieners and David Pescovitz, written under the auspices of WIRED magazine. It was published back in 1996–exactly 25 years ago as of this writing. Cover blurb: “You’ve heard the hype. WIRED asked the experts. Here’s the real future.”

This is particularly intriguing, because WIRED has a reputation (justified or not) for predicting the future of technology. I was lucky because the original price was $16.95 but I got it at a used bookstore for one dollar.

Although the book claims to examine predictions of the future with a skeptical eye, I find it to be a mix of naïveté and giddy techno-optimism, with a hint of raw decadence thrown in.

The book is unconventionally laid out in the flamboyant WIRED style, and chapters are divided roughly into years, with a two-page spread devoted to each year. Each prediction has a bright, fluorescently-colored full-page illustration.

A timeline of years runs across the bottom of each page with the year of the current prediction highlighted. The year by which each expert they talked to thought the prediction would be fulfilled is marked. The predictions run from 1996 (the year the book was published) to 2225. Following that are the predictions the editors thought were unlikely to occur, followed by the ones they thought would never occur.

Naturally, I can only evaluate the predictions up to the current year (2021) but that covers, I would say, about 80% of the predictions in the book. For predictions that are still up in the air, I give my own guess as to their likelihood of fulfillment. Call it a reality check on Reality Check, if you will.

So exactly how well did WIRED do? Read on to find out.


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1996 - Genetically Engineered Weapons of War


Let’s take it by year, the same way the book did. Reality Check’s predictions start with 1996, the year it was published.

It’s first prediction is genetically engineered weapons of war. The book admitted that while President Richard Nixon signed a ban on chemical and biological weapons in 1969, the US department of defense 18 years later admitted to funding sites conducting such research.

So what about the use of such weapons? What did the book predict about that? Unfortunately, it wimped out when it came to predicting whether genetically engineered weapons would actually be used.

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. COVID-19 is in fact a genetically engineered bioweapon cooked up in a lab in Wuhan China, and then released either accidentally or intentionally. (City Journal: The Evidence Mounts: A new NIH letter reinforces the lab-leak hypothesis for the origins of COVID-19).

A prediction that is not really a prediction is not a good way to start the book.

VERDICT: Wrong

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1997 - Affordable Home CD Recorders

It may seem hard for us to believe today, but home CD burners, or what the book called “recorders,” were considered an enticing, cutting-edge technology back in 1996.

Remember, at that time, the standard method of writing data onto a removable disk was with a floppy drive. These held a miserably small 1.2 MB each. What if you had a file that was bigger than 1.2 MB? Well, assuming you couldn’t squeeze the file down small enough through compression, you had to split it into two or more pieces and store each piece on a separate floppy disk!

My first computer came with only a floppy drive. Backup software was available for backing up the hard drive onto floppies. Even though the computer had a measly 240 MB hard drive, it still took a whopping 200 floppy disks to back the whole thing up. Considering that floppies were slow and each one took a couple of minutes to write to, you can see that backing up the entire computer by inserting floppies one-at-a-time by hand took the better part of a day

So the idea of being able to burn 600 MB of data onto a single shiny, inexpensive disk seemed like a miracle of technology back then. Although the definition of “affordable” might depend on who you ask, I would say the book’s prediction was correct, since external CD burners were indeed available by 1997. Computers with built-in CD burners became common a few years later.

VERDICT: Correct

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1997 – Movies on Demand

Around the mid-1990s, there was quite a bit of excitement about watching movies on computers. To understand the excitement, you have to understand what was meant by “watching movies.” There was a big difference between watching short video clips and watching full-length feature films (the book Reality Check was talking about watching actual feature films, not short clips or user-generated videos on a site such as YouTube).

In the mid-1990s, even a short video clip put a strain on the capabilities of the average personal computer. First of all, video took a lot of storage space on computers whose hard drives were measured in megabytes. Secondly, bandwidth was extremely low, with most people using 56K modems or slower. Thirdly, computer monitors were low-resolution CRTs. Fourth, displaying a video took quite a toll on the average personal computer’s processor.

Computers got around these limitations by playing short video clips at low resolution in only a tiny window on the screen, not one that filled the whole screen as we would expect today. So watching a full length feature film on a computer required overcoming quite a few hurdles.

Even watching short video clips was not possible until the arrival of multimedia computers. This was a fancy way of saying a computer with a CD-ROM drive. Only CD-ROMs at the time had enough storage space to store even short video clips (certainly, floppy disks were not up to the task). Multimedia computers also had better screens and more powerful processors.

Still, watching full-length motion pictures on the computer was a dream that most people had to wait quite a bit past the decade of the 1990s to experience. Netflix didn’t introduce its streaming service until 2007. With this in mind, I would have to say the prediction of movies on demand by 1997 was a bit optimistic—by about 10 years.

VERDICT: Wrong

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1997 - Intelligent Agents

Reality Check identified the difficulty of evaluating predictions when it stated:
“Depending on how you define ‘intelligent agents,’ they either remain a fantasy or a prototype, or they have been with us for some time.”

This is why evaluating predictions is difficult, because a lot of it depends on how you define things. For example, can email spam filters, spellcheckers and virus filters be called primitive intelligent agents? Is a prediction correct merely because a certain technology exists in the design stage, or does it have to be in common use?

In this case, I would judge Reality Check’s prediction to be correct, because 1997 was the very year that Microsoft Clippy, the most well-known intelligent agent, was introduced. While most people view Microsoft Clippy as primitive and annoying, I think it’s fair to say it was one of the most ambitious attempts at building an intelligent agent into software up to that time. Nowadays, of course, we have Siri, Alexa, Cortana and other natural language software assistants.

VERDICT: Correct

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1998 - E-Cash Gets Real

E-cash, nowadays called cryptocurrency, has several traits that define it. To describe e-cash, Reality Check quoted the book digital money: the new era of Internet commerce: “Digital money is an electronic replacement for cash. It is storable, transferable, and unforgeable.” Reality Check also correctly identified the “pivotal enabling technology” for e-cash: cryptography.

While e-cash may seem to offer some exciting benefits, such as the ability to automatically track where every penny of your money goes, it also has some scary downsides. It could allow the government to track where every penny of your money goes!

Imagine if the government could automatically fine you if you said something it didn’t like on social media or if it insisted you take some future medical intervention, such as a vaccine, you didn’t trust. If universal basic income ever becomes common, the government could very easily punish dissidents by withholding their food allowance. The government could institute a “social credit score“ like in China using some very questionable criteria to determine a system of monetary rewards and punishments. In other words, e-cash could be used to impose a system of Socialism or even communism.

But all these are concerns for another essay. In the case of Reality Check’s prediction, 1998 seems to have been a bit over optimistic. Bitcoin, the most popular form of digital cash, didn’t come along until 2009. Still, the book was correct in identifying the imminent arrival of digital money. Therefore, I will rate it as partially correct.

VERDICT: Partially Correct

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1998 - First Virtual High School Graduating Class (distance learning)

Reality Check began this section by stating “at first glance, there isn’t a teenager alive Who wouldn’t like to go to high school without having to actually go to school.“ However, it concluded by suggesting that a virtual high school might be about as appealing to teens as a virtual mall. True, kids wouldn’t have to put up with teachers’ dirty looks or with the bullying of their classmates, but they would lose out on the chance to socialize with others their age as well.

Ironically, the big impetus to distance learning turned out to be the coronavirus, which forced many students to stay at home to avoid spreading “infection.” This led to some insane controversies, such as the school that insisted that a student take down a BB gun or toy pistol or some other supposedly scary weapon from his wall because it showed up behind him on his webcam! That’s right, the school insisted that he follow their dictates in arranging his own bedroom!

At the time of writing of Reality Check, there were already some universities that offered courses on the World Wide Web and a few that included “resources” for students in grades K – 12. However, it was a far cry from that to the “first virtual high school graduating class“ which implied a class of high-schoolers would spend all four years engaged in virtual learning.

VERDICT: Wrong

1998 - Flat Rate Phone Service

It may seem hard to believe now, but at one time, back in the days when everyone used land lines, there was a big difference between making a local call and making one long distance. Local calls were included in your monthly telephone bill at no extra charge (“flat rate“), While long distance calls – those over a certain number of miles away, and especially overseas – were charged by the minute.

The difference between local and long-distance was huge, especially for working people. People learned to make long-distance calls in the evening, after standard business hours, to take advantage of lower rates, and even then they had to ration their minutes and be careful not to talk too long. There were even long distance calculator dials to help people calculate the best hours at which to make a long distance call.

However, one of Reality Check’s consultants speculated that “in the future telephone service subscribers might pay a greater part of their monthly bill for increased bandwidth as opposed to long distance. And, as phone companies see greater bandwidth as a major source of new revenue, they might reduce or “flatten“ long distance rates...”

I’m not sure if flat rate phone service became common by 1998, but since it did eventually become almost universal, I will rate this prediction as right on the mark.

VERDICT: Correct

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1999 - Male Birth Control Pill

This was one of Reality Check’s more decadent predictions, as it fantasized about the day in which people could have sex with even fewer consequences than they do now, such as the messy business of actually having children.

The authors thought it unfair that women had a birth control pill but not men – unfair to the women, that is. They cited some of the negative side effects of the female birth control pill, such as bloating, risk of cancer, etc. They thought men deserved to have an equal chance to suffer negative side effects.

They did admit that “engineering a method to deactivate sperm is biologically more difficult than disrupting a woman’s monthly egg output.” However, they immediately fell back on a conspiracy theory to explain a “double standard” that they said discouraged research into a male birth control pill. Nevertheless, they predicted that such a pill would arrive by 1999. There still isn’t one to this day.

VERDICT: Wrong

1999 - Overnight Custom Clothing

Reality Check lamented that research found that “half of all Americans buy clothing off the rack that doesn’t fit.” They fantasized that digital body scanners that were “more accurate than tape measures” would “enable haberdashers to deliver custom clothing overnight.” However, for balance they also quoted a professor and chair of the textile development and marketing department of the Fashion Institute of Technology who said that “mass-produced clothing will always be cheaper than clothing produced on an individual basis.” She was right and Reality Check was wrong, at least so far.

VERDICT: Wrong

2000 - Gene Therapy For Cancer

According to Reality Check, “cancer remains one of death’s favorite guises. According to the national Cancer institute, cancer claimed more than 500,000 lives last year — in the United States alone.”

The book continued to state that studies suggested susceptibility to cancer is genetic and that there were promising cases in which gene therapy had proved effective at the time of writing. (And, although the writers of Reality Check didn’t mention it, The Human Genome Project, which started in 1990 and ended in 2003, attempted to identify all of the genes in the human body, which was expected to lead to numerous gene therapies.)

Unfortunately, the human body is extremely complex, and refuses to yield its secrets to medical science at a pace we might wish. In fact, many people say the old-fashioned health remedies work the best to prevent diseases—exercise, healthy eating, keeping one’s weight down, avoiding processed foods and general clean living. Also, avoiding carcinogens, of which there are many, is extremely important in avoiding cancer.

Unfortunately, an indication of how little progress we have made in conquering cancer is evident in the death statistics. Reality Check stated in 1996 that 500,000 lives were claimed by cancer in the United States in a single year. According to a 2021 check of WebMD, “About 600,000 cancer deaths happen in the U.S. each year.” That’s not progress, folks, that’s regress!

VERDICT: Wrong

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2001 - Solar Powered Automobiles

Reality Check’s experts anticipated “cars that take advantage of onboard solar power generators for supplemental power, and the emergence of electric cars that use solar power to recharge their batteries.”

One of the book’s consultants also anticipated “photovoltaic sunroof and rear spoiler collectors [that] will be incorporated in auto designs within a year or two.” Obviously, Reality Check anticipated faster progress in solar power than actually occurred.

Solar energy is extremely powerful, but also very diffuse. It is hard to collect with solar panels, and they must cover a very large area to collect a relatively small amount of energy. Therefore, the idea of automobile-mounted photovoltaic cells providing a significant amount of energy was unrealistic then, and still is today.

Perhaps a more likely scenario would be cars that plug into standard electrical outlets like today’s electric vehicles, with the energy coming to those outlets being generated by solar energy. Unfortunately, the reality is that to date, most energy that comes from our electric outlets is generated by coal. Therefore, today’s electric cars can really be more accurately described as coal-powered cars!

VERDICT: Wrong

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2001 - Fortune 500 Virtual Corporation

Many companies have workers that telecommute, or work from home. However, there’s a big difference between that and a “virtual corporation,” as Reality Check defined it: a corporation without a headquarters. They expected “companies large enough to be listed on the Fortune 500 list would take full advantage of telecommuting and video conferencing to eliminate the need for a majority of its staff to assemble in one place each workday.”

I don’t know of a single large corporation that fits that description today. The headquarters of the country’s biggest corporations are generally located in our cities’ biggest buildings. Not only is this a status symbol, but bosses and supervisors like to keep a close eye on their workers, something that is difficult to do when employees work at home.

Also, one wonders what cities would look like if everyone worked at home and avoided commuting to a central headquarters. Would there be any need for cities at all? Would they fall into decay and abandonment? Fortunately, that is not a situation that needs to be addressed quite yet.

VERDICT: Wrong

2001 - Global Wireless Telephone Number

Reality Check stated, “For multinational businesspeople who need to take their calls literally wherever they go... a handheld phone connected to a global wireless communications network would be a dream come true.” It also said that “handheld telephones that allow global service will be useful in the 24-hour world of finance and market analysis.”

I don’t think it was common by 2001, but mobile phones are indeed a worldwide phenomenon today. However, it sounded like Reality Check was predicting a single number that people would dial into that would guarantee worldwide service. I don’t think that is the case, so I rate this prediction correct—with qualifications.

VERDICT: Partially Correct

2002 - AIDS Vaccine Available

According to Reality Check, “A preventative AIDS vaccine has never been more urgently needed or more susceptible to exaggeration and opportunism.”

It seems exaggeration and opportunism, as well as a great deal of hype, is often characteristic of vaccine development. The book stated that the chief biological challenge for scientists developing an AIDS vaccine was the “evolutionary adaptability” of HIV, and cited Dr. David E.R. Sutherland who said the “mutability” of HIV is the reason we may never see a 100% effective aids vaccine.

But isn’t this true of all communicable diseases? It seems to me that anybody who says an effective vaccine can be developed on demand for any infectious disease is either dishonest or deluded. As far as AIDS is concerned, according to Wikipedia in 2021, “There is currently no licensed HIV vaccine on the market.” And they’ve had nearly 40 years to develop one.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2002 – Computer Handwriting Recognition

Computer developers have been tackling the challenge of “teaching” computers to read printed text for a long time. At first, they achieved this by developing a special font just for computers—the blobby font you still see along the bottom of paper checks. However, when they attempted to get computers to recognize words and characters not printed in this special font, their efforts failed badly.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the US Postal Service hoped to develop a system that could read ZIP Codes on envelopes for automated sorting, but even after a decade of work, machines were able to process less than 10% of the mail. Any kind of handwriting was completely beyond their capability. They were also stymied by odd-sized envelopes, colored paper, dirt smudges and fading typewriter ribbons.

Jump to the year 1993, when Apple introduced its PDA (personal digital assistant) called the Apple Newton, a handheld device that lacked a keyboard but permitted data entry through a touch-sensitive screen. Apple thought the most natural way of data entry would be by writing on the screen, so it developed a handwriting recognition system for the device. However, this was so notoriously susceptible to errors that it became a running joke among users and non- users alike.

In 1997, Palm corporation introduced its Palm Pilot, and it circumvented the problem of handwriting recognition by developing its own special character set called Graffiti. This was similar to the normal handwritten alphabet but required the user to draw each character in a certain way. When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, it dispensed with attempting handwriting recognition altogether and simply provided an on-screen keyboard for text entry.

With the history of handwriting recognition in mind, I was somewhat dubious as to whether computers today could recognize cursive, otherwise known as script or longhand – that is, writing in which the letters are connected to each other. However, my research for this essay led me to the Apple App Store, where I found an app called Handwritten OCR by Global Business LTD, and my tests found that it could indeed read handwritten text, and do a pretty good job of it! So the capability exists, but it was not achieved by 2002.

VERDICT: Partially Correct

2002 - Fat Destroying Pill

Desire for a pill that would magically allow you to eat as much as you want and never gain weight has existed as long as we have lived in a land of plenty. Food is so cheap and easily obtained that, rather than worrying about starving, we are suffering from an epidemic of obesity.

According to Reality Check, however, “Early in the next century, gym memberships may decline as the weight-and waist-conscious no longer need treadmills to burn off their favorite fast foods. Instead, all that will be required of those wishing to remain thin is to pop a fat destroying pill.”

The book pointed to products called thermotropics which already existed as a line of over-the- counter powders, marketed as weight loss or dietary supplements, that could be added to a blended drink. The book claimed that “these products accelerate one’s metabolic rate and so help the body to burn fat faster – hence the nickname, ‘fat burners.’”

This prediction sounded a little like the one made by acclaimed futurist Ray Kurzweil in his 2005 book The Singularity Is Near. In that book, he told about the conversation he had with James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, who claimed that in 50 years we would have drugs that would allow us to eat as much as we want without gaining weight. Kurzweil replied, “50 years? We have accomplished this already in mice by blocking the fat insulin receptor gene that controls the storage of fat in the fat cells. These will be available in 5 to 10 years, not fifty.”

Obviously, the due dates for such predictions have come and gone and we are no closer to a fat burning pill than we are to one that magically restores hair to a balding pate. The human body is a complex organism and it defies quick and easy changes to the way in which it normally operates.

People want easy answers to difficult problems. They don’t want to give up their tasty junk food. Most people could probably eat as much as they wanted every day and still lose weight as long as all they ate was fruits, vegetables and salads, with a bit of salmon or tuna for dinner, and they walked for an hour each day. But most people don’t want to do this.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2002 - Remote-Controlled Surgery

Reality Check laid out a scenario in which a surgeon, watching a TV screen in one place, and carefully moving a dataglove-clad hand would be able to control a robotic surgery device in another place, perhaps miles away. The book pointed out that at the time of writing, surgery over a closed-circuit had already been conducted in Italy, a surgeon operating on a patient in a hospital 6 miles away.

This is one of those predictions that I would have thought back in 1996 was the least likely to come true, but I would have been wrong! The Puma 200 robotic surgery device had already been released in 1985. And the da Vinci robotic surgery system was released in the year 2000. That makes this prediction by Reality Check pretty much right on the mark.

VERDICT: Correct

2003 – Universal Picturephones

Picturephones have long been a staple of science fiction, even before AT&T unveiled its first such device at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. From the Jetsons and Star Trek to Victor Appleton’s Tom Swift and his Photophone, published in 1914, the concept of being able to see who you’re talking to on the phone has gripped the public imagination.

In the 1960s, picturephones were envisioned as being pretty much like standard landline telephones, except with a small TV screen attached. However, the way in which video conferencing really arrived was through software and affordable WebCams that allowed people to video chat through their desktop computers.

In 1999 Kyocera introduced the VP-210 – the first commercial videophone. In 1994, Connectix released its QuickCam, the first popular commercial webcam. And in 2010, Apple introduced FaceTime on the iPhone 4. Nowadays, it’s common for people to video chat on their desktop and laptop computers and on their mobile devices.

VERDICT: Correct

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2003 – One-Fifth of U.S. Workers Telecommute

Reality Check defined the term telecommuting as “replacing the conventional commute to work (whether by car or public transit)” with phones, modems and desktop computers, and described the advantages as less air pollution from automobiles, more time spent with family and improved worker morale. However it also admitted that telecommuting could lead to a “virtual dead-end“ characterized by “employee isolation and bureaucratic ineffectiveness.”

Reality Check was a little vague in its prediction. It did not specify what percentage of the average worker’s worktime would be spent telecommuting. However, according to the website marketbusinessnews.com, by 2003, the percentage of Americans who had telecommuted was 30%, so I will give Reality Check a “correct” on this. Ironically, the big boost to telecommuting came from the coronavirus lockdown in which people were forced to work from home under not the best of circumstances, perhaps giving the concept of telecommuting a bad reputation.

VERDICT: Correct

2004 — Commercially Viable Nanotechnology

Reality Check defined nanotechnology as “a manufacturing technology able to inexpensively fabricate most structures...with molecular position.” This definition conjures up visions of most of the things we use being made through nanotechnology, something that is obviously not the case. And if your vision of nanotechnology involves swarms of microscopic robots destroying cancer cells or synthesizing a five course meal like the replicator on Star Trek, you are bound to be disappointed.

One of the most common uses of nanotechnology today is in the fabrication of computer microprocessors and memory chips. But nanotechnology has not revolutionized most areas of manufacturing, and it looks like it’s a long ways off.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2004 – Solar Power To The People

Reality Check admitted that “economic competitiveness” stood in the way of mass utilization of solar power. Nevertheless, the authors thought that solar would be “economically competitive” with natural gas by 2004, something that is still not true today. Solar is one thing that never seems to be able to keep up with the predictions that are made for it.

Reality Check’s entry on solar also mentioned, as a possible force in driving solar energy forward, Enron, the notorious energy company that went bankrupt in 2001 as a result of shady deals and poor financial reporting.

VERDICT: Wrong

2004 – Operational Space Station

Reality Check’s authors admitted that, while it’s easy to recall science fiction movies in which orbiting space stations are a staple, it’s harder to think of justifications for actually building one. They threw out possible uses for a station as a place to conduct research in “microgravity,” as a springboard to a mission to Mars and as “a catalyst for international peace and cooperation.” They also speculated that “although a U.S.-only space station seems unlikely, a concerted international effort could place an operational space station in orbit by 2004.”

It turns out Reality Check was right on this prediction; the International Space Station was launched on November 1998, several years before the deadline set by the prediction.

VERDICT: Correct

2004 – Noninvasive Surgery

According to Reality Check, “the experts we consulted agree that the ability to use real time magnetic resonance imaging (MRA) to watch, say, the destruction of a tumor by high intensity ultrasound radiation is only a few years away.” However, according to surgeryencyclopedia.com, the four main ways tumors are treated are: surgical removal, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and biological therapy.

Minimally invasive surgery (the currently accepted term) is extensively practiced today. According to Wikipedia, “Many medical procedures are called minimally invasive; those that involve small incisions through which an endoscope is inserted, [or] end in the suffix -oscopy, such as endoscopy, laparoscopy, arthroscopy.” However, none of these methods of surgery involve high intensity ultrasound radiation and all involve making at least a small incision.

VERDICT: Wrong

2004 - Holographic Medical Imaging

At the time of the writing of Reality Check, two technologies had already significantly improved on x-rays: computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). But the authors of Reality Check envisioned a technology that would combine the information gathered by these with “the latest in holographic technology.” They compared (or perhaps contrasted) this to “the x-ray wall Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s character walks behind in Total Recall.” Alas, such technologies will have to remain confined to science fiction for a while longer.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2004 – Most U.S. Produce Genetically Engineered

Reality Check predicted that genetic engineering would reduce our reliance on chemical pesticides and herbicides. It did admit a backlash already existed towards genetic engineering even in 1996, But cited experts that claimed that “good tasting produce will win customers.” One of the experts the book cited claimed that traditional methods of selective breeding of plants to improve yield and quality were themselves a form of genetic engineering.

Despite Reality Check’s prediction of eventual public acceptance, the backlash against genetically engineered food seems only to have grown, so much so that food labels are commonly required to state whether ingredients are products of genetic engineering, and those that don’t have such ingredients often boast of that fact on their labels.

Why the mistrust of genetic engineering? Probably because science still doesn’t know the full story of why fruits and vegetables are so good for you. These foods are loaded with phytochemicals, carotenoids, minerals, live enzymes, micronutrients, healthy fats, proteins and a whole host of other nutrients, some of which science may not yet have fully identified.

But when fruits and vegetables are genetically engineered, there’s no way of knowing what undiscovered compounds might have been engineered out. It’s kind of like a monkey trying to improve a fine timepiece with a sledgehammer. So while GMO foods do proliferate, public acceptance of them has not.

VERDICT: Partially Correct

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2005 - Computer Defeats Human Chess Master

Back in 1957, Dr. Herbert Simon predicted that within a decade a computer would be able to play chess better than a human. Obviously, that didn’t come true, but computers had another chance when they were pitted against human chess masters in the 1996 ACM chess championship. Unfortunately for computers, Gary Kasparov beat Deep Blue in that event.

Still, Reality Check thought the computers’ day would come by 2005. It actually occurred the very next year, when an improved version of Deep Blue finally beat Kasparov. Despite Reality Check’s fears, however, the ultimate domination of chess by computers has not dimmed the enthusiasm humans have for the game.

VERDICT: Correct

2005 - Universal Organ Donor Animal

Medical professionals expect some day to solve the organ donor shortage by engineering a way for animals (likely pigs) to grow human organs. To solve the problem of the human body rejecting such organs after transplanting, Reality Check anticipated achieving “immune tolerance” by breeding animals so that they “mimic human antigens.” Organ donor animals are not yet a reality, but scientists are working on it.

However the efforts have also stirred fears of the engineering of chimeras, or the unholy merging of humans and animals, considered by ethicists not only a crime against humanity but against the unfortunate part-humans who are bred as slaves only so that they can provide organs for others (most likely the wealthy and powerful). We are not close to solving the incredible ethical and moral dilemmas that are likely to confront us in the years ahead.

VERDICT: Wrong, but scientists are working on it

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2005 - House Cleaning Robot

Reality Check cited two experts, one who predicted that, rather than anthropomorphic style robots, we would instead have “a fleet of mouse or cockroach size robots scurrying around the floor.” He envisioned they would either suck up dirt or emit static electricity to become “dust magnets.”

The book also cited another expert who saw house cleaning robots as being more like the stuff of science fiction, mobile, articulated two-armed robots that could tidy up the place as well as wield a vacuum cleaner.

I think the difficulties of an anthropomorphic armed robot were underestimated at the time of writing. Think of the challenges a robot would encounter in trying to tidy up a room. Say a child left a toy on the floor. The robot would have to be able to see the toy, recognize what it is, and understand that it was out of place. Then it would have to deftly pick up the toy and carry it to the toybox or shelf where it belonged. At the same time, it would have to avoid obstacles or hitting furniture with either itself, the toy, or one of its arms. This means it would have to have an extremely keen sense of orientation and where each of its limbs were at all times in relation to obstacles in the room. And what if the toybox was upstairs and the robot was downstairs?

As it happened, the Roomba robotic vacuum, which resembled the first expert’s vision much more than the second expert’s, was released in 2002. But “house cleaning robots” haven’t progressed very far beyond this since then.

VERDICT: Partially Correct

2005 – Software Superdistribution

Reality Check’s idea of software superdistribution was what we simply call the subscription model of software today. That is, rather than buying a piece of software outright, you pay a monthly or annual fee in order to use it.

Adobe corporation is one of the most well-known purveyors of this model of software distribution. Also, many apps that run on mobile devices have a monthly or annual payment model.

However, Reality Check envisioned the way this distribution model would be implemented would be by the use of a special chip installed on all computers that would serve as a “utility meter” that would manage charging the user of the software.

As it turned out, it didn’t need a special chip, as a system of checksums that handled the payment was simply built into the software itself, or that communicated with the software developer via the Internet to make sure payments were up-to-date before running.

VERDICT: Partially Correct

2006 - Self-Cleaning Toilets Hit Home

Reality Check admitted that bathrooms hadn’t changed much since the modern flush toilet was invented more than 100 years prior. Nevertheless, it envisioned a “self cleaning toilet” that would apparently do away with the need to brush the toilet regularly to keep it clean. The book was vague on exactly how this would be achieved, but threw out ideas such as “an antibacterial tile that kills some kinds of germs” or “auto-flush and automatic seat cover changers.” As it turns out, the toilet brush and the regular application of elbow grease is still necessary to keep modern toilets clean.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2006 – Effective Hair Loss Prevention

It’s a classic hope for the future – a cure for baldness. While a cure for cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer’s is nice, the average man’s deepest desire is to discover a non-surgical cure for hair loss. Back in the patent medicine days, it was already claimed that such a cure existed, but alas, it turned out to be nothing more than snake oil.

Reality Check can’t help indulging in the age-old desire, and their experts saw encouraging promise in genetic engineering. The anticipated success of The Human Genome Project was expected to lead to many genetic cures, and male pattern baldness is almost entirely genetic. Plus, the drug Minoxodil had already been discovered a the time of Reality Check, but it works in only a small percentage of the men who try it.

Alas, the completion of The Human Genome Project led to fewer cures than most people had hoped. Sure, the location of all the genes in the genome was mapped out, but there’s a long way from that to actually figuring out how to cure genetic conditions. Even the renowned Ray Kurzweil stopped waiting for a futuristic, high-tech means to look younger. When he went to work for Google, the balding futurist suddenly sprouted a full head of hair, but he fell back on decidedly old-school technology – he started wearing a hairpiece.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2006– One Fourth Of U.S. Homes Get Smart

Smart homes are another classic prediction of the future; one only has to watch old reruns of the Jetsons to realize that.

According to Reality Check, a smart home is one in which any number of mundane tasks are automated and managed by a computer. These tasks could include sprinkler systems that turn on and off when needed, motion controls that turn on lights when one enters a room, automated temperature control systems and curtains that automatically close in the evening and open at the first break of dawn.

Certainly, smart home systems are a staple of home improvement today. Take, for example, Google Nest, which as Wikipedia puts it, “is a line of smart home products including smart speakers, smart displays, streaming devices, thermostats, smoke detectors, routers and security systems including smart doorbells, cameras and smart locks.”

Ring offers a line of smart home security products, such as lighting systems, motion detectors, video cameras and a networking smart phone app to enable neighborhood watch members to keep in contact with each other. Amazon offers its Alexa voice-controlled smart speaker system to control smart plugs so that you can turn the lights on and off with the sound of your voice.

Some of the innovations are getting a little creepy, though. In an age when more and more Americans are starting to cast a wary eye towards the monopolistic big tech companies, their control over our lives and the amount of information they keep on us, the idea of a home in which outside forces may be listening in on the occupants is starting to seem less and less crazy. Didn’t George Orwell warn of something like this?

Amazon smart speakers and similar devices have to always be listening in order to respond to user commands, and although Amazon promises it never eavesdrops on our private conversations, that capability is certainly always there. Amazon has even announced a new “smart robot” called Astro that runs around your home spying on you and uploading audio and video to company servers.

The big tech companies have increasingly been censoring regular Americans, telling us what we can say on social media sites and what books we can read on their e-book platforms. Apple has even floated the idea of spying on all of its users’ images on the off-chance that they might be sharing something illegal. Since the big tech companies obviously don’t trust ordinary Americans—their own customers—to hold unapproved opinions or to keep from doing something wrong, one wonders why on earth we should trust them?

VERDICT: Correct (but smart homes come with unintended consequences)

2007 – “Fiber to the Home”

Fiber optics allows super-fast Internet service, high resolution video streaming, movies on demand, teleconferencing without latency, and all the other conveniences we take for granted. Reality Check’s prediction was for access to high bandwidth service to American homes to be universal by 2007. This prediction has come true, as fiber optics facilitated the high bandwidth Internet service many people enjoy today. Reality Check speculated that the last stage of transmission of high-bandwidth to the home would be through copper telephone wires (or as actually happened in most cases, through cable TV lines).

VERDICT: Correct

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2007 - Smart Fabrics Go Mainstream

A lot of futurists predicted in the 90s that the ultimate in clothing would be “smart fabrics,” or “materials that automatically adjust to their environment,” as Reality Check put it. Uses for such fabrics thrown out by the book were materials that would change color, gloves with cell phones woven into them, fabrics that “sing” (whatever that means) and even clothes that could “serve as a computer screen.”

How would such fabrics work? The book was vague on this, but threw out the idea that they might be woven with “threads that thicken or knit themselves closer together” or loosen as the temperature required.

Futurists like Ray Kurzweil made similar predictions, envisioning electronics “woven” into our clothing, but aside from very niche products, few items that could be described as smart clothing have hit the market. It is hard to envision how smart fabrics would even work. Could they be laundered or would that fry the circuitry? Would your clothes come with a warranty? Would smart clothes last longer than ordinary clothing or would they be more likely to fall prey to planned obsolescence? I guess we will never know.

VERDICT: Wrong

2007 - Online Mass Retailer As Big As Sears

Reality Check experienced a bit of disagreement among its consultants on whether a “Sears-caliber retailer” would appear online, and whether consumers would “favor a central location for their shopping needs on the notoriously decentralized Internet.” Three of its consultants thought it was unlikely that it would ever happen, including an executive at shopping channel QVC.

Ironically, Amazon, which would come to dwarf Sears in size and influence, already existed at the time of the writing of Reality Check, having come into existence in a garage in 1994, but it was still primarily seen as a bookseller. Today, Sears is struggling and Amazon is a behemoth— and many say an unfair monopoly.

VERDICT: Correct

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2008 - Hemp-Based Auto Fuel

Reality Check had a fascination with things that are considered decadent or are in some way frowned upon, and marijuana was one of these. The book envisioned that prohibitions on the growing and harvesting of marijuana would be lifted and that the crop would be processed into a “environmentally-friendly ethanol-based automobile fuel.”

While marijuana has been legalized in many states today, it is not used to create auto fuel. For a while, there was some interest in using corn for such purposes, but such talk seems to be less common today. Using farmland to produce fuel rather than food raises ethical dilemmas in a world where some are still hungry, and there is a question as to whether such use of land would be a positive or a negative for the environment.

One of Reality Check’s consultants speculated that solar-based automobiles would negate the need for hemp-based auto fuel, but of course, that prediction didn’t pan out either.

VERDICT: Wrong

2008 – Twenty Percent of U.S. Customers Tele-Grocery Shop

According to Reality Check, “in the future, grocery shopping may be a simple matter of dialing up an online service or using a personal barcode scanner to order groceries from your home.”The book did admit that some market research bulletins suggested that the 20% figure represented a cap – that is, the upper limit of Americans who would shop for groceries online. Still, the estimate that one customer in five would regularly use online grocery shopping services in 2008–or even today—was overly optimistic.

True, there are many online grocery shopping sites today. Amazon has its Amazon Fresh subsidiary that is especially popular with its Prime customers. Then there is Boxed, FreshDirect, Hungryroot, Instacart, and others.

Still, I’ll wager you haven’t heard of most of these. Online grocery shopping has not really taken off the way many expected it would. Some of the more famous early ventures, such as Peapod.com seem to have fallen by the wayside. I used to see delivery trucks for grocery shopping services on the road. Today, not so much.

Why has online grocery shopping not taken off as expected? I don’t know. Perhaps Americans like the weekly grocery shopping ritual, being surrounded by massive shelves of food, the chance of stumbling onto something new, the ability to feel and eyeball the produce for freshness. This could all change, however, if there’s another pandemic scare, and Americans are frightened out of going to the grocery store, or even of leaving the house.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2009 - VR Sunglasses

Reality Check admitted, “rarely has a technology caught on as quickly or suffered from its hype as ‘virtual reality’ has.” In the late 1980s, the concept of virtual reality first gripped the public imagination, but computers were too slow and screen technology too primitive to do the concept much justice. Even today, VR has failed to catch on the way some people predicted, so oculus owner Mark Zuckerberg has decided to try to jump start the process with his new service called Meta.

But this chapter of Reality Check is not really so much about virtual reality—it’s about lightweight VR glasses. Unfortunately, when the authors asked their consultants when virtual reality headsets might be replaced by something like a pair of sunglasses, the experts were not optimistic. They said the most one could expect would be computer screens that could be worn on one’s face, not the fully immersive world of VR. However, Reality Check didn’t explain how the eyes could possibly focus on screens so close to the eyeballs.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2009 - Orgasmatron

Apparently, Reality Check was influenced by Woody Allen’s comedy movie Sleeper about a brain stimulating device that could deliver an “orgasm on demand.”
Comedy films are perhaps not the best source of futurist predictions, but the concept did appeal to Reality Check’s sense of decadence; that is, the ability to make love without actually having to bother with the “love” part. They even somehow thought it would improve prospects for world peace!

However, one of their consultants predicted that before a neuro-electric Orgasmatron appeared, there would be a neurochemical one, an “orgasm-in-a-pill.” It seems to me there already is such a thing: it’s called heroin, opium, cocaine, etc., although these are snorted or injected into the veins, rather than taken in pill form.

The problem is, when you try to get ecstasy for nothing, it usually ends up eating you inside, sapping your initiative and ultimately destroying you.

I’m afraid Reality Check’s accuracy rating does not improve from here.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2010 - Smart Drugs

After a brief discussion of drinks and supplements that were supposed to be good for the brain, Reality Check went on to predict “drugs that boost one’s intelligence will be in hand by 2010.” Yet the book went on to claim that “all of our experts agree that the IQ test is an outmoded gauge of intelligence.” If this is the case, one wonders how it would be possible to judge the effectiveness of smart drugs if they ever did appear?

VERDICT: Wrong

2010 - Robot Surgeon (In a Pill)

Reality Check envisioned being able to swallow a tiny robot (or robots) that would travel throughout the body on a pre-programmed course that could “perform internal surgery, clear away life-threatening fat deposits, dispatch tumors or cinch up wounds.”

Futurist Ray Kurzweil made a similar prediction in his 2005 book The Singularity Is Near. In it, he wrote that “Nanotechnology will enable the design of nanobots: robots designed at the molecular level, measured in microns (millionths of a meter), such as ‘respirocites’ (mechanical red blood cells). Nanobots will have myriad roles within the human body, including reversing human aging).” However, Kurzweil envisioned the era of spectacular developments in nanotechnology as occurring in this decade (the decade of the 2020s), not by the year 2010 as Reality Check imagined.

VERDICT: Wrong

2010 – The Audio CD Becomes a Format of Second Choice

One of Reality Check’s consultants thought the format that would replace CDs might be a flash card or a modification of the digital audio tape. But another one came closer to the truth when he pointed out that “Net-savvy music lovers already sample and buy new compositions via Internet-linked computers.”

According to a graph I found online, audio CD sales hit their peak in 2000 and 2001 and went on a steady decline since then. When exactly they became a format of second choice is debatable, but I would say Reality Check was pretty on target with this one. As we know, audio CDs were eventually replaced by MP3 files, whether purchased / downloaded or ripped from CDs (worrying many for a time in the record industry), and today many or most people subscribe to a music hosting service such as Apple Music.

VERDICT: Correct

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2013 – The Book Goes Digital

Reality Check predicted that by 2013 electronic books would begin to replace printed volumes for millions of readers. It quoted a researcher who envisioned “digital displays that read like printed pages, except they can be erased and reused any number of times.” Reality Check also predicted that “net-linked computers” would need to become common before a majority of readers would use them as often as printed volumes.

Reality Check’s timeline was pretty accurate, as, according to Wikipedia, “Amazon released the Kindle, its first e-reader on November 19, 2007, for $399.” And, as we all know, Kindle e- readers, tablets such as the iPad, and even smartphones on which e-books are read can be found today in most households.

One concerning development, however, is the rise of censorship by Amazon and the other big tech companies. Some books have simply been banned, or dropped from the service, after a few people or organizations complained, a form of digital book burning, which at one time would have been considered shocking to most Americans. Another is lock-in of e-book formats, in which Amazon has its own proprietary format that others are not allowed to distribute. This allows Amazon to engage in monopolistic and anti-competitive behavior.

This is especially true since the open-source EPUB is available for ebook distribution and is not owned or controlled by any single entity. The current situation is something akin to going to a library and finding that all the books are printed in different proprietary formats and a special pair of expensive glasses are needed to read each book. Or worse, finding that you simply aren’t allowed to read some of the books.

VERDICT: Correct, but it failed to predict the establishment of censorship, monopolies and proprietary, incompatible ebook formats

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2014 - Supersonic Flight for the Masses

Reality Check mused about flying to Tokyo in only 4 1/2 hours rather than 10 or to Cape Town in only 12 instead of 23. Supersonic travel was available at the time the book was written via the Concord, which, according to the book, had already been making transatlantic flights for 16 years, but a flight from New York to London still cost almost 10 times the subsonic price. Reality Check expected the price to shrink in the next century and even disappear.

Unfortunately, the reality is that air travel has not advanced much since 1996. In some ways, it has gotten worse. People are subjected to intrusive patdowns as an anti-terrorist measure and fear of the coronavirus has forced air travelers to wear masks while flying. Ironically, masks have never been conclusively proven to stop or slow the transmission of any virus, but they do reduce the oxygen and increase the carbon dioxide being re-breathed, and they serve as bacteria cultures held up against the nose and mouth for as long as they are worn. How in the world was the public talked into wearing these things?

VERDICT: Wrong

2014 - Online Advertising Eclipses TV Commercials

According to Reality Check “expenditures on Internet-based ads will first exceed those spent on television commercials in 2014.” I guess this prediction was intended to illustrate the rising importance of the Internet in influencing public opinion relative to television, but I doubt it is correct.

It’s true that the Internet has risen vastly in importance over the last 25 years, but online advertising has not changed much since then. Most online advertising is in the form of banner ads, which are just as ineffective as they were in 1996. At the same time, the number of television stations available to the average TV viewer has vastly increased in quantity from just a handful a few decades ago to over 500.

Reality Check’s prediction was actually mild compared to that of George Gilder, who in his 1990 book Life After Television, predicted that the number of people watching the work of independent video creators online would soon eclipse the number of viewers watching television. Yet today, the popularity of YouTube and alternative hosting sites such as BitChute and Brighteon have not diminished the popularity of television. Most people still happily pay monthly cable fees to get those 500 television stations – and they still have to watch plenty of commercials.

VERDICT: Wrong

2014 - Aquaculture Provides a Majority of US Seafood

Reality Check defined aquaculture as fish raised on a “fish farm” located in enclosed coastal areas or even in land-based tanks, rather than being harvested from the open ocean. The book admitted that the majority of fish available in certain parts of the world were already provided by aquaculture, but the same would be true in the United States by 2014.

According to a September 08, 2009 article on the website Live Science, “Milestone: 50 Percent of Fish Are Now Farmed.”

Whether this is a good thing or not, however, is debatable. Many health advocates charge that farmed fish are fed toxic feed and chemicals designed to make them grow unnaturally quickly to unnaturally large sizes. Wild-caught fish are better, but because of pollution in our lakes, rivers and oceans, many wild fish are believed to have high levels of mercury and other toxic chemicals.

VERDICT: Correct, but is it a good thing?

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2015 - Food Tablets Provide Complete Nutrition

Said Reality Check, “You couldn’t ask for a faster food than a meal’s or even a day’s worth of nutrition all from a pill the size of an aspirin.” The book admitted that most people would not want to give up the enjoyment of eating normal meals, but cited food tablets as being useful for survival purposes or “ending famine worldwide.”

Of course, nutrition bars already existed at the time of writing, but as an expert cited by the book pointed out, if you wanted to ingest the 2000 calories necessary to survive for a day, with the then-current technology you would need to ingest a pill weighing one pound!

Today, of course, we don’t have anything like meals in tablet form. There is a product called The Survival Tabs for campers and hikers which bills itself as “the best possible nutrition in the smallest possible volume.” It claims to have been “originally developed for the space program using high-quality protein, carbohydrates and fat” and to “provide 100% of the daily essential vitamins and minerals required to maintain your body’s physical functions.”

However, you chew these tablets rather than swallowing them, and rather than needing only three tablets a day, you need to take one every hour. Furthermore, they are recommended to be taken only for 48 - 96 hours at a time. Plus, they are considerably larger than an aspirin. Worst, Each tablet provides only 20 calories, So you would have to eat 100 of them to get your daily requirement of 2000 calories!

The biggest problem with any tablet meant to be a permanent replacement for normal food is that natural food such as fruits and vegetables are thought to contain essential nutrients that science may not yet have fully identified. Just as science cannot create life in the laboratory, science cannot create life-giving food from scratch either. Therefore, it is impossible to replace a natural diet with a man-made pill.

VERDICT: Wrong

2016 - Holophone

“Imagine a phone that displays a 3-D image so realistic it’s as if the person you called is sitting right across from you.”

That’s the description Reality Check gave of the holophone that they envisioned being available by the year 2016. They imagined it as something like the image of Princess Leia that the robot R2-D2 projected in Star Wars, and claimed the technology needed for it already existed in 1996. The only hurdle they saw was providing users with the necessary bandwidth. In fact, the authors of Reality Check saw the idea of a holophone as being much cooler than that of virtual reality, which they apparently thought undeserving of its hoopla.

As we know, virtual reality is common and popular today, but a holophone is nowhere to be seen.

VERDICT: Wrong

2016 - First Large, Public Virtual Library

Apparently, what Reality Check envisioned was that a physical building in the future would no longer be needed to house a public library; since users could access books from their personal computers there would be no need to go to an actual, physical library.

Reality Check thought the first large libraries to go strictly virtual would be at universities or multinational corporations, but eventually the concept would filter down to at least some public libraries. However, one of their consultants pointed out that a library does not merely serve as a repository for books but also as “socialization facilities” and “protected public spaces.”

While my own region’s public library does provide some virtual offerings, that does not eliminate the need for a physical building. For one thing, the library provides computer terminals for public use. It also offers movie videos for rental; even though it’s possible to watch movies online, not all users of a public library feel they can afford to.

In the future, as e-books almost completely replace physical volumes, I see the need for libraries in their present form as being diminished but not going away completely. Instead, I see them being used as public meeting spaces, activity centers and even informal daycares for children.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2017 - Automated Highway Systems in U.S. Cities

Reality Check cites the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 which aimed to test an “automated highway system” by 1997. Reality Check also mentioned GPS, which was not common in passenger cars in 1996, would need to become much more common. The book cited possible concerns about the government spying on and tracking it citizens using the technology.

Today, self driving cars present an even more troubling possibility: that the government will place restrictions on self-driving cars that take away citizens’ autonomy and freedom of movement. For example, the cars might refuse to operate unless their passengers had special passports indicating compliance with certain oppressive medical procedures. Or they might refuse to run at all during times of government lockdown. Perhaps citizens will be given a social credit score as in China, and if a citizen holds too many politically incorrect opinions or belongs to the “wrong” political party, the score will be lowered and their automobile will refuse to run.

But, as for Reality Check’s prediction, the fact is that an “automated highway system” is not needed for self-driving cars, since the technology for self-driving will be built into the automobiles themselves.

VERDICT: Wrong

2019 – Decriminalization of Drugs in the United States

The authors and publishers of Reality Check loved to fantasize about decadent behavior, and the ability to indulge in dangerous recreational drugs without legal consequence was one of these. However, Reality Check framed it as a civil rights issue.

Reality Check quoted Dr. Alexander Shulgin, who said that “the speed of the erosion of our rights and freedoms is such that if decriminalization does not occur in a couple of years, it cannot occur.” Reality Check mused that perhaps “a social or political revolution” would need to take place, or perhaps even the “overthrow of the US government.”

As we know, marijuana has been legalized in some states, but not illicit drugs in general. Of far greater concern to me is the government forcing its citizens to take certain drugs or vaccines against their wishes, a problem of seemingly no concern to WIRED, either in 1996 or now.

I would agree about the “erosion of our rights and freedoms” and that we increasingly need “a social or political revolution” to deal with it, but it has more to do with the loss of our bodily autonomy, our free-speech rights and our election integrity than with illicit drugs.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2019 - Self-Driving Vehicles

Reality Check cited roboticist Rodney Brooks who believed that advances would need to be made to the global positioning satellite (GPS) navigation system, and that roadways in the US would need to be upgraded. Another consultant pointed out that “machine vision” would need to improve significantly “if a robot chauffeur is to differentiate among roadwork, graffiti, truck spills and trees lining the streets.”

Today, self-driving vehicles do indeed exist. The technology is amazing and the advances that have been made to machine vision in the past couple of decades have been stunning. However, self-driving cars are still not common. I personally have neither seen nor ridden in a car that can drive itself. Some Tesla cars have self-driving capabilities built-in, but their drivers are still not supposed to take their hands off the steering wheel or their eyes off the road, making me wonder what is the point?

Although the technology is amazing, the problem with self-driving cars is that the ability to drive “pretty well” under all conditions is not good enough. They must consistently drive as well or better than humans before we will want to trust our lives to such a technology.

VERDICT: Partially Correct

2019 – Interoperable Objects

“Interoperable objects,” said Reality Check, “allows users to, for instance, couple one manufacturer’s search function with another’s word processor.” The authors thought this would eventually solve the problem of incompatibility between computer platforms and software programs.

interoperable objects were a “thing” around the time of the writing of Reality Check. Apple Macintosh computers had OpenDoc, which allowed software programs that supported it to add features on a modular basis. Think of it as being like plug-ins for your web browser. Microsoft had its own equivalent: OLE, short for object linking and embedding.

These standards may have seemed like the wave of the future at the time they were introduced, and indeed, they were promoted as such. However, the concept ultimately failed on both Mac and Windows. I think the reason is that the developers actually like incompatibility between computers and between software programs. This locks users into a particular platform and makes it very hard for them to leave it. It also makes more money for developers, because they can sell a full software program rather than just interchangeable modules. So incompatibility and software obsolescence are just as much a problem now as they ever were.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2020 – Humans On Mars

“We are nearing the day when humans will set foot on Mars and perhaps even establish a colony.” So said the experts that Reality Check consulted. They thought establishment of a permanent colony might be shaped by the experience gained in Biosphere 2 in Arizona.

The reality is that we are no closer to setting humans on Mars or establishing a colony than we ever were. It’s hard to overestimate the danger that would be involved in such a venture, and Americans are very averse to the thought of their astronauts dying out in the cold emptiness of space. Two fatal Space Shuttle disasters did a lot to cool Americans’ fascination with space travel – so much so that the space shuttle program was eventually ended.

Plus, there are the sheer logistical hurtles of traveling to Mars. The minimum distance from Earth to Mars is 34 million miles away! There is no breathable atmosphere on Mars, so establishing a colony would involve unbelievable hurdles. We could more easily send a colony of robots to Mars than one of humans (in fact, we have already sent robots to the Red Planet). So I suspect the dream of sending humans to Mars will remain just that for a long time to come.

VERDICT: Wrong

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2020 - “Sober Up” Drug

This is another one of the more decadent predictions the authors and publisher of Reality Check loved so much—that is, the ability to engage in irresponsible behavior without consequence. In this case, they fantasized about being able to drink recklessly, and then take a magic pill that would allow them to sober up instantly. They even admitted that its widespread availability would “encourage all manner of bad behavior before it’s time to sober up for the drive home.”

The reality, of course, is that there is no such thing as bad, reckless or irresponsible behavior without consequences. Technological progress is not going to allow one to flout the laws of nature and get away with it. Bad behavior usually leads to bad consequences, in 2020 just as in 1996.

VERDICT: Wrong

2021 - Commercially Viable Magnetic Levitation Trains in the United States

Maglev (short for magnetic levitation) is a system of train propulsion that uses two sets of magnets: one set to lift the train off the track and another set to push the elevated train forward, which gives the advantage of eliminating friction. even though the US government had dropped development of maglev in 1975, Because it began subsidizing tests for a time, Reality Check thought it would be reasonable to expect such trains to be running in the United States by 2021, but no earlier.

However, according to Wikipedia: “Despite over a century of research and development, maglev transport systems are now operational in just three countries (Japan, South Korea and China). The incremental benefits of maglev technology have often been considered hard to justify against cost and risk, especially where there is an existing or proposed conventional high-speed train line with spare passenger carrying capacity.”

High-speed train service in the United States hasn’t taken off for many reasons. First is the extensive investment already made in the Interstate Highway System. Second is the fact that Americans are spread out across a large continent and not as tightly concentrated as in Europe and Japan. Third is that airlines already fill the need for long distance travel in the US.

VERDICT: Wrong

At this point, Reality Check starts delving into the future…

Although I can’t conclusively say whether the book’s future predictions will be right or wrong at this point, I can give my opinion on how likely they will be based on the current level of progress. So, following is my analysis of Reality Check’s future predictions.

2022 – Entirely Ex Utero Fetal Development

This chapter of Reality Check opened with lines written by Aldus Huxley in 1931 in Brave New World, which introduced readers to a “terrifying world in which the same system of controls corporations use to mass produce commodities has been used to mass-produce human life.” The book claimed that by 1996, much of the technology required to create a society like Huxley’s had already arrived. “Fortunately, however, these advances have thus far been utilized to begin or preserve life and not by the state to control it.”

Considering the desire corrupt states worldwide have shown to control the masses in 2021 with lockdowns, mask mandates and forced vaccinations (as well as to minimize the importance of motherhood), The fact that they still do not have complete control over the birthing process is probably fortunate indeed.

Reality Check’s bottom line: “By 2022, for better or quite possibly worse, creating a new human life may not require a mothers womb.” The reality is, that, while some today would certainly love to be able to make mothers obsolete, such a thing has not yet happened. Thankfully, a mother’s love is just as necessary for the perpetuation of the species as it has always been.

VERDICT: Highly Unlikely—at least in the near future

2023 - Tricorder

Reality Check cited scenes in TVs original Star Trek in which Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy made diagnoses of a patient’s vital signs and the nature and severity of his or her internal injuries simply by passing a handheld diagnostic device called a tricorder over the patient’s body.

The medical experts the authors consulted disagreed about the value and feasibility of such a device. Nevertheless, the authors predicted that a handheld device that could make diagnoses simply by being passed over the body would indeed appear by 2023.

It sounds cool, but I know of no prototypes in the works today, nor do I know the mechanism by which such a device would work.

VERDICT: Highly Unlikely

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2025 – Contact With Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Ever since scientists realized that those little specks of light in the sky we know of as stars are actually distant suns much like our own that must be surrounded by planets, we have felt the universe must be teeming with life (an idea since popularized by science- fiction).

Scientists have been searching for such life with radio telescopes since at least 1960, when project Ozma was established in West Virginia – a systematic search for signals of life in outer space. So it’s not surprising that Reality Check thought all those decades of searching would likely bear fruit by the year 2025.

The Drake equation holds that there must be billions of ETs in the universe and thousands or millions in our own galaxy. We have only scanned a tiny portion of the universe with our radio-telescopes. Considering the size of the universe, it is perhaps not surprising that we have thus far failed to find radio-transmitting civilizations. After all, it’s something like searching for a needle in a haystack.

However, in this case, it’s not merely searching for one needle, but billions. That’s the number of radio-transmitting civilizations that are thought to exist in the universe. However, by the year 2025, we will have had at least 65 years to scan the universe in our attempt to detect radio-transmitting civilizations. It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack that contains billions of needles. In every shovelful of hay, you should find at least one needle!

This brings us to the Fermi paradox, which points out that, despite the assumption that the universe is teeming with intelligent civilizations, we have not found any evidence of such, even after decades of looking. Whatever the cause of the Fermi paradox, it does not appear that we will be finding intelligent life in the universe anytime soon.

VERDICT - Highly Unlikely

2029 – Cell Repair Technology

Nanotechnology is the concept that we will be able to build tiny machines on a molecular level. At a certain stage in technological progress, these microscopic machines will even be able to reproduce themselves. Reality Check envisioned mechanical agents so small they could travel through the bloodstream and repair individual cells.

This is somewhat similar to a prediction futurist Ray Kurzweil and Dr. Terry Grossman made in their book Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever. According to them “Tiny robots [will] travel through the arteries, fitted with laser tips able to vaporize deposits before they have a chance to grow.”

Kurzweil and Grossman were even more optimistic than Reality Check, envisioning this technology occurring by the year 2023! In fact, Ray Kurzweil has predicted the decade of the 2020s would be a decade of fantastic progress in nanotechnology for medicine and other purposes.

Considering how we mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic, using such low-tech methods to try to slow the transmission as masks, social distancing and quarantining, I’m not holding my breath that we will make the fantastic medical progress either Kurzweil or Reality Check predicted by the end of this decade.

VERDICT - Unlikely

NOTE:

2029 is the year by which modern-day futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that computers will pass the Turing Test – that is, computers will become so smart and humanlike that, in chatting with them using an instant messaging system, it will be impossible to tell them apart from an actual human.


2034 – More Than 50% Drive Electric Cars

According to Reality Check, “electric cars...are staging a gradual comeback thanks to technical advances largely spurred by governmental action.”

This is the second Reality Check prediction on electric cars. The previous one was for 2001, the year they thought solar powered cars would first appear.

As noted in my analysis for that prediction, solar energy is powerful but diffuse, or spread across a large area. It takes a lot of solar cells to pick up a small amount of energy, more solar cells than could possibly fit on the exterior of a vehicle.
Therefore the way electric cars would likely work is by plugging them into the wall overnight to recharge them. However, since most of our energy comes from coal-fired power plants, electric cars can more accurately be described as-coal powered cars, making their benefit to the environment debatable.

VERDICT: Unlikely

2036 - Teledildonics

According to Reality Check, “In 1974, Theodore Nelson coined the term dildonics to refer to an instrument that used sonic impulses to stimulate tactiley the body’s erogenous zones. Years later the term lends itself readily to sex experienced through a computer interface and the hype that now surrounds what is termed teledildonics has all but drowned out discussion of the myriad other applications of VR.”

Really? I didn’t know the term teledildonics, which most people haven’t heard of, has drowned out discussions of VR, but this prediction does appeal to Reality Check’s sense of decadence – that is, the dream of having sexual satisfaction without the messy business of actually getting involved with another person.

This prediction seems to tie in with Reality Check’s failed 2007 prediction for “smart clothing,” as it surmised that teledildonics would be accomplished with a VR headset and a bodysuit studded with “thousands of what Howard Rheingold calls ‘intelligent sensor-effectors’ along with a computer program that activates the sensors.”

VERDICT: Highly Unlikely

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2043 - First Cryonic Reanimation

According to Reality Check, “Cryonics, the latest and arguably most promising technology yet for achieving longevity, is the science of deep freezing tissue before it has begun to decay with an eye toward reanimating it later.”

Many people dream of immortality or life after death by having their body and/or brain frozen immediately at the time of death in hopes that a far-distant technology will have the means of restoring them back to life with their memories and personality intact.

However, comedy magician and social commentator duo Penn and Teller on their TV series B***s*** have stated that freezing and thawing the brain turns it to “mush,” completely destroying the delicate neuronal connections and making the idea of preserving the personality and memories nothing more than a desperate pipe dream.

In fairness, Reality Check’s prediction is only that it will be possible to reanimate “tissue” that was cryo-suspended by 2043, not the brain itself. However, even if that happens, it will not lend much hope to those who fervently dream of having their grey matter frozen and restored later back to consciousness.

VERDICT: Highly Unlikely

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2044 - Self-Replicating Robot

Nanotechnology is the science of the very small. In its more advanced forms, it is the concept of creating microscopic machines at the molecular level. This sounds challenging enough, but many futurists envision not only will such tiny machines be constructed, but they will be able to make exact copies of themselves.

Why would this be necessary? Nanomachines would be so tiny that they would not be able to make much of an impact on their environment by themselves, but if they could reproduce, they could theoretically achieve anything. “Strength in numbers” and all that.

A nanomachine that could reproduce itself would become a very powerful force very quickly. One would become two, two would become four, four would become eight, eight would become sixteen, and so on. Before long, there would be thousands or even millions of nanobots, clearing out clogged arteries or cleaning up the environment.

There is a danger, however, with nanobots that could reproduce themselves, and that is that they would get out of control, reproducing themselves so many times that they would take over the whole world. Eventually, they would eat up the entire earth, turning it into a type of sludge, typically called the “grey goo” problem.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil’s predictions for nanotechnology are even more ambitious than that of Reality Check. He wrote in his 2005 New York Times bestseller The Singularity Is Near that “with the advent of full-scale nanotechnology in the 2020s, we will have the potential to replace biology’s genetic information repository in the cell nucleus with a nanoengineered system.” Apparently, by “full-scale” nanotechnology, he means nanobots that will be able to replicate themselves.

VERDICT: Possible...but how likely?

NOTE:

Predictions made after this point are for years after the year 2045, which modern day futurists peg as the date of the Singularity, or the point at which technology is supposed to advance so quickly that it will be virtually impossible to not only predict it but even keep up with it—unless one’s brain is augmented and enhanced with computer-like processing speed.

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2047 – C-3PO Becomes a Reality

According to Reality Check, “making C-3PO — a humanoid robot that walks, talks, translates languages, generally thinks and acts independent of its creator, and even worries about others – is a tall order.” But in speculating on the creation of C-3PO, it seems the authors overlooked another famous entity from movie science fiction - the intelligent computer HAL 9000 from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s true that by 1996, the year Reality Check was published, it was pretty apparent that a computer as smart as HAL 9000 was not going to appear by the year 2001. However, that doesn’t mean the concept of HAL 9000 should be overlooked. After all, HAL 9000 fulfilled almost all of the characteristics that Reality Check ascribed to C-3PO — he could talk, translate languages, think and act independent of his creator and even worry about others. The only thing he couldn’t do was walk, since he didn’t have a physical body.

The fact that Reality Check predicted C-3PO but overlooked HAL 9000 indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of robotics and the role artificial intelligence plays in it.

To have a robot like C-3PO, intelligence is essential. After all, how can he talk, think and act independently without intelligence? Boston Dynamics has already developed sophisticated humanoid robots, but they will never be confused with C-3PO because they lack one essential component — true, human-like intelligence.

Talking about a sophisticated robot without talking about the brain it has is like speculating on the development of a revolutionary new kind of automobile without considering the engine under the hood.

VERDICT: Where’s HAL 9000?

2051 – Most U.S. Produce Grown Hydroponically

As Reality Check defines it, “hydroponic gardening ... allows crops to be grown anywhere year- round using a nutrient rich water bath instead of soil.”

I am personally experimenting with hydroponic gardening using the Kratky system — seeds are grown in small pots suspended over water instead of growing outdoors in the soil. As the plants mature, they develop a root system that is partially exposed to the air and partially exposed to the water. One of the advantages of the system is that, since the plants can be grown indoors, they can be grown year-round instead of only in the summer. Electric lights can even take the place of sunlight in growing plants.

The book speculates that as farmland is lost due to “urban sprawl,” crops might be grown vertically in skyscraper-like structures. This is in line with predictions made by futurists today that “vertical farming” will be the preferred way of growing in the future, since vertical farms require only a small amount of land compared to traditional farming. The only problem is that the grow lights will require electricity, which will be expensive unless a cheap and abundant source of energy is developed.

VERDICT: Possible

2055 - Virtual Sex Slave

This is another one of Reality Check’s more decadent predictions – the dream of having sexual gratification without the messy business of actually falling in love with another person. In fact, this prediction is so similar to Reality Check’s 2036 prediction for teledildonics that it almost seems redundant. Like the earlier prediction, this prediction involves “seeing” an imaginary sex partner through the use of virtual reality glasses and “feeling” their intercourse through a body suit made of “smart fabric.”

Modern-day futurists, however, envision a more sophisticated method of achieving sexual gratification – that of nanobots entering the body and stimulating the brain’s sexual arousal centers directly.

VERDICT: Highly Unlikely

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2225 – “Dial-A-Mood”

Reality Check’s consultant said that to truly dial-a-mood “we will have to find a means of effecting stimulation within the brain’s limbic system, where sensory integration occurs and moods are believed to originate.”

However, conjuring up whatever mood we wish is another task that modern-day futurist Ray Kurzweil says will be possible through the use of nanobots that will enter the brain and cause it to experience any mood we desire—and he expects it to happen far sooner than the year 2225.

Unfortunately, rats who have the choice of either food or stimulation of the brain’s pleasure centers typically starve themselves to death.

VERDICT: 2225 is both overly pessimistic for mood control and overly optimistic at the same time

Note:

The following predictions were the things Reality Check thought were unlikely to occur.

UNLIKELY - End of Two-Party System In The United States

In Europe, the tendency is toward multiparty systems. For better or worse, the US has long settled on a system of two parties, with an occasional third or minor party. The two-party system is generally thought to be easier for the voter to follow than having, say, five or more parties.

Reality Check suggested a number of changes that the Internet might bring to the American political process such as “virtual town meetings,” but found them unlikely to happen soon. One problem it identified was that “the numbers of people online are too scant to rival the influence of television networks. Until the Internet is connected to and used by people in 90% of homes...the [TV] networks will still exert the greatest influence on elections.”

Ironically, we passed the 90% figure of Americans on the Internet long ago, but television still has an inordinate influence on the American political process. This is contrary to the predictions of futurists like George Gilder who, in his 1990 book Life After Television, thought that independent citizen journalists and videographers would soon undermine the power and influence of television on American society. For whatever reason, it hasn’t happened.

As for the demise of the two-party system in the US, it could be argued that it has already happened. If one party seizes power through fraud and treachery, such as by rigging an American presidential election (and getting away with it), it could be argued that the two party system has effectively been destroyed. What we are left with is a one-party system, although one that pretends to be two parties in order to create the illusion that the voters still have a voice in how the country is run.

VERDICT: Wrong - we may now in fact have a one-party system in the US

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UNLIKELY - Jetpacks for Personal Transportation

Reality Check apparently thought the biggest stumbling block in the adoption of Jetpacks for personal transportation would be the source of power. One of its consultants predicted that unless fusion came along to make energy cheap enough, jetpacks would remain uneconomical.

Surprisingly, the book seems to overlook what I think is the biggest problem with jetpacks, and that is the safety factor. After all, if an automobile malfunctions, the driver can always steer the vehicle out of danger or hit something soft, but if a jetpack fails, the only way is down, and the ground tends to be hard and unforgiving.

VERDICT: Jetpacks are unlikely, but for different reasons than the book cited

UNLIKELY - Orbiting Solar Power Plant

Reality Check considered the feasibility of blasting a satellite with solar power panels into orbit, where the lack of an atmosphere renders solar energy eight times more intense than on the earth’s surface. Energy collected by the satellite would then theoretically be beamed down to a receiving power station on earth.

The book’s experts concluded, however, that the cost of putting a satellite into orbit would be much more expensive than building arrays on earth, and would create a single point of failure (either the satellite or the Earth-based receiving station).

What the book left out is that, although the sun is powerful, its energy tends to be spread out over a large area and is thus hard to collect. Even if solar energy is more intense in space than on the earth’s surface, the size of satellite-bound solar panels would be a severely limiting factor as compared to the ready availability of acres and acres for solar panels on earth.

VERDICT: Solar energy is overhyped and we don’t appear to be much closer to replacing fossil fuels with solar today than we were in 1996

Note:

The following predictions were the things Reality Check thought would never occur.

NEVER - An Interactive TV In Every Home

Reality Check admitted that “it’s next to impossible to say just what an interactive television would be.” Nevertheless, the authors insisted whatever it was, it would not come to the average household.

Back in the 90s, admittedly, there was a lot of hype about interactive television. But the authors of Reality Check thought that “people turn to their TVs and computers for different purposes... The first allows you to veg out; the second requires active participation.”

The reality is that you can get an interactive television today simply by plugging a TV into a computer via an HDMI cable. There are “smart TVs” that are compatible with Roku TV, Alexa and Google Assistant. And of course, Apple TV is fairly interactive.

VERDICT: It all depends on how you define it

NEVER - The Paperless Office

The paperless office has been subject to a lot of hype ever since the 1960s and the days of Xerox Parc. Admittedly, despite the increasing popularity of devices that were supposed to eliminate our reliance on paper—handheld computers, email, digital calendars, smart watches —paper remains.

For one thing there are no software updates or competing standards for paper – it always just works. There is no constant learning curve with paper. It is impervious to power outages and other malfunctions.

However, even the panelists admitted that the amount of paper being used would be reduced as the years passed. So even as Reality Check said “never” for the paperless office, it admitted that the paperless office might come someday. It just hasn’t yet.

VERDICT: Even as Reality Check said “never,” their arguments said “eventually”

NEVER - Human Clones

Reality Check mentioned as a boon to human cloning The Human Genome Project, whose stated goal was to develop a map of human DNA, identifying the location, structure and function of all of the many thousands of human genes. Completion of the project was expected to help in the treatment of more than 4000 genetic diseases.

The Human Genome Project was indeed completed, although some were disappointed that it failed to result in the cures for genetic ills that many people had expected. Whether The Human Genome Project results in unraveling the secrets of human cloning remains to be seen.

It’s understandable why some people think it should never happen. A human being might understandably be upset to find out that they are just a clone of someone else rather than a unique person in their own right, even though environment plays a role along with heredity in the development of character and personality.

If human clones are developed, it might not be in the United States, but in China, which unfortunately does not have the moral restrictions against such experimentation that exist in the Western world.

Even more concerning than cloning may be the development of chimeras, which is the unholy merging of humans and animals, possibly for the purpose of turning them into slaves who are brought into existence merely for the providing of organs to wealthy people whose organs need replacement.

VERDICT: By “never” Reality Check meant only as long as current ethical sanctions continue to oppose human cloning

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NEVER - Virtual War

Reality Check mused, “What if, instead of producing casualties and scorched Earth, we waged wars on-screen, deciding previously mortal conflicts without bloodshed?” Their conclusion: “Ain’t gonna happen.”

I have to agree. We will always have power-hungry madmen in the world. We will always have dictators, tyrants and totalitarians. Those who say that we are nearing the end of the age of warfare are naïve fools.

One only has to look at current events. Even in once-united countries like the US, the political rifts are so great that the once-common spirit of compromise and cooperation now seems hopelessly out of reach.

It is unthinkable that humans will ever learn to get along with each other without conflict. Does anyone think that those who want power and control over others at all costs — and there are plenty of those in this world — are ever going to settle for virtual war? They will always figure a way to rig the game so that it favors their mad ambitions. And they are going to drag the rest of us down into the violence and bloodshed and madness with them.

VERDICT - Violence is the only thing some people understand

THE VERDICT

So how did Reality Check do? By my tally, the ratio of the book’s predictions are as follows:


Correct: 14

Partially Correct: 7

Wrong: 37


So Reality Check got 37 Wrong and only 21 Correct or Partially Correct. Not a great score, but it goes to show how wrong even “experts” can be when it comes to predicting the future. But the real indictment is the technological advances Reality Check didn’t even see coming.

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Some Fulfilled Predictions Were Pretty Awesome

This is not to say we haven’t made some fairly impressive progress in the last 25 years. True, we don’t have jetpacks or flying cars, but just in looking at Reality Check’s correct predictions, we have made a number of impressive advancements, most of which we simply take for granted today. These include:

  • CD burners (and now DVD and Blu-ray burners). Blu-ray can hold up to an impressive 50 GB on a single, shiny dual-layer disc)
  • Intelligent agents like Siri, Alexa and Cortana (which I used in helping research this essay)
  • Movies on Demand—Only a distant dream back in 1996
  • Most software is downloaded instantly to your computer or mobile device—No trips to the store or installation needed
  • Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies
  • Remote-controlled surgery
  • Universal video chatting
  • Telecommuting, at least for some people
  • The ability to make a phone call from almost anywhere
  • Computers that can recognize not only printed letters, but handwritten or cursive text as well
  • An operational space station (although the space shuttle is sadly a distant memory)
  • Computers that can play master level chess (plus the more complex Chinese board game of Go and even trivia games like Jeopardy!)
  • “Smart homes”
  • Robotic vacuum cleaners (but not full-housecleaning robots)
  • High speed, wireless Internet
  • Genetically engineered food – but also the justifiable backlash against it
  • Easy online shopping through Amazon (but also concerns about its monopoly status)
  • Almost universal embrace of digital music and online music streaming services
  • The common, ready availability of e-books and e-book readers
  • Self-driving cars (if still not common)
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What Reality Check Missed Is Even More Telling

There have also been a number of remarkable advances that Reality Check totally failed to predict:

  • Digital cameras that can take remarkably sharp and clear instant pictures with no film or developing
  • Digital video, which has in some cases helped to solve crimes, but in other cases has inflamed passions and started riots
  • Smartphones in almost every pocket – universal supercomputers that transcend class lines and social boundaries
  • Millions of smartphone apps that can do almost anything
  • Handheld gaming, with a huge marketplace of thousands of games by independent creators
  • The rise of social media, which has allowed the average person to put their life on public display, for better or worse
  • Amazon—not only the world’s biggest bookstore but now the world’s biggest store—period
  • LCD computer screens replacing CRT—The standard computer resolution in 1996 was 640 × 480 with a whopping 16 available colors; today large screens with a resolution of 4096 × 2160 and the ability to display millions of colors are common
  • Large-screen (in some cases, wall-sized) HDTVs with 500 channels – even if they mostly recycle the same pap and still bombard us with commercials
  • Always-on Internet connection — no dialup and a wireless connection through Wi-Fi makes the Internet of Things possible
  • Tablet computers—the iPad gives the amazing feeling of “holding the Internet in your hands,” as Steve Jobs once put it. Plus, it can serve as an e-book reader, an artist’s canvas, a video screen or thousands of other uses
  • Touchscreens that have revolutionized the way we interact with our devices
  • Rechargeable everything – rather than fumbling with batteries, simply plug in your device via USB (or wirelessly!) and let it recharge overnight, resulting in more convenience, greater reliability, lower cost and a slimmer design
  • Universal GPS, which, combined with “smart roads” give us constantly updated traffic reports and the ability to navigate around jams
  • 3-D printing, or the ability to go from concept to physical product in a matter of hours rather than days, weeks or months
  • Translation software that can do real-time translation for dozens of languages
  • Face recognition software that makes for easier login to devices and sorting of family photos, but also—combined with ubiquitous public video cameras—fears of a surveillance state
  • The continued relevance of Moore’s Law, with computers continuing to double in power on almost a yearly basis (but also the continued relevance of Fitz’s Law, which holds that software gets slower more quickly than computers get faster)
  • Drones – tiny flying robots that can be either remote-controlled or can pilot themselves autonomously
  • Quantum computing—computers that use strange, unintuitive principles of quantum mechanics to solve problems no “classical” computer can touch
  • Voice-activated smart assistants (and accompanying concerns about privacy)
  • Easy dictation (rather than typing) on nearly every handheld device
  • Amazing advances in videogame graphics; one need only compare screenshots of videogames from the early nineties with the near-photorealistic games of the present era
  • Virtual reality that doesn’t suck (but is actually pretty awesome)
  • 5G - but many people point to ominous health ramifications of resulting “electromagnetic chaos”
  • Better computerization of hospital and medical records (but with a corresponding and disturbing loss of privacy)
  • The rise of artificial intelligence—and a likely battle over who gets to control it
  • Increasing AI control over our lives, for better or worse. As technology writer Allum Bokhari put it: “In the near future, AI will help determine whether you're hired for a job; whether you're approved for a loan or a mortgage; whether your children are accepted into a university; whether you can finance a car; whether you can rent an apartment”
  • Increasing belief in transhumanism, or the idea that humans and computers will soon merge to create beings of super intelligence (but who can also oppress, control and perhaps even destroy those unfortunate humans who are left behind)

All of the above advances and more were totally missed by Reality Check.

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But the Sinister Ramifications of Technology are the Most Important

Finally, there have been a number of dark and incredibly disturbing developments, because technology and progress are always double-edged swords:

  • The demise of the “family computer” (like the “family television”), with every kid having his own tablet computer or smartphone, along with the loss of parental supervision and guidance in what the kid accesses
  • Social media addiction - Jaron Lanier, one of the founding fathers of virtual reality and author of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, believes social media is a toxic space, serving only to leave people feeling sadder, angrier and more alone.
  • Social media outrage mobs—it’s way too easy to arouse masses of people on social media to harass and shame other users for saying something unfashionable.
  • Historical shaming — In some cases, posts from ten years earlier have been dug up and used to shame or harass social media users, to get them fired, and to attempt to destroy their reputations
  • Use of social media to arrange flash mobs and smash-and-grab lootings—amazingly, often without consequence
  • Mudslinging against online news sites by the mainstream media establishment with the term “fake news” — a shameless and obvious attempt by the MSM to silence competition
  • The rise of big-tech monopolies, with huge corporations like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook having an effective lock on the market and being able to shut out all competition, with no effective action taken by the government
  • Political manipulation and censorship by the big tech companies – for example, Google has been caught repeatedly manipulating its search results to push a particular candidate or ideology
  • Increasing online censorship—the idea that the President of United States could be banned from social media would have shocked the average Internet user just a few years ago – now it is simply taken for granted
  • Online book banning—burning books was once considered synonymous with nazism and totalitarianism, but now the digital equivalent is often simply shrugged off as unavoidable
  • Wikipedia, the largest encyclopedia in history, but also one that has reneged on its democratic editing policy and promise of neutrality to become one of the most censored, heavily-controlled and politically partisan sites on the Internet
  • Deplatforming of online influencers for “wrongthink” — many people have simply been kicked off YouTube and Facebook for expressing opinions that are not favored by the establishment
  • Calls to turn the United States into a socialist country with the claim that technological unemployment will soon make capitalism unworkable (but full-on socialism has never worked no matter where it has been tried, and it inevitably leads to poverty, death and totalitarianism)
  • Pressure to enact a Chinese communist-style “social credit score” in countries worldwide
  • Floating of the idea by Bill Gates and others of implanting microchips under the skin of citizens of the US and other countries so that governments can track them at all times (“for their own good,” of course)
  • Widespread use of Internet-connected electronic voting machines that can be easily re-programmed, hacked and controlled remotely in order to steal US presidential elections
  • The rise of genetically-engineered bioweapons; COVID-19, whether released deliberately or accidentally, is now known conclusively to have been engineered in a laboratory
  • Fears of the development of chimeras, or the unholy merging of humans and animals for the purpose of creating “organ slaves” – unfortunate beings who exist merely for “research” or for the purpose of growing organs for the wealthy and powerful
  • Medical totalitarianism that demands citizens take controversial, unproven, unnecessary or questionable medical treatments or vaccines under threat of loss of their basic human rights
  • Weaponized drones – autonomous drones equipped with facial recognition cameras that can recognize an intended target (such as a dissident) and explode a shape charge against the skull, killing him or her instantly
  • Just as there were many who charged that Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative anti-ballistic missile system could be used as an offensive weapon to target populations on earth, there are those who charge today that 5G networks can be directed via computer-controlled triangulation to target individuals and groups with high-intensity energy weapon beams, causing them brain damage and cancer without even knowing it
  • Vulnerability to an EMP strike — all the electronic innovations mentioned in this essay, while being fantastic advances, make us susceptible to an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack, whether carried out by terrorists or a rogue nation. Such a strike would instantly fry all electronics—possibly across the country. Modern trucks and automobiles, with their electronic ignitions, would not start. Computers would be paperweights. Electrical system would fail. Heating and air-conditioning wouldn’t work. Worst of all, the supply chain would be knocked out, at least for a time, meaning that grocery stores would quickly run out of food. Imagine your worst apocalyptic movie for an idea of what life would be like.
  • And much, much more

All of the above outrages are currently happening or are a distinct possibility, and I encourage the reader to look into and verify everything in the above list. The key to pushing back the tide of technocracy and digital totalitarianism is noncompliance and resistance. That is the only way we can ensure that technology serves the public and not the other way around.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Timothy Arends

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