The rate at which technology develops makes predicting the future incredibly difficult, but people get it right sometimes.
They get it wrong sometimes too, and you’d have found a mixture of both in the April 3, 1988 issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, which peered 25 years into the future–to the year we find ourselves in now.
Syd Mead, a ‘futurist’, designed the magazine’s striking cover, showing a utopian vision of Los Angeles. The futuristic city’s glassy roads and pod-like cars may not have appeared, but more than a few details of what lay within have proved to be surprisingly accurate.
The feature follows a day in the life of fictional L.A. family, the Morrows.
Their house is described as a large, one-story Spanish revival-style house, something expected to still be standing 25 years after its late 80s construction. The reality kicks in immediately though, as the “smart house” turns itself on at 6 AM, heaters and lights kicking in and appliances bursting into life, ready for the day.
Not everyone has smart homes these days of course, but virtually everything described is available today. Even, to an extent, the family’s “personalized home newspaper”.
Personalized feeds on the internet and sites that tailor content to your interests are common today. Only the story’s medium is incorrect, since the Morrows’ paper is delivered as a physical copy by their laser-jet printer.
The family’s robotic assistant and robotic pet are typical of the era’s perceptions of the future, though each exists in some form in the year 2013–Siri, for example, or Sony’s Aibo robot dog. You can even get robotic vacuum cleaners to handle one of life’s domestic chores…
Teleconferencing, smart fridges, online banking, 3-D video screens and high-definition flat-screen TVs are also described.
Reality outpaces fiction
In some respects though, the 1988 future has actually been outpaced by real-world technology. Music and entertainment has moved far beyond discs, for example. The hand-held computers described in the story seem technically behind the ability of modern tablets and smartphones.
Even the automotive world has moved quicker than the story suggests, despite Syd Mead’s illustrations.
The Morrow father’s car does feature electrically adjustable steering wheel, seats and even pedals, as found in some modern vehicles, and something akin to satellite navigation too. L.A’s traffic has also remained.
But the smog described in the story is nowhere near the problem it once was (albeit not perfect) thanks to a quarter-century of significantly cleaner vehicles.
The car’s key-card start system is now also a few years out of date–keyless entry and start are now commonplace.
And, the story implies, the futuristic-looking vehicle seems to be just a regular gasoline car.
Perhaps the unsuccessful dabbling of some automakers into electric vehicles made writers in the 1980s think they’d never realistically arrive, but 15 years of hybrids and three years of bona fide battery electric cars now suggest otherwise.
And it’s made real-life L.A. a cleaner place than those writers could have imagined–despite the city’s heavy traffic and continuing reliance on the personal automobile.
It’s well worth reading the full article to appreciate just how much of the story has come true.
We wonder what L.A. will look like in 2038, after another 25 years…?