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What the future looked like way back when

By: Laura Moss on May 7, 2012, 1:22 p.m.
schoolgirls with Tomy Omnibot 2000

Photo: schoolgirls with Tomy Omnibot 2000 in 1989 (SSPL/Getty Images)

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Robots and computers

One of the most popular future predictions was the increasingly important role robots and computers would play in our daily lives. While robots do help with many tasks, they’re not nearly as popular as science fiction once led us to believe they might be. A 1968 Mechanix Illustrated article predicted that robots would be doing our housework by 2008, and inventions like the Roomba have made this a reality. However, advances in household robotics haven’t reached the heights predicted by a 1996 (yes, 1996) New York Times article that said “kitchen robots” would assess our dietary needs before preparing our meals.

Futurists were a bit more correct on the subject of computers. According to the Mehanix article, “the single most important item in 2008 households is the computer. These electronic brains govern everything from assembling shopping lists to keeping track of the bank balance.” But while computers were seen as important in the 21st century, not everyone was expected to have one. In 1966, reporter Stanley Penn wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “it is unlikely everyone will have his own computer any time soon,” and the Mechanix article echoed this: “Not every family has its private computer. Many families reserve time on a city or regional computer to serve their needs.” Futurists even saw the Internet as being important in our current society: “Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits.”