Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Big Book O' Predictions

All right, time to crack this puppy open for realsies. The Book Of Predictions mentioned yesterday, copyright 1981, will today be analyzed to see how well things have gone for the assortment of experts, self-proclaimed experts and psychics that David Wallechinsky went and consulted.

Though it seems, I'm not the first to stumble across it and have my fun.  First off, let's note that nuclear war, world peace, cures for cancer, wristwatch computers, immortality and existential energy crises were very common predictions. Those were probably the top six, in no particular order. Just to get those out of the way. Second, not everybody is wrong wrong wrong. There are some genuine good calls. Let's give credit where it's due. The book's far too large to go through everything in here, but among what I've managed to notice:

*David Pearce Snyder puts 1985-1987 as the time when "Courts are generally open to television coverage. Both criminal and civil courtroom proceedings are increasingly carried on cable television, where they become so popular that they eventually lead to the elimination of soap operas and game shows from broadcast television." His years were off and his catalyst was off- it was the O.J. Simpson trial- but TV cameras in the courtroom did in fact result in the decline of soaps. (Game shows... debatable, but they did decline on the networks around the same time as the soaps.)
*Jerome Goldstein was a rare person in the early 80's who could actually manage to call "Effective collapse of the Soviet empire from internal political stress." That was a ballsy prediction back then; he was overwhelmed in the book by swarms of competing predictions of nuclear war between the two or one side at least achieving military victory over the other. (His timeline was 1995-2005 for that. Oh well.) Immediately after that, he calls the "Complete reshaping of Japanese economy well under way after a period of declining Japanese economic influence but increasing Japanese military influence." His timeline for that was right on the money.
*Andrew Greeley also goes for internal strife collapsing the Soviet Union, calling for its breakup and mass independence "before 1990". Of course, he also called for the Republican Party to be replaced in that same timeframe.
*A.E. Van Vogt, for the period 1982-1993, also hits paydirt by restraining himself from going for the big, dramatic nuclear climax. He simply reasons that the big nations, the nuclear powers, will continue to fight proxy wars in smaller nations that aren't strong enough to do anything about it. "I predict that war in the future will continue to be a sad regional disaster for small countries." Places like, say, the Falkland Islands, Grenada, Kuwait, Panama...
*One of the psychics, Bertie Catchings, held similar restraint. Regarding 2000: "I do not foresee disarmament. War weapons will continue to proliferate. The fear of nuclear weapons will always be present, but such a war will never actually come to pass."
*Felix Kaufmann, regarding 1982-1992, predicted "Second-world countries will compete successfully for some of the new factories that can no longer be profitably built in the first world. Their main competitive advantage is a relatively undemanding labor force which works long hours (though not very productively, either) and is not accustomed to striking. China, especially, is likely to be the recipient of numerous factories to supply the West with products that it can no longer manufacture, at least not economically." Productiveness is one thing, but other than that, nice job.
*The people asked to make predictions regarding the entertainment industry generally had a pretty good bead on the concept of consumers having more options as to what, how, where, and when to consume. Explosions of cable channels, YouTube, DVR's and such were pretty well seen, particularly by Nicholas Johnson. Arnold Brown foresaw computers leading to the demise of encyclopedias.
*Finally, writer Georges Simenon kept his predictions very simple. He predicted "there are chances for the world to live the years to come as ever before: hills and valleys, wars and peaces." (Pretty much.) "I passed through two wars, and I wouldn't be surprised to go through a third." (Nope.) "All chances are that I shall not live in 1993, all the more so in 2020. Why worry, then?" (Simenon died in 1989, age 86.)

Some predictions eventually came true, but their predictors whiffed by calling for technological innovations to happen sooner than they actually did. The demise-of-soaps-and-game-shows-by-way-of-courtroom-antics prediction falls into this, but in addition:

*Arthur C. Clarke did manage to successfully predict a "permanent space station similar to Skylab, but in a higher orbit; carries 5-10 men". However, he had it launching in 1985; the International Space Station, which maintains a 6-man crew, actually launched in 1998. (Ben Bova also missed here, having such a space station launching in 1984.)
*Edmund C. Berkeley predicted that "A champion chess-playing computer program will be better than almost all grandmaster human chess players." That was slated for 1987. Malcolm Peltu had it as 1985-1987. Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997.
*Trudy E. Bell foresaw "The People's Republic of China will put an astronaut into orbit around the earth- becoming the third nation to put a man in space." That was supposed to happen by 1986. Yang Liwei got into space in 2003. They were in fact the third (and latest) nation to put a man into space, even if they were only the 33rd nation to have a man in space.
*F. Lee Bailey foresaw a Supreme Court with four or five women on it as opposed to nine men; it ought to be noted that the initial publication date was not 1981 but rather 1980, and so when Bailey made his prediction, he didn't yet know that Sandra Day O'Connor would be seated in 1981. We're currently at three women, so we'll be there before all that much longer. Problem is that Bailey had this happening in 1992, by which time there were only five seats opened between prediction and deadline. (Sandra was the only woman to fill one of them.)
*F.M. Esfandiary predicted "extensive mapping of genes" for 1982-1992. The human genome was declared cracked in 2003.
*Arthur Knight saw that "Satellites will provide at least 300 channels of programming to home video viewers." I have that on my TV now, but he had that happening in 1985.
*Alan Vaughan predicted that in 1984, "The U.S. will introduce an International World Games in Los Angeles. Selected teams from around the world will compete. Unlike the Olympics, the sports competitors will be professionals." The prediction as a whole fell apart when the Olympics went ahead in LA on schedule. But elements of this one individually were pretty good, if premature. Two years later, the Goodwill Games were introduced, and though the first edition was in Moscow, they were set up by Ted Turner, an American. Meanwhile, under then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch's rule, the Olympics itself became far more accepting of professionals.

And, well, then there's Thomas Carleton, who forecast that "The majority of predictions and forecasts projected beyond the year 2000 will appear to be ridiculously shortsighted before the year 2000."

But of course, you and I both know what's far more entertaining. With no further ado, show me the crazy. And I am fully aware that if I tried my hand at it, I'd end up in the crazy category.

*In 2000, "The U.S. legalizes cocaine." (Shelley Levitt, then-editor of High Times)
*In 1981-1992, soccer loses popularity in the US, but cricket enjoys a surge in popularity and a brand spanking new professional league after a successfully-held cricket exhibition in Yankee Stadium in the fall of 1981. (Martin Abramson) The best he got was a Cricket Hall of Fame built in 1981 in Hartford, CT. Have you ever heard of it? Me neither. It isn't even the official one either; the official one doesn't have a dedicated building.
*Abramson then goes on to predict that in 1989, the NBA will raise the basket by two feet because "a sizable percentage of fans will not want to support all-black teams composed of giants who can amass large scores by stuffing balls in the basket instead of shooting." What came out in 1993, folks? That's right: NBA Jam. And it hadn't worn off by, oh say, 2011 either.
*In 1990, "Near the Arctic Circle, a lost tribe will be found. Its members will know of a secret passage through the ice to a place deep within the earth where beautiful gardens flourish." (Bertie Catchings)
*By 2000, "You will be able to walk across the Atlantic Ocean. There will be many cities on this ocean, linked by flexible bridges." (Also Bertie Catchings)
*In 1989, "There will be a revival of moats like those around medieval castles. They will be used to provide security for new government buildings and for the homes of the wealthy." (Ann Fisher) Tom Brady does not constitute a revival, as can be seen by the incredulousness of the notion seen by Deadspin.
*In 2000, "An alien virus, brought back by an interplanetary ship, will decimate the population of Earth, but leave the colonies on Luna and Mars intact." (Philip K. Dick)
*While a lot of people predicted a California earthquake- and one did happen in 1989- the predicted years were all over the place. Erskine Caldwell predicted that, in 2000 (his call for the date), as a result, California from San Francisco to Los Angeles will "disappear into a black hole while being televised by ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS." One year prior, in 1999, Caldwell forecast that "The U.S. government, including the Capitol, White House, taxis, spies, and call girls, will be moved and established in Minneapolis, MN."
*In 2010, "A federation of all Middle East countries will come into being with Jerusalem as its capital, but with a Christian enclave to which the Vatican will be moved on the decision of then then black Catholic pope, Dr. Ulusolo Mojo." (Dr. Mari'on Mushkat)
*This particular bullet point is set aside for everybody who predicted a second Ice Age. Nigel Calder provided a list of 15 nations that would be killed my marauding glaciers, including Bhutan, Nepal, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
*By 2000, "Men will no longer speak of their "sex drive" as a biological phenomenon. Male sexuality will change radically from the way we know it today. Masculinity will no longer be universally equated with intercourse, and there will be more open discussion of sex and sex roles among men." (Shere Hite)
*"Shortly before 2000 A.D., transcontinental travel time between New York City and Los Angeles will be reduced to 54 min. if the Planetran system is operational." (Walter Kempthorne)
*In 2010, we will have a "robot that can cross a busy highway without being hit." (Malcolm Peltu)
*In 1990, "Particles capable of traveling faster than the speed of light will be discovered." (Dr. James Trefil)
* In 1983-84, "For a time, New York and two other large U.S. cities will become armed wastelands with inner-city warfare and strife. Parts of these cities will be barricaded off by the National Guard." (Beverly Jaegers)
*In 1991-2010, "Plans will be announced to carry out mass evacuations around the world to escape air and water pollution, which has become so serious by this time that human life can no longer exist on the earth's surface. Safety will be found deep in the interior of the planet, where cities of the future will be built." (Andrew Reiss)
*In a chapter regarding what would become of various notables of the day, Israeli statesman Moshe Dayan was projected to attempt but fail in a run at Israeli prime minister, attempt and succeed in that run by another predictor, and a third had him fading out of political life and eventually becoming an artist. in reality, by the time the book came out, Moshe was already well into his final illness and would die of a heart attack in October 1981. All the predictions regarded 1983 and later.
*In a prediction-summary chapter, Juneau was projected to be replaced as Alaska's state capital by Willow in 1982. This was also regarded as a 'more or less sure thing' as it was already scheduled... and then a referendum to fund it got defeated at the polls in the 1982 elections. Another 'sure thing' was Colombia hosting the 1986 World Cup... and then they declared themselves unable to host and Mexico took over. A third 'sure thing": a locust plague in the eastern US in 1987.

Finally, in one section, journalists were asked to predict the five biggest headlines of 1985. Here is what 1985 actually looked like, and in hindsight, one might put down:
*Scientists Discover Hole In Ozone Layer
*Gorbechev Becomes Head Of Soviet Union
*Tragedy Strikes As Fans Riot During European Cup Final
*Schengen Agreement Causes Borders To Fall In Europe
*Titanic Found At Bottom Of Atlantic

What was predicted?
*Woman Becomes Pope (Jim Bellows, Los Angeles Herald Examiner)
*Mondale Names Kennedy Ambassador to Ireland (Sidney Goldberg, Independent News Alliance)
*Quebec Becomes 51st United States State (A.E. Insobia, Newsday)
*New Zealand Sinks Into Sea (K.J. Kavanagh, Courier Mail, Brisbane, Australia)
*Last White Leaves Africa (also Kavanagh)
*United Nations Disbands (Edwin O. Park, Indianapolis News)
*Home-Made Nuclear Bomb In New York: Mass Evacuation (Harvey Wood Tyson, The Star, Johannesburg, South Africa)

This was the best $6 I ever spent.

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