What Science Expects to See One Hundred Years Hence
Introduction: Who among us has ever wondered what life will be like 100 years from now? Many, I suspect. In that regard, I was fascinated when I stumbled upon the article found below in the April 25, 1903 edition of The Montreal Star. I find it interesting for two reasons. Firstly, how accurate the author was in so many ways as to his predictions as to what our lives would be like in the year 2003. Secondly, when working as a high school teacher, now many years ago, I normally told my 14-year-old students that it would be best if they were to keep their sentences short!
The Montreal Star, April 25, 1903:
Some Guesses at What the Next Century Will Bring Forth in the Way of Adding to our Comforts – Greater Conveniences in All Lines
“Ever since Bellamy wrote ‘Looking Backward’, it has been permissible to speculate as to material betterments of the future. Along this line, the Morning Leader, of London, recently published the following from the pen of a well-known scientific writer.
“There can be no doubt that by this time next century the developments of the telephone and the phonograph will have made as great a difference to business as telegraphy has effected since this time last century.
“It is practically certain that telephone exchanges will be abolished long before 1950. Wireless telephony, with adjustable ‘tuning’ will enable every merchant to ‘call up’ every other merchant. Instead of looking up his friend’s number on the exchange, he will look up his ‘tone’, adjust his own transmitter to it, and ring.
“As a great proportion of all the business transacted will be done by telephone, the frequent occurrence of disputes as to what has or has not been said in a given conversation will have rendered safeguards necessary. Consequently, every telephone will be attached to an instrument developed from the phonograph, which will record whatever was said at both instruments. Precautions will have to be devised against eavesdropping. After communication is established, probably both parties to a conversation will retune their instruments to a fresh pitch, which, in cases requiring special secrecy, could be privately agreed upon beforehand.
“The records of the phonograph will be automatically translated into typewriting, or whatever device has superseded typewriting as the medium of record. Just exactly what will be the mechanism of this translation is at present impossible to foresee. But we can be quite certain that so clumsy a device as the production of documents, word by word, and letter by letter, with one (and sometimes more) separate movements of the hand for each letter, as at present, cannot survive the century. Business in the year 2000 will be transacted in a hurry compared with which the operations of to-day are lethargic in the extreme.
HOW LETTERS WILL BE WRITTEN
“In certain cases convenience will still require that something in the nature of letters shall be materially transmitted from one firm to another. Consider how, inevitably, this will work out from present methods. The most advanced system of business letter writing now in use is this: The merchant speaks his letter into a phonograph. The correspondence clerk receives the wax cylinder on which the record of it has been made, slips it into another phonograph, fixes the audition-tubes of the latter to his ears, and reproduces the letter on a type-writer, stopping and restarting the dictating instrument by a foot-lever as required. This plan is open to many objections, which will have been overcome before it is superseded by the system which will be in vogue a hundred years hence. By that time we shall be able to use something less fragile than the wax of which ‘records’ are now made – something which can be transmitted, not, of course, by post as we understand that expression to-day, but by tube.
“For the intolerable cumbrousness of a system which requires letters and parcels to be carried to an office, dropped into a slit, stamped, sorted, delivered, and very possibly mis-delivered, is self-condemned. Every merchant will ‘post’ his letters into the tube-opening which stands in his own office. These letters will be placed in carriers, according to destination. Different districts will have differently-shaped carriers allotted to them. thus, when the letters are started on their way they will be automatically sorted somewhere en route, and sent flying on the wings of highly-compressed air to various points – to the general post office for country and foreign mails, and for local letters to different branch offices within the city of London itself, each about twenty-five miles from the centre of London. For it will have been found necessary to limit the growth of London by the time the actual city measures fifty miles from end to end.
“But it is only parcels and documents of special importance and secrecy that will be materially transmitted at all. The general run of correspondence will, of course, be conducted by automatic printing-telegraphy. That is to say, the merchant will dictate into a phonograph, which will produce a typescript of some sort, capable of either directly influencing a (wireless) telegraphic transmitter, and, through it, a receiver, which will reproduce the original at any distance; or else of being photographically copied by means of an entirely new invention, which will be called the teleautoscope.
USING LIGHT WAVES
“This instrument will convert light-vibrations into some other kind of transmissible wave. Its function will be best understood by comparing it with the telephone. The telephone converts sound-vibrations (which are vibrations of the air) into electro-magnetic impulses, transmissible at present by wire. The receiving-station converts them into sound-vibrations. Similarly, the teleautoscope will convert and transmit light waves, which are vibrations of ether the intangible and imponderous medium between the particles of air and all other forms of matter. Thus, just as the telephone enables us to hear at a distance, so the teleautoscope will enable us to see at a distance. Whatever we can see, we can photograph. Thus permanent records will be obtained, and it will be possible to sign and ratify agreements at a distance, and we shall (for instance) be able to settle a lawsuit in San Francisco without waiting the sixty hours or so required to travel thither from London – forty or fifty hours at sea on the Atlantic, ten to fifteen hours on the railless road between New York and California, used, as it frequently will be, in connection with the wireless telephone, the teleautoscope will practically abolish personal interviews in business altogether; for a conversation thus carried out will be, for all practical purposes, as good as a visit; we shall not hear what our interlocutor says, but also see his face while he is speaking.
ACCOUNT-BOOKS 100 YEARS HENCE
“So much progress has been made already with calculating machines, that we shall certainly dispense with the arithmetiolan before the next century begins. And the ponderous system of book-keeping as now practised will be abolished also. We shall have calculating typewriters, which will print in a book and perform every arithmetical operation with absolute mathematical correctness, and at the same time duplicate any required portion in the form of invoice or account-current. The economic changes which will have resulted, as well from improved business methods as from facility of transport, will be even greater than the mechanical advance of commerce. They are too great to be described – perhaps to complex to be foreseenf here. Undoubtedly all sorts of middlemen will be eliminated. Manufacturers will supply consumers directly. The small shopkeeper has already had his marching orders. In the year 2000 we shall almost have forgotten that he ever existed. Trusts will during the next few decades have worked their own destruction. In the next century manufacturers will work independently of each other, but in associated groups. Lands, railways, water supply, electricity, and whatever resources of Nature furnish the mechanical power of the future, will, of course, have been everywhere nationalized. If, indeed, nations still at all exist except as a kind of enlarged municipalities, subject to one sovereignty- the Human Race consolidated in one Government of the World.
Below, an artist’s projection from 1873 as to what a kitchen would look like in 1973!! I think the image originates from the Canadian Illustrated News of that same year, but I am not certain.
Published in Connections, the journal of the Quebec Family History Society, in September 2003.