Staring into our metaphorical crystal balls to imagine what the future will hold is one of humanity’s most enduring pastimes. But none of us can really ever predict what’s going to happen years from now... or can we? There have been many attempts over the years, some more outlandish than others. Sometimes, though, it’s the craziest prophecies that turn out to be true. Let’s look at the times humans have made predictions about the future than turned out to be eerily accurate.
There are futurists, and then there are people like Nikola Tesla, the famed inventor who foresaw wireless internet technology and personal cell phones in the early 1900s! In 1909 the electricity pioneer told The New York Times, “It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages all over the world so simply that any individual can own and operate his own apparatus.”
Then, in 1929 he claimed, “When wireless technology is perfectly applied, the whole Earth will be converted into a huge brain. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance.”
In 1987 legendary movie critic Roger Ebert predicted the future of film distribution while speaking with OMNI magazine: he pretty much nailed it! He theorized, “We will have high-definition, wide-screen television sets and a push-button dialing system to order the movie you want at the time you want it.”
The respected reviewer continued, “You'll not go to a video store but instead order a movie on demand and then pay for it. Videocassette tapes as we know them now will be obsolete both for showing pre-recorded movies and for recording movies.”
In 1955 future Star Wars icon Alec Guinness had an impromptu dinner with teen idol James Dean. The young star showed Guinness his new Porsche 550 race car; as Guinness later revealed, “Some strange thing came over me.” He begged Dean not to drive it because he had a terrible feeling he’d be dead within a week if he did.
Hauntingly, Dean did die the following week when the car crashed on California’s Route 46. Guinness later lamented, “It was a very, very odd, spooky experience… I would have loved to have known him more.”
Microsoft’s genius co-founder Bill Gates wrote The Road Ahead in 1995. In it, he predicted smartphones almost to a tee. Dubbed the “Wallet PC,” he claimed, “It will be about the same size as a wallet, which means you’ll… carry it in your pocket or purse. It will display messages and schedules and let you read or send electronic mail and faxes… and play both simple and sophisticated games.”
The tech genius continued, “At a meeting, you might take notes, check your appointments, browse information if you're bored, or choose from among thousands of easy-to-call-up photos of your kids.” Yep, that is exactly how we use our smartphones!
The 16th-century French prophesier Nostradamus has become synonymous with spooky predictions, although they often need to be taken with a grain of salt. His prophecies were contained in poems written in quatrains, which leaves them open to interpretation.
For example, it’s said he foresaw the Great Fire of London in 1666, but his quatrain actually read,“The blood of the just will commit a fault at London, Burnt through lightning of 20 threes the six.”Believers have chosen to see “66” in that number — 20 multiplied by three, plus six — but you can decide for yourself!
In the 1660s, Robert Boyle — co-founder of the Royal Society, which eventually evolved to become the U.K.’s National Academy of Sciences — scribbled 24 notes detailing what he believed science should be striving toward. One of his wishes was, “The cure of diseases at a distance or at least by transplantation.”
Naturally, given that the first organ transplant didn’t happen until 300 years later, he didn’t live to see his vision come to pass. But it’s astounding to consider that he believed it was a possibility a full three centuries prior.
Two unconnected, yet equally historic, things happened in 1835: Halley’s Comet appeared, and literary titan Mark Twain was born. Twain didn’t think they were unconnected, though. In 1909 he supposedly told his biographer, “I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it.”
The author then doubled down: “The Almighty has said, no doubt, ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’” He subsequently passed away from a heart attack the next year — just like he’d foretold!
Climate change might be a current hot-button topic, but scientists have been warning against its dangers for more than 100 years. For example, back in 1917 Alexander Graham Bell — yes, the same man who created the telephone — theorized that if we didn’t restrict the burning of fossil fuels it “would have a sort of greenhouse effect” on the Earth.
He added, “The net result is the greenhouse becomes a sort of hothouse.” Then, in a National Geographic article, he implored the creation of renewable energy sources for when oil and coal inevitably ran out.
When Jules Verne, the father of science fiction, published From the Earth to the Moon in 1865 he could have had no idea that man would really land on our only natural satellite 104 years later. Amazingly, though, in his tale three men launch themselves inside a “space bullet” to the Moon, experiencing weightlessness along the way. This is incredible because the concept of gravity being different in space was unknown back then.
On top of that, when the three Apollo 11 astronauts returned to Earth, their fiery re-entry landed them in the Pacific Ocean only three miles from where Verne’s characters had splashed down in the story!
In 1871 Dmitri Mendeleev, a Russian chemist, published a periodic table that included the 60 elements science already knew about, but also left spaces — based on atomic weight — for elements still to be discovered.
In particular, he dubbed three unknown elements “eka-aluminium,” “eka-silicon,” and “eka-boron.” They were discovered and named gallium, germanium, and scandium in 1875, 1886, and 1879, respectively. Mendeleev’s predictive table turned out to be so spot-on that it looks uncannily like the modern periodic table scientists use today!
Science fiction writers have often predicted the future with unerring accuracy, and Arthur C. Clarke was notable among them. In his 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, he wrote of a small electronic “Newspad,” which sounds strikingly like an iPad! He wrote, “Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad… was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications.”
He continued, “Here he was, far out in space… yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. That very word ‘newspaper,’ of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.” Nailed it!
In 1900 an article was published in Ladies' Home Journal entitled, “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years.” Its author John Elfreth Watkins, a civil engineer, theorized, “Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later. Photographs will reproduce all of nature’s colors.”
Astonishingly, at this time, color photography was still in an experimental stage and had yet to be perfected, while pictures of events from around the world would have taken a week to reach America, not an hour!
What do the handsome, mustachioed star of Magnum P.I. and the acclaimed director of Fight Club have in common? Why, they predicted GPS technology, of course! Well, sort of. In 1993 Selleck recorded the voiceover for an AT&T commercial helmed by David Fincher that wowed viewers with predictions of future tech.
At one point, Selleck’s smooth baritone asks of the viewer, “Have you ever crossed the country without stopping for directions?” This was six years prior to GPS becoming available commercially!
John Brunner’s 1969 novel Stand on Zanzibar postulated a future — 2010 to be exact — that, in retrospect, turned out to be eerily accurate. Firstly, the book stars a President named “Obomi,” which is pretty darn close to “Obama.” Secondly, the Soviet Union isn’t America’s arch-nemesis anymore — it’s been replaced by China.
Thirdly, citizens get their news from media conglomerates that release it in bite-sized chunks on a worldwide social networking system. Oh, and they can also reply instantly to the news. The man totally predicted social media.
In 1969 a comedy sketch show named Laugh In gave fans two astoundingly accurate predictions of the future. Comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin concocted a sketch dubbed “News of the Future” and it made fun of the idea of former Hollywood actor — and then-Governor of California — Ronald Reagan becoming President.
The segment also jokingly theorized the Berlin Wall would fall in 1989. Both these predictions came to pass, with Reagan being inaugurated in 1981 and the Berlin Wall indeed coming down in ’89.
As anyone who saw Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer will know, the “father of the atomic bomb” is J. Robert Oppenheimer. Long before Oppenheimer helped make its terrible destructive power a reality, though, sci-fi writer H.G. Wells wrote of an atomic detonation in his 1914 novel The World Set Free.
Wells didn’t actually know if such a horror would ever be possible, but he had a working knowledge of radioactive decay and extrapolated that to the worst possible scenario. He even wrote about areas being uninhabitable after a bomb drops due to the dangerous radiation.
Morgan Robertson’s Futility: or, the Wreck of the Titan is a novel about a state-of-the-art liner that runs afoul of an iceberg and sinks in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
He wrote, “She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men,” and added, “Unsinkable – indestructible, she carried as few lifeboats as would satisfy the laws.” This is all chillingly reminiscent of the Titanic, but it’s all the more incredible because the book was published 14 years before that infamous maritime disaster.
“There are now two great nations in the world which… seem to be advancing toward the same goal — the Russians and the Anglo-Americans.” These words weren’t written in the 1940s as fears of a conflict between the Soviet Union and the U.S. grew: they were written 100 years earlier!
In the pages of 1840’s Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, the author added, “Their point of departure is different and their paths diverse; nevertheless, each seems called by some secret desire of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world.”
“Chicago Cubs. 2016. World Champions. You heard it here first.” Marcos Meza never forgot these prophetic — and seemingly insane — words, as they were immortalized by his pal Mike Lee in their 1993 High School yearbook.
When the Cubs did indeed win the World Series in 2016 — ending 107 years of trophyless pain — Meza posted a photo of Lee’s prediction to social media, and it quickly went viral. It just goes to show you that in sports, anything truly is possible. You just need to have faith!
Amusingly, sci-fi scribe Robert Heinlein predicted screensavers — of all things — in his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land. Set in a futuristic world, a passage reads, “Opposite his chair was a stereovision tank disguised as an aquarium; he switched it on, guppies and tetras gave way to the face of the well-known Winchell Augustus Greaves.”
So, there you have it: the next time you find yourself staring at a luscious rainforest or sunny desert on your computer screen because you’ve zoned out and haven’t tapped a key in a while, remember Heinlein!
“Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare ‘automeals,’ heating water and converting it to coffee,” wrote sci-fi pioneer Isaac Asimov in 1964. He was writing about how he thought the world would be 50 years in the future — in 2014 — and added, “Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semi-prepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing.”
He was bang on the money about our modern obsession with convenient ready meals, and though we don’t quite have gizmos that transform water into coffee, we do have a ton of coffee machines!
Vladimir Odoevsky was much more forward-thinking than the average Russian prince in the 1800s. For one thing, he was a philosopher and a sci-fi writer on top of his royal duties, and in his 1835 novel Year 4338, he may have successfully predicted modern blogging/social media!
In the book, houses are “connected by means of magnetic telegraphs that allow people who live far from each other to communicate.” Each home publishes a daily missive telling people “about the hosts’ good or bad health, family news, different thoughts and comments.” That sure sounds like Facebook or Instagram to us!
When the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 it ended the First World War between Germany and the Allied Powers. French general Ferdinand Foch felt the treaty didn’t punish the Germans harshly enough, and he pushed for a total occupation of the Rhineland as a way of ensuring the country never had the power to threaten war again.
His pleas were ignored, though, leading him to state, “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.” Two decades and 65 days later, Germany invaded Poland, and World War II began: Foch had been right.
In 1999’s The Age of Spiritual Machines, futurist Ray Kurzweil made a prediction both super-right and super-wrong at the same time. By 2019 he suggested, “Computerized health monitors built into watches, jewelry, and clothing which diagnose both acute and chronic health conditions are widely used.”
This was extremely prescient, and we give him props for that. Of course, he did also think the life expectancy of a human would have ballooned to 100 in those 20 years: that prediction was way off the mark!
In his ironically named 1888 sci-fi novel Looking Backward, author Edward Bellamy looked forward more than 60 years. In it, he coined the term “credit card.” In his story, a man wakes up in the utopian future of the year 2000 and discovers people now use these small cards to pay for goods and services.
He then finds out, “Credit corresponding to his share of the annual product of the nation is given to every citizen… at the beginning of each year,” and is loaded onto the card. In truth, it sounds more akin to a debit card, but we’re not going to hold that against Bellamy!
Unsurprisingly, some of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 rings true today. His description of “little seashells” that fill people’s ears with “an electronic ocean of sound” seems a lot like earbuds, except his version comes with a little more government mind control.
The future presented in the 1966 movie adaptation of was the stuff of nightmares, too. An authoritarian society where books are outlawed and burned en masse has come to pass in some regions. The dystopian act of book burning has come to pass in some regions.
In the 1999 episode "E-I-E-I-D'oh," the Simpsons flee to an old farm after Homer challenges a Southern gentleman to a duel. There, with the help of radioactive waste from Springfield's nuclear power plant, they create a tomato-tobacco hybrid called "tomacco."
More than a decade later, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant played host to the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. In 2013, a devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami caused three nuclear meltdowns. In the wake of the disaster, mutated fruits and vegetables began popping up in the surrounding area.
While The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is filled to the brim with crazy ideas, the Babel fish might just be the wildest. If you need reminding, it’s an animal that nestles into the characters’ ears and essentially acts as a universal translator.
We probably wouldn’t be down with sticking a living thing in our lobes, but could a similar device really be invented? You bet! In 2017 Google rolled out the Pixel Buds: among other things, these pieces of in-ear tech translate different languages in seconds. They’re so cool!
After years of waiting, Trekkies finally got their wish in 1979 when Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit the big screen. Who wouldn’t want to live in that utopian future? But while humanity is not quite ready to explore the universe in a spaceship, some of the tech in Star Trek has crossed over into the real world.
To give you an example, the voice-activated computer on the Enterprise is mighty similar to the Siri and Alexa digital assistants we have today. Then there’s the touchscreens we see later in the franchise. Since 2007, touchscreens have become the norm on phones and tablets.
A cyberpunk masterpiece, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is sci-fi perfection. The movie's meditation on what it means to be human still hits hard all these decades later. And aesthetically, the movie made a bang-on prediction of what our cityscapes look like now.
The massive digital billboards that pepper Rick Deckard’s surroundings are pretty close to those we see in New York’s Times Square today. We’re still waiting patiently for the awesome flying cars, though!
A 1998 episode of The Simpsons saw Bart champing at the bit to go on one unusually-themed ride. Much to Marge's dismay that her son would only willingly work on a virtual yard while wearing a headset, an eerily similar idea took off in real life some 11 years later. Virtual reality headsets were already invented back in 1968, but what the Springfield kids were artificially enjoying was yet to become commonplace.
And as it turns out, the concept of farming a computerized plot was far more popular than the brief snippet back in the late '90s could ever have imagined. The Yard Work Simulator in the '98 episode is much like the virtual reality game Farmville released in 2009.
A joke in The Simpson's Movie targeting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "I was elected to lead, not read," which was obviously absurd. Despite that, Arnie's character goes on to blindly choose a plan for altering the states. A worrying possibility, but even more worrying when the same sentiment was used in a real Republican campaign.
Just five years after The Simpsons Movie hit theaters, in 2012 GOP candidate Herman Cain ran for president. And whether he'd settled down with a jumbo popcorn to watch a cartoon Schwarzenegger or not, he ran with the campaign slogan, "We need a leader, not a reader." Catchy? Yes. Good for a presidential campaign slogan? No. Yikes!