Essay: THE FUTURISTS: Looking Toward A.D. 2000

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Forecasting is an art that still has few textbooks. Its basic tool is extrapolation from yesterday and today. As John McHale, executive director of World Resources Inventory, puts it: "The future of the future is in the present." Some other methods seem fairly arcane. Defense Expert Herman Kahn, for instance, uses "scenario writing," in which various alternative future situations are dramatized. Some forecasters use computers to produce a symbolic "model" of particular social or economic structures—including whole industries or nations—and then simulate the interaction of variables. Rand uses the "Delphi" method, in which a wide range of experts are queried and re-queried for their forecasts, arriving finally at a near-consensus. Prognosticators concede that the timing and nature of pure inventions or basic breakthroughs—such as the achievement of atomic fission—are not predictable. In many cases, they must still rely on "imaginings."

In the recent flood of forecasts, what are the futurists saying? By no means are all their predictions new, but taken together, they present a remarkable vision. Most convenient benchmark for that vision is the year 2000, a rounded and romantic date that is nearer than is generally realized—only 34 years away, it is nearly as close as the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

People & Weather

By A.D. 2000, the U.S. population will have risen to about 330 million, and nine out of ten Americans will be living in supercities or their suburbs. But cities, like industry, will tend to decentralize; with instant communications, it will no longer be necessary for business enterprises to cluster together. Futurist Marshall McLuhan even foresees the possibility that many people will stay at home, doing their work via countrywide telecommunication.

None of the forecasters seem to have any good solution for the traffic problem, though they count on automated, and possibly underground, highways. McLuhan and others predict that both the wheel and the highway will be obsolete, giving way to hovercraft that ride on air. Planes carrying 1,000 passengers and flying just under the speed of sound will of course be old hat. The new thing will be transport by ballistic rocket, capable of reaching any place on earth in 40 minutes. In Rand's Delphi study, 82 scientists agreed that a permanent lunar base will have been established long before A.D. 2000 and that men will have flown past Venus and landed on Mars.

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