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This Is What People Back in 1918 Thought 2018 Would Be Like

The future seemed full of possibilities for those who lived in 1918.
IMAGE PIXABAY/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ Internet Archive Book Images/ FLICKR
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In 1918, the world was battling two giants: the First World War and the Spanish flu. Both ravaged various nations and killed millions of people worldwide. But even under those circumstances, people had an optimistic view of the future.

The 2000s seemed eons away for those living in the past, and even today, their predictions seem bizarre, from talking animals and flying cars to immortality and televisions that emit smells. There are, however, a few exceptions that have come to fruition. Here are the predictions people had for 2018:

DRIVERLESS CARS

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Transportation was a fixation of those who looked ahead. It's clear driving from one place to another was dreaded by many. This could, however, be attributed to the fact that cars were essentially metal hot boxes. Read the full paragraph here:

The car of the future won’t leave anything to be done by man power. In two or three years foot brakes will be things of the past except on cheap cars. Why should a man exert muscle to stop a car any more than to start it? What’s that great brute of an engine idling under the hood for? Now, jump three jumps more. If the engine starts and lights and pumps and stops itself, why shouldn’t it steer the car? Revolutionary? Nonsense!...The car of the future will have no such thing as a “driver’s seat.” All the seats in the car save the rear one will be moveable. Driving will be done from a small control board, which can be held in the lap. It will be connected to the mechanism by a flexible electric cable. A small finger lever, not a wheel, will guide the car.

Google has been releasing steering wheel-less cars since 2014. But, just recently, General Motors released an image of its fully autonomous electric car. Named the Cruise AV, the car is the “first without a steering wheel or pedal,” and is due for commercial launch in 2019.

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MOVING LIVING ROOMS

People in 1918 also hoped for train-style cars, similarly without drivers, by saying that the "automobile of tomorrow will be constructed like a moving drawing room." Read the full paragraph here:

That the automobile of the next generation will be far different from the type in use today is the prediction made in an interesting article in a recent issue of the Scientific American. The entire control of the machine will be simplified and perhaps located in a set of push buttons. A recent invention makes possible the opening; and closing of garage doors by this method, and the application of the theory, it is prophesied, will be applied to the automobile itself. The article, which is entitled “The Motor Car of the Future,” says that the car will be weather-tight and weather-proof, and that the sides, front, rear, and roof will probably be made of glass. In warm weather the sides would come down, while inside curtains, including one for the roof of the machine, would keep out the sun and glare when shade is desired.

Though technology is closer to autonomous cars, living room-style cars are nowhere to be found. The Scientific American got a couple of things right when it comes to weatherproof, glass sealed windows. Another point that was rightly predicted was the car side coming down, which is essentially a convertible.

DICTATION AND SPEECH RECOGNITION

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Aside from cars, people predicted both dictation and speech recognition. One article from St. Johns Daily Star in Newfoundland, dated August 9, 1918, reads:

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A hundred years hence a businessman will sit down in front of a machine, and say:
Dear Sir: Your favor of the 15th has been received. The goods ordered—
And the machine will write!
Think of it. No stenographer, no typist—nothing to set the mechanism in operation but the spoken word.
This is no Jules Verne-H.G. Wells dream, but the conception of a brilliant electrical engineer, Mr. John B. Flowers, whose name out to be better known than it is. Financed by a great typewriter company, Mr. Flowers has been conducting a series of astonishing investigations, which if they are continued, will some day culminate in the voice typewriter.

The "voice typewriter" that was predicted can be likened to Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri. Dictation has greatly helped people in their day-to-day lives, and has numerous uses from medicine to education, but there is still a lot to improve on before dictation becomes the norm.

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Paolo Chua
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