1.Human feet will become just one big toe.
So, what's going to happen to our feet—or, more specifically, our toes—in 2020? In a lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1911, a surgeon by the name of Richard Clement Lucas made a curious prediction: that the "useless outer toes" will become used less and less, so that "man might become a one-toed race."
2.We'll have ape chauffeurs.
In 1994, the RAND Corporation, a global think tank that's contributed to the space program and the development of the internet, said they expected us to have animal employees by the year 2020.
"The RAND panel mentioned that by the year 2020 it may be possible to breed intelligent species of animals, such as apes, that will be capable of performing manual labor," Glenn T. Seaborg wrote of the corporation's prediction in his book Scientist Speaks Out.
"During the 21st century, those houses that don't have a robot in the broom closet could have a live-in ape to do the cleaning and gardening chores. Also, the use of well-trained apes as family chauffeurs might decrease the number of automobile accidents." Yikes, who's gonna tell them?
3.We'll live in flying houses.
Inventor, science writer, and futurist Arthur C. Clarke—who co-wrote the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey—believed that the boring houses of 1966 would be radically different by the time we reached the 21st century. Evidently, the houses of the future would have nothing keeping them on the ground and they would be able to move to anywhere on earth on a whim.
Oh, and it wouldn't just be one home that would be able to relocate without the owner even needing to get out of bed and put on pants. "Whole communities may migrate south in the winter, or move to new lands whenever they feel the need for a change of scenery," Clarke promised. Up 2, anyone?
4.And our houses will be cleaned by hoses.
The New York Times' longtime science editor Waldemar Kaempffert, who worked for the paper from the 1920s through the 1950s, had lots of opinions about how different the world would be by the 21st century. In a 1950 Popular Mechanics article, titled "Miracles You'll See in the Next 50 Years," he predicted that by the 21st century, all you'll have to do to get your house clean is "simply turn the hose on everything."
That's because Kaempffert imagined furniture would be made of synthetic fabric or waterproof plastic. "After the water has run down a drain in the middle of the floor (later concealed by a rug of synthetic fiber)," all you'd have to do is "turn on a blast of hot air" to dry everything.
5.We'll eat candy made of underwear.
In the same Popular Mechanics article, Kaempffert predicted that all food would be delivered to our homes in the form of frozen bricks by the 21st century. "Cooking as an art is only a memory in the minds of old people," he wrote. "A few die-hards still broil a chicken or roast a leg of lamb, but the experts have developed ways of deep-freezing partially baked cuts of meat." And, thanks to advances in culinary technology, Kaempffert predicted it would even be possible to take ordinary objects like old table linens and "rayon underwear" and bring them to "chemical factories to be converted into candy." No thanks!
6.We'll have personal helicopters.
Forget jetpacks and flying cars. Popular Mechanics was pretty sure back in 1951 that every family in 21st century would have at least one helicopter in their garage.
"This simple, practical, foolproof personal helicopter coupe is big enough to carry two people and small enough to land on your lawn," they explained. "It has no carburetor to ice up, no ignition system to fall apart or misfire: instead, quiet, efficient ramjets keep the rotors moving, burning any kind of fuel from dime-a-gallon stove oil or kerosene up to aviation gasoline." Yes, but then, we'd imagine, your teenage son would ask to borrow the chopper, and you'd wake up the next day to discover your helicopter stuck in a tree. It's always something!
7.C, X, and Q will not be part of the alphabet.
When you're curious about the future of language, you probably should ask someone other than an engineer about it. And yet, that's what Ladies' Home Journal did in 1900, asking John Elfreth Watkins Jr., the curator of mechanical technology at the Smithsonian Institution, for his educated guesses about the 21st century.
The man of science had no love for what he considered extraneous letters, and he boldly predicted that by the 2000s, "there will be no C, X, or Q in our everyday alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary." Instead, Watkins wrote, we'd be spelling mostly by sound and would only communicate with "condensed words expressing condensed ideas." So, in 2020, we may say to our friends, "Me happy good, hi!"
8.We will have both telepathy and teleportation.
Michael J. O'Farrell, founder of The Mobile Institute, has been an expert in the technology industry since 1985. But even the experts can make mistakes. In the 2014 book Shift 2020, O'Farrell predicted that 2020 would be the dawn of the "nanomobility era."
"In the pending nanomobility era, I predict telepathy and teleportation will become possible by the year 2020—with both commonplace by 2040," he said. Well, we'll believe it when we see it.
9.All roads will become tubes.
If you're sick of asphalt roads and all the potholes that come with them, then you'll wish Popular Mechanics was right about this prediction for the 21st century. In a 1957 article, the magazine predicted that every road and street in America will be "replaced by a network of pneumatic tubes," and your car would only need enough power to get from your home to the nearest tube. Then, by the calculations of a Honeywell engineer, "they will be pneumatically powered to any desired destination."
10.Nobody will work and everybody will be rich.
In 1966, Time magazine reported that the 21st century would be a pretty awesome economic era for just about everybody. In an essay called "The Futurists," they predicted that "machines will be producing so much that everyone in the US will, in effect, be independently wealthy." Without even lifting a finger, the average non-working family could expect to earn an average salary of between $30,000 and $40,000, according to Time. That's in 1966 dollars, mind you; in 2020, that'd be about $300,000—for doing nothing. We wish!