Thomas Edison, the great inventor, scientist, and businessman is known for many things. He is most well known for the motion picture camera, the phonograph, and the lightbulb. Everyone knows Edison’s laurels, but not everyone knows that 100 years ago, in 1911, he made predictions for life in 2011 in an article entitled “What will the world be a hundred years hence?”. You can read a copy of his predictions here.
Our purpose today is to grade Edison on his predictions. Was he just as accomplished as a clairvoyant as he was an inventor?
Let’s grade his predictions:
Prediction #1: Railways will be powered by electricity.
“In the year 2011 such railway trains as survive will be driven at incredible speed by electricity (which will also be the motive force of all the world’s machinery), generated by “hydraulic” wheels.”
Prediction #2: Travelers will by flying, not driving, at speeds of 200 miles per hour.
“[T]he traveler of the future…will largely scorn such earth crawling. He will fly through the air, swifter than any swallow, at a speed of two hundred miles an hour, in colossal machines…” Edison predicted flight travel, to be sure. His figures on speed were low.
Prediction #3: Steel will become lighter and everything will be made of it.
“The house of the next century will be furnished from basement to attic with steel, at a sixth of the present cost — of steel so light that it will be as easy to move a sideboard as it is today to lift a drawing room chair.”
Prediction #4: Cradles will be steel, chairs and tables will be steel, and steel can be furnished to look like wood.
“The baby of the twenty-first century will be rocked in a steel cradle; his father will sit in a steel chair at a steel dining table, and his mother’s boudoir will be sumptuously equipped with steel furnishings, converted by cunning varnishes to the semblance of rosewood, or mahogany, or any other wood her ladyship fancies.”
Prediction #5: Books will all be printed on nickle.
“Books of the coming century will all be printed leaves of nickel, so light to hold that the reader can enjoy a small library in a single volume.”
Prediction #6: Books will contain many more pages than their width currently allowed.
“A book two inches thick will contain forty thousand pages, the equivalent of a hundred volumes; six inches in aggregate thickness, it would suffice for all the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And each volume would weigh less than a pound.”
Edison probably did not have tablets like iPads or Kindles in mind when he made the above comment. His prediction was somewhat correct, however, so he gets a C.
Prediction #7: We will be able to transmute metals, so we can make objects out of gold if we would like.
“’We are already on the verge of discovering the secret of transmuting metals, which are all substantially the same in matter, though combined in different proportions.’ Before long it will be an easy matter to convert a truck load of iron bars into as many bars of virgin gold.”
Prediction #8: Gold will be just as cheap as steel, but steel will be more durable and cheaper in the long run.
“In the magical days to come there is no reason why our great liners should not be of solid gold from stem to stern; why we should not ride in golden taxicabs, or substituted gold for steel in our drawing room suites. Only steel will be the more durable, and thus the cheaper in the long run.”
Edison was right that steel would be cheaper, but wrong that we would be riding around in taxis or riding in solid gold cruise ships (‘liners’, as he called them).
Overall, Edison made some intuitive predictions in some cases and missed the mark greatly on others.
Edison’s Final Grade:
We can deduce from this final grade that while Edison may have invented most of our important technological creations, his career as a clairvoyant would have been short-lived. Stick with inventing, Thomas!