Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years

CK-12 spaceshipThe above is a quote from 1955, from a guy called¬†Alex Lewyt, who was then president of a vacuum cleaner company. Fifty-five years later I still have to plug mine into the mains. It is one of a number of predictions about future technologies that have proven over optimistic. I came across this while I was searching for predictions from the 1950s and 1960s about what technology we would have now. This was inspired by the fact that I am currently writing a grant proposal – a bid to a part of the UK government (called EPSRC) for money to do research. As of late last year the proposal must include a bit where I must say what is the “potential, over 10-50 years, to meet national strategic needs” of the products of the research.

Fifty years is a long time. In 2062 I will be 91 – if I am still around. My youthful colleague Paul Stevenson (who will then only be in his 80s) has just returned from India, but not on a “200-passenger rocket”¬†as was predicted in 1968. The predictions, from a guy called James Berry make amusing reading.

His predictions of intercontinental transport via rocket are way out, as are pretty much all of his transport predictions. Sadly. If you are a commuter on British trains you may cry while reading his predictions. However he does predict that the computer will be at the centre of every home, which is coming true, and he predicted something like modern internet shopping. Good going as of course in 1968 Amazon was way off, it only started in 1994.

So, his predictions of big things like computers and transport 40 years in the future are roughly half right and half wrong. But the rise of computers and the relative stagnation of transport are big trends. My research is on a more modest scale, I am not going to invent a new type of computer or a rocket. How you predict what a modest research project at a medium sized UK University in the mid-2010s will have on the 2060s is kind-of beyond me.

But I am required to do it, so I guess I should stop procrastinating by writing this blog, and do it.