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Futurist Forum

2013, As Imagined By Futurists In 1988

Twenty-five years ago, a Los Angeles magazine envisioned what the world would look like a quarter-century in the future. What they got right (and wrong) paints a fascinating picture of the ability and limits of people to guess where the world is heading.

Blade Runner wasn’t the only piece of culture from the 1980s to take a look at what life might be like in the current decade, specifically in Los Angeles. In 1988, the now-defunct Los Angeles Times Magazine set out to make some predictions of what the city would look like in 2013, 25 years later.

The cover story of the magazine’s April 3, 1988 edition showed a futuristic downtown L.A., crisscrossed with electrically charged, multi-tiered freeways, with what appear to be self-driving cars zipping by. The article itself imagined a day in the life of the fictional Morrow family of the L.A. suburb Granada Hills, as "profiled" by the magazine in 2013 by science fiction writer Nicole Yorkin.

Last week, the LA Times, along with an engineering class at USC, revisited the archives to assess what it predicted correctly versus incorrectly (Note: the magazine took a pretty optimistic opinion about print, and didn’t predict its own demise in 2012). The things they get right are as interesting as what they missed.

Here’s a scorecard:


"Smart Houses"

The Morrows begin every morning when its "Smart House" automatically turns on: "In the kitchen, the coffee maker begins dripping at the same time the oven switches itself on to bake a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls."

While this isn’t the norm for the American family yet, the past few years have proved a turning point for home devices hooking up with the Internet, to become more programmable and serve humans, rather than humans serving them. More prosaically, we’ve had coffee makers and bread makers with timers for years.


"Homeprinted Newspapers"

The article also predicts that each morning the Morrows’ laser-jet printer would automatically print off a feed of news stories most interesting to them. While the way people read the news has certainly gotten more personal, the most common medium of delivery would be the smart phone, not the printer (though this tiny printer that prints you a tiny newspaper might mean this is coming).


GPS and the computerization of cars:

The writers accurately predict that by 2013, cars would come standard with computers that control most of the settings, along with GPS systems for navigation. They also predict self-driving cars, which Google assures us are on the way.


Ubiquitous robo-servants and robo-pets

We’re not quite there yet. Yorkin describes the Morrows’ son being greeted every morning with his pet dog robot, while a robot with a Southern accent makes the family’s beds each morning. Sadly, digital pets haven’t advanced that much since the Tamagachi, while robots in the home can barely handle vacuuming the floor.

Check out the full old article here, and read about the way that 1988 futurists anticipated digitally connected classrooms, and wrongly anticipated a future L.A. strangled by crime and less diverse than it actually is today.