Were They Right? Great Thinkers of 1931 Predict What 2011 Will Bring

The great thinkers of 1931 predicted 'aircars' for commuters in 2011.

ByABC News
January 3, 2011, 1:27 PM

Jan. 3, 2011— -- In 1931, the world's great thinkers were asked to predict what the future would hold in the year 2011. Some of their visions, printed in the New York Times, were eerily accurate, while others were off the mark.

Timothy Mack, the president of the World Future Society, looked back on the predictions from the 30s, and offered some predictions of his own for 80 years from now, in 2091.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.

"They were living in a much different world" than we are today, Mack said.

Focusing primarily on social change, the earlier thinkers were optimistic. "They looked at things like how people are going to be, how social change is going to occur," Mack said. But their other ideas -- particularly those about the future of technology, were without context.

Take transportation, for example. "They talk about 'aircars,' but without any real idea of how 'aircars' might be created or managed," Mack said.

Willis Whitney, who founded the research lab at General Electric, was the mind behind the "aircar," or more particularly, the "aircar hangar," which he thought would be attached to every "electrically heated, air conditioned home" by now. At the time, 35 percent of American homes were heated by wood.

The "aircar" idea of 1931 didn't quite take off. In his prediction for 2091, Mack skips flight all together, and says in another 80 years, technology will allow for a virtual mode of transportation, "through holographic means."

"People will go to each other without moving from wherever they are," Mack says.

Technological leaps will not only allow people to move faster, but to live longer, according to the predictions made generations apart.

Advances in medicine by 1931 prompted William J. Mayo, one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic, to write "contagious and infectious diseases have been largely overcome, and the average life of man has increased to 58 years."

Progress would suggest that "within the measure of this forecast the average lifetime of civilized man would be raised to the biblical term of three-score and ten," Mayo said. Three-score and ten, 70 years, is in reality less than today's average life expectancy of 78 in the United States.