A 1950s Vision: Autonomous Vehicles

February 4, 2020

Autonomous vehicle depicted in the 1970s, from the vantage point of the 1950s.

8 minutes long – the autonomous part starts about 2. Hopefully a reminder of our poor, pathetic, powers of prognostication.

10 Responses to “A 1950s Vision: Autonomous Vehicles”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Loved the use of the slot cars around 6:30+. A 1960’s fad that was a of of fun.

  2. jimbills Says:

    We’re always leaping way ahead when we try to imagine how lives will be different in 20+ years.
    There are countless examples, but one of my favorites is the show Space:1999 from the 1970s. I also like Blade Runner’s timing.

    This is a really dark but humorous parody of our tendency to overinflate our technological expectations:

    That video itself is now nearing two decades in age.

    Speaking of prognostication, and regarding peak oil, an interesting article today:
    Government Agency Warns Global Oil Industry Is on the Brink of a Meltdown
    https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8848g5/government-agency-warns-global-oil-industry-is-on-the-brink-of-a-meltdown

  3. redskylite Says:

    Not all prognostication was so off the mark. When I first started working on computers in 1968 they were huge clunky beasts using ferrite rings, paper cards, paper tape, and oceans of magnetic tape, (no valves, but only just) and the technology now looks like something Dan Dare would have used. . Now 50 years on – the sleek notebook in front of me has vastly more storage and power.

    Who saw that coming ?

    In 1974 Arthur C. Clarke told the ABC that every household in 2001 will have a computer and be connected all over the world.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      In 1974 Arthur C. Clarke told the ABC that every household in 2001 will have a computer and be connected all over the world.

      And many predicted the dystopian aspects of corporate control and political isolation.

  4. gmrmt Says:

    We won’t get singing until at least autonomy level four.

  5. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    The 1972 book, Limits to Growth’, which I was too cheep to buy, ‘prognosticated’ the collapse of civilization later this century. It was based on extrapolation that one or more of 5 factors would pass the point of unsustainable ability. New Scientist did a 40 year review and found the extrapolation of 4 factors were very accurate, a very impressive result. What do ya think of that timeline for collapse?

    • jimbills Says:

      Hi Brent – that’s an important question that deserves a lengthy reply, but I’m currently ‘limited’ on time. I read both it and its update that came out in the early 2000s.

      Short version:

      The criticisms that a computer model from the early 1970s could accurately estimate global resource stocks and pollution levels is rightfully questionable. There’s also a strong reason to believe the authors underestimated the market’s ability to extract ever more resources with newer technologies (however, that gets into an EROEI dilemma).

      Additionally, a 1970s prediction that collapse would happen in the 2070s is a bit too coincidental for my tastes.

      But – the models have been roughly accurate to now, and the strong backlash against the book was almost certainly due to many people’s (and industry’s) outright and unthinking rejection that growth should ever be limited. It would be foolish to dismiss the findings of LtG completely – as the world has done for the last 50 years.

      The book didn’t account for climate change, rapid loss of biodiversity, and some other issues as well.

      My own opinion is that it’s just wrong to think there aren’t real physical limits to how much we can expand our presence and economies on this planet. As a society, we are rejecting that idea with fervor, however. As a result, I do expect an environmental collapse at some point, as well as a population decline (from higher death rates more than lower birth rates), but I also expect a debt crash in our economies to precede that event (and one not entirely divorced from resource issues). How large these events will be is uncertain, but it’s logical to say that how much we work to lessen them before they happen will have an impact.

      The world will call me crazy for believing that, but I’ll still to my guns and say the world is the crazy one.

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Regret not reading it, and the New Scientist article was lost in the read later sedimentary pile. The main criticism, almost all of it, as you alluded to, was resource availability. Fell in a heap quickly. The others included population and pollution (??). A 40 year hit on the predictions is still repressive. Will see what we see of course.
        Then there is Jarrod Diamond’s book Collapse which I did read. The scenario of a society reaches the ‘normal’ limit of resources. A good period of ‘weather’ enables it to exceed the local carrying capacity. Then a ‘period’ of bad weather causes a cascading collapse to well below the normal limit. Can fit that scenario onto our world so easily.
        Once more unto the breach dear friends.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        JB does love to overintellectualize—what he says is mostly correct, though. I read The Limits to Growth when it came out, along with all the “old” stuff from the likes of Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Paul Ehrlich, Garret Hardin, Rene Dubos, James Lovelock, and Amory Lovins. They were all pointing in the right direction, even if some of their specifics and timelines were off the mark a bit. We ARE headed for disasters population-wise, resource-wise, climate wise, and pollution-wise, and civilization-wise. And it will all happen in the blink of an eye in terms of geologic time, the only time that the Earth operates on.

  6. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I recommend watching at 1.5x speed.


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