Predictions from 1964 World's Fair: Way off or on the money?

By Michael McEnaney, Tech Times | April 14, 5:53 PM

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Looking back at the 1964 World's Fair

As we look back on 50 years, how accurate were organizers of the 1964 World's Fair when it comes to the future of consumer tech?
(Photo : Flickr)

All right, so we aren't exactly jetting around in flying cars à la the Jetsons or having robot maids clean our homes (though we're getting close on that one), but the 1964 World's Fair held in Queens, New York, did offer a peek into the future for attendees that wasn't altogether inaccurate.

The 51 million visitors that packed Corona Park and the surrounding area 50 years ago were treated to a range of future technological innovations, predictions and futuristic exhibits that were, in some instances, very accurate and, in others ... well, not so much.

At a Bell Systems exhibit, visitors were wowed by a "picturephone" that dialed the intended receiver of the call and allowed the caller to actually see who they were talking to. Pretty heady stuff for the early '60s, but old hat by today's standards as video chat via Skype and Facetime, among other means, has become standard fare in the communications world.

While the entire notion of home computers was years away, the '64 World's Fair offered several pavilions that demonstrated how computers would someday be able to provide instant information. At least one visitor recalls being wowed by that kind of intelligent computing power.

"It was dazzling, really, to recall that a computer could answer questions that were fed into it and provide very specific information on a given topic that we chose right there at fair," recalled Linda Conklin, who attended the fair as a wide-eyed 14-year old. "Today, [if] I need an instant answer for something I Google it and I'm even asking my smartphone questions and an actual voice tells me the answers. The pace of tech is insane and I did remember that glimpse of it we were given back in 1964."

Where did they swing and miss? Well, predicted space travel certainly hasn't panned out as a General Motors-sponsored exhibit touted eventual colonization by humans on the moon and also demonstrated the possibility of underwater dwellings here on earth. We're not there on either front just yet.

We haven't exactly nailed the jetpack technology that dominated the  event, either, though if you YouTube "jetpack mishaps" you'll discover we are certainly giving the tech our all, even if the results have been a bit spotty.

Little did the Walt Disney people know that the theme song they provided for the event, "It's a Small World" would become, 50 years later, such an accurate analysis of what today's technology has truly done -- make the world a much smaller place by allowing all of us to instantly communicate a message with anyone, anywhere, and at any time.

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