I GUESS YOU GUYS AREN’T READY FOR THAT YET, BUT YOUR KIDS ARE GONNA LOVE IT Today is my parents’ 63rd wedding anniversary, and if all goes to plan, they will soon get the Christmas present the family planned but could not deliver on time – a big 4K LCD television they can shout at from the sofa to change the channel. In 1958 they would not have dreamed voice control like that would be possible, and colour televisions were still years away from being widely adopted. They were married in a pretty church in leafy Ewell in the south of England, and jived to Elvis and Chuck Berry at their reception, all of which was recorded in a black-and-white photo album shot on roll film. Some 40-odd years later, film became obsolete, and wedding party dancing would be shot on a pocket telephone. Battery Wars: is Japan about to beat China in race for the energy game changer of the decade? We read in magazines fantastic futuristic ideas of what lies ahead for us, and I was wondering what the futurists of the late 1950s were predicting for my newlywed parents, such as flat-screen televisions or digital pictures, and how accurate were they? I came across a few things that raised my eyebrows. ROADS? WHERE WE’RE GOING, WE DON’T NEED ROADS In 1954, General Electric predicted flat screen televisions would be hung on walls by the mid-1960s, but they remained big, bulbous beasts for the next 30 years. I first saw a colour flat-screen television in Tokyo’s Akihabara in 1986 for about 5 million yen – US$30,000 back then. Of course now they are as big as your living room can handle, and sell for a few hundred dollars. A flying car, or rather a quadcopter looking like the Ehang Chinese flying taxi concept, was splashed on the cover of Popular Mechanics in 1957 – which saw it arriving within 10 years. It turned out that making cars fly was a lot more complicated than using four ducted fans, but the problem was solved with the arrival of consumer drones. A pneumatic underground train – basically Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop” – was foreseen by General Electric in 1957, suggesting that speeds of up to 5,000 miles per hour (8,000km/h) in a pipe would be possible, putting the East and West Coast of the United States within an hour of each other. The test versions are out there and they work, with someone surviving the 100 miles per hour (160km/h) barrier on the Virgin Hyperloop in November. Make Hong Kong Great Again? With some creative planning, it’s possible While my parents were buying their first fridge and a gas stove, futurist kitchen designers forecast infrared radiation ovens (cooking by microwaves had been predicted in 1938), magnetic induction stoves and cabinet integrated refrigerators. All of these ended up being commonplace; I exploded my first egg in a microwave in the mid-1980s. According to the 1950s futurists, by the year 2000 you would do your food shopping interactively through a television and no longer need to go to one of the newfangled supermarkets. It was a fairly accurate prediction, with grocery shopping over the internet doable from around 1997. In the same 1959 issue of Popular Mechanics that posed the question “Should You Buy A Foreign Car?”, the futurists speculated that man would land on the moon by 1964. They reckoned that the first men on the moon would likely be Russians crammed in a tiny pod, and the US didn’t seem keen to go there. WHEN THIS BABY HITS 88 MILES PER HOUR … For a bit of New Year fun, let’s take a guess at what happens with these technologie s in the next 10 years, and perhaps look a bit further out. I went through this exercise in 2017 when I designed an index of stocks in eight key industries for the future, and I think much of the research I did back then is still valid. Dubbed “The Future Eight Index”, the name refers to advanced technologies being developed in eight industries globally: energy, computing, finance, medical, manufacturing, agriculture, travel and space . It was launched as a fund in Japan, similar to an exchange-traded fund. The most immediate change that will make flying cars a reality within the next 10 years is solid-state battery technology coming out of Japan and China. Flight systems to control the ducted motors used in quadcopters were missing from the 1950s concepts, but are common today. GPS-type positioning and low-altitude traffic control are currently taking major leaps forward, which will make these flying cars safe. However, at what point we will feel safe climbing into one is quite another matter! It’s time Hong Kong got a US sanctions-busting stock index Vacuum tubes containing transport pods will be with us in the near term, though I believe it will be more than a decade before we’ll be travelling any great distance. The near-resistance-free vacuum tube technology is interesting, but, like riding on the mostly subterranean maglev train between Tokyo and Nagoya when it is completed some time after 2027, it will be quite unpleasant and I doubt will ever be a commercial success. The Japanese will get about 310 miles per hour (498km/h) max out of the finished line to Osaka in 2037 – old hat, if you ask the Germans – and the Hyperloop record is about 290 miles per hour (466km/h) currently. Not sure I buy into this tube idea, Hyperloops are just monorails all over again. Development in the television realm will quickly lead us into variations of accessible virtual reality beyond the home. We will end up experiencing something like the Holodeck on Star Trek – a room that recreates an environment. These already exist, albeit in a primitive form. I came across one in a cavernous restaurant outside Nagoya last year, where forest scenes depicting the four seasons were projected on the walls and floor of the room. They were even interactive, so diners could dip their toes in virtual ponds, creating ripples and making the fish swim away – a welcome distraction from the dubious fried chicken being served. NOBODY CALLS ME CHICKEN That pot roast on the television shop in the 1950s will appear as lab-grown meat on internet shops in the very near future, and I would suggest that the meat-eating population of 2080 will look back and consider it barbaric of us in the 2020s to chop up real live moo cows or happy chickens. It was suggested in 1959 that the Americans would go to the moon, but do it in style on a space liner with all the creature comforts, including showers to wash off the moon dust, launching from a space station orbiting the Earth. Of course, that prediction was wildly wrong, but the concept does not differ too much from what is being proposed these days: the Lunar Gateway, orbiting the moon, to launch journeys to Mars. I AM AN EXTRATERRESTRIAL FROM THE PLANET VULCAN Predictions from futurists have wildly missed their timing, but the ideas have generally come true, such as delivering newspapers electronically (predicted in 1938), remote-controlled homes (1939) or cars protected from collisions by radar (1966). Well, there have been exceptions, such as clothing made of asbestos (1929). I think the real surprises over the next decade that will excite futurists will come in aerospace technologies – the return of commercial supersonic flight and space exploration. We have seen private companies, rather than just governments, develop technologies that will impact life on and off the planet. On the near-term horizon is accessible space tourism, blindingly fast global data communication and advances in AI and robotics. With China, India and Israel in the past two years sending spacecraft to the moon, the space race is heating up too. Who knows, they’ll be putting a man on the moon before we know it!