BY WALDEMAR KAEMPFFERT
Reprint of article from Feb. 1950,
What will the world be like in A.D. 2000? You can read the answer in
your home, in the streets, in the trains and cars that carry you to your work,
in the bargain basement of every department store. You don't realize what is
happening because it is a piecemeal process. The jet-propelled plane is one
piece, the latest insect killer is another. Thousands of such pieces are
automatically dropping into their places to form the pattern of tomorrow's
The only obstacles to accurate
prophecy are the vested interests, which may retard progress for economic
reasons, tradition, conservatism, labor-union policies and legislation. If we
confine ourselves to processes and inventions that are now being hatched in the
laboratory, we shall not wander too far from reality.
best way of visualizing the new world of A.D. 2000 is to introduce you to the
Dobsons, who live in Tottenville, a hypothetical metropolitan suburb of 100,000.
There are parks and playgrounds and green open spaces not only around detached
houses but also around apartment houses. The heart of the town is the airport.
Surrounding it are business houses, factories and hotels. In concentric circles
beyond these lie the residential districts.
|In 2000, rocket passengers may arch
through space from New York to San Francsico in less than two
Tottenville is as clean as a
whistle and quiet. It is a crime to burn raw coal and pollute air with smoke and
soot. In the homes electricity is used to warm walls and to cook. Factories all
burn gas, which is generated in sealed mines. The tars are removed and sold to
the chemical industry for their values, and the gas thus laundered is piped to a
The highways that
radiate from Tottenville are much like those of today, except that they are
broader with hardly any curves. In some of the older cities, difficult to change
because of the immense investment in real estate and buildings, the highways are
double-decked. The upper deck is for fast nonstop traffic; the lower deck is
much like our avenues, with brightly illuminated shops. Beneath the lower deck
is the level reserved entirely for business vehicles.
illuminated by electric "suns" suspended from arms on steel towers 200 feet
high. There are also lamps which are just as bright and varicolored as those
that now dazzle us on every Main Street. But the process of generating the light
is more like that which occurs in the sun. Atoms are bombarded by electrons and
other minute projectiles, electrically excited in this way and made to glow.
plants are not driven by atomic power as you might suppose. It was known as
early as 1950 that an atomic power plant would have to be larger and much more
expensive than a fuel-burning plant to be efficient. Atomic power proves its
worth in Canada, South America and the Far East, but in tropical countries it
cannot compete with solar power. It is as hopeless in 2000 as it was in 1950 to
drive machinery directly by atomic energy. Engineers can do no more than utilize
the heat generated by converting uranium into plutonium. The heat is used to
drive engines, and the engines in turn drive electric generators. A good deal of
thorium is used because uranium 235 is scarce.
|Housewives in 50 years may wash
dirty dishes—right down the drain! Cheap plastic would melt in hot
Because of the heavy investment that has to be made in a uranium or
thorium power plant, the United States government began seriously to consider
the possibilities of solar radiation in 1949. Theoretically, 5000 horsepower in
terms of solar heat fall on an acre of the earth's surface every day.
Because they sprawl over large surfaces, solar
engines are profitable in 2000 only where land is cheap. They are found in
deserts that can be made to bloom again, and in tropical lands where there is
usually no coal or oil. Many farmhouses in the United States, are heated by
solar rays and some cooking is done by solar heat.
The first successful atomically driven liners began to run in 1970
after the U. S. Navy had carried on many expensive, large-scale secret
experiments. Outwardly the liners are not much different from the Queen Mary and
Queen Elizabeth, but they have much more cargo and passenger space because it is
no longer necessary to carry about 12,000 tons of fuel.
The metallurgical research that makes the gas
turbines in the power plants and in the trans-Atlantic liners possible has
influenced both civil engineering and architecture. Steel is used only for
cutting tools and for massive machinery. The light metals have largely displaced
it. Ways have been found to change the granular structure so that a metal is
ultrastrong in a desired direction and weaker in other directions. As a result,
the framework of an industrial or office building or apartment house is an
almost lacelike lattice.
Thanks to these alloys, to plastics and to other artificial materials,
houses differ from those of our own time. The Dobson house has light-metal walls
only four inches thick. There is a sheet of insulating material an inch or two
thick with a casing of sheet metal on both sides.
|Already available is electronic
stove which can prepare meal in 75 seconds. It may replace present
This Dobson air-conditioned house is not a prefabricated structure,
though all its parts are mass-produced. Metal, sheets of plastic and aerated
clay (clay filled with bubbles so that it resembles petrified sponge) are cut to
size on the spot. In the center of this eight-room house is a unit that contains
all the utilities—air-conditioning apparatus, plumbing, bathrooms, showers,
electric range, electric outlets. Around this central unit the house has been
pieced together. Some of it is poured plastic—the floors, for instance. By 2000,
wood, brick and stone are ruled out because they are too expensive.
It is a cheap house. With all its furnishings, Joe
Dobson paid only $5000 for it. Though it is galeproof and weatherproof, it is
built to last only about 25 years. Nobody in 2000 sees any sense in building a
house that will last a century.
Everything about the Dobson house is synthetic in the best chemical
sense of the term. When Joe Dobson awakens in the morning he uses a depilatory.
No soap or safety razor for him. It takes him no longer than a minute to apply
the chemical, wipe it off with the bristles and wash his face in plain
This Dobson house is not as highly
mechanized as you may suppose, chiefly because of the progress made by the
synthetic chemists. There are no dish-washing machines, for example, because
dishes are thrown away after they have been used once, or rather put into a sink
where they are dissolved by superheated water. Two dozen soluble plastic plates
cost a dollar. They dissolve at about 250 degrees Fahrenheit, so that
boiling-hot soup and stews can be served in them without inviting a catastrophe.
The plastics are derived from such inexpensive raw materials as cottonseed
hulls, oat hulls, Jerusalem artichokes, fruit pits, soy beans, bagasse, straw
and wood pulp.
When Jane Dobson cleans house she simply turns the hose on everything.
Why not? Furniture (upholstery included), rugs, draperies, unscratchable
floors—all are made of synthetic fabric or waterproof plastic. After the water
has run down a drain in the middle of the floor (later concealed by a rug of
synthetic fiber) Jane turns on a blast of hot air and dries everything. A
detergent in the water dissolves any resistant dirt. Tablecloths and napkins are
made of woven paper yarn so fine that the untutored eye mistakes it for linen.
Jane Dobson throws soiled "linen" in the incinerator. Bed sheets are of more
substantial stuff, but Jane Dobson has only to hang them up and wash them down
with a hose when she puts the bedroom in order.
|No more bouts with the razor for a
man of tomorrow. He'll whisk away whiskers with a chemical
Cooking as an art is only a
memory in the minds of old people. A few die-hards still broil a chicken or
roast a leg of lamb but the experts have developed ways of deep-freezing
partially baked cuts of meat. Even soup and milk are delivered in the form of
This expansion of the
frozen-food industry and the changing gastronomic habits of the nation have made
it necessary to install in every home the electronic industrial stove which came
out of World War II. Jane Dobson has one of these electronic stoves. In eight
seconds a half-grilled frozen steak is thawed; in two minutes more it is ready
to serve. It never takes Jane Dobson more than half an hour to prepare what
Tottenville considers an elaborate meal of several courses.
Some of the food
that Jane Dobson buys is what we miscall "synthetic." In the middle of the 20th
century statisticians were predicting that the world would starve to death
because the population was increasing more rapidly than the food supply. By
2000, a vast amount of research has be conducted to exploit principles that were
embryonic in the first quarter of the 20th century. Thus sawdust and wood pulp
are converted into sugary foods. Discarded paper table "linen" and rayon
underwear are bought by chemical factories to be converted into candy.
course the Dobsons have a television set. But it is connected with the
telephones as well as with the radio receiver, so that when Joe Dobson and a
friend in a distant city talk over the telephone they also see each other.
Businessmen have television conferences. Each man is surrounded by half a dozen
television screens on which he sees those taking part in the discussion.
Documents are held up for examination; samples of goods are displayed. In fact,
Jane Dobson does much of her shopping by television. Department stores
obligingly hold up for her inspection bolts of fabric or show her new styles of
|Inches-deep lake on roof already
cools Southern homes and may become important air-conditioning
Automatic electronic inventions
that seem to have something like intelligence integrate industrial production so
that all the machines in a factory work as units in what is actually a single,
colossal organism. In the Orwell Helicopter Corporation's plant only a few
trouble shooters are visible, and these respond to lights that flare up on a
board whenever a vacuum tube burns out or there is a short circuit. By holes
punched in a roll of paper, every operation necessary to produce a helicopter is
indicated. The punched roll is fed into a machine that virtually gives orders to
all the other machines in the plant. The holes in the paper indicate exactly how
long a reamer is to smooth the inside of a cylinder, just when a stamping
machine is to pass a sheet of aluminum along to its neighbor with orders to
punch 22 holes in indicated places. There are mechanical wrenches that
obediently turn nuts on bolts and stop all by themselves when the bolts are in
place, shears that know exactly where to cut a sheet of metal for a perfect fit.
Every operation in the plant is electronically and automatically controlled.
the more remarkable electronic machines of 2000 is a development of one on which
hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent in the middle years of the 20th
century by Dr. Vladimir Zworykin and Dr. John von Neumann. The purpose of this
improved Zworykin-Von Neumann automaton is to predict the weather with an
accuracy unattainable before 1980. It is a combination of calculating machine
and forecaster. The calculator solves thousands of separate equations in a
minute; the automatic forecaster carries out the computer's instructions and
predicts the weather from hour to hour. In 1950, meteorologists had no time to
deal with the 50-odd variables that should have been mathematically handled to
predict the weather 24 hours in advance.
|Because everything in her home is
waterproof, the housewife of 2000 can do her daily cleaning with a
Following suggestions made by Zworykin and Von Neumann storms are more
or less under control. It is easy enough to spot a budding hurricane in the
doldrums off the coast of Africa. Before it has a chance to gather much strength
and speed as it travels westward toward Florida, oil is spread over the sea and
ignited. There is an updraft. Air from the surrounding region, which includes
the developing hurricane, rushes in to fill the void. The rising air condenses
so that some of the water in the whirling mass falls as rain.
With storms diverted where they do no harm, aerial
travel is never interrupted. And the Dobsons, like everybody else Tottenville,
travel much more than we in 1950—that is, to foreign countries.
By 2000, supersonic planes cover a thousand miles an
hour, but the consumption of fuel is such that high fares have to be charged. In
one of these supersonic planes the Atlantic is crossed in three hours. Nobody
has yet circumnavigated the moon in a rocket space ship, but the idea is not
Corporation presidents, bankers, ambassadors and rich people in a
hurry use the 1000-mile-an-hour rocket planes and think nothing of paying a fare
of $5000 between Chicago and Paris. The Dobsons take the cheaper jet
|Forecast of home of tomorrow? This
house was built in few days by pouring concrete into standard
This extension of aerial
transportation has had the effect of distributing the population. People find it
more satisfactory to live in a suburb like Tottenville, if suburb it can be
called, than in a metropolis like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Cities have
grown into regions, and it is sometimes hard to tell where one city ends and
another begins. Instead of driving from Tottenville to California in their
car—teardrop in shape and driven from the rear by a high-compression engine that
burns cheap denatured alcohol—the Dobsons use the family helicopter, which is
kept on the roof. The car is used chiefly for shopping and for journeys of not
more than 20 miles.
The railways are just
as necessary in 2000 as they are in 1950. They haul chiefly freight too heavy or
too bulky for air cargo carriers. Passenger travel by rail is a mere trickle.
Even commuters go to the city, a hundred miles away, in huge aerial busses that
hold 200 passengers. Hundreds of thousands make such journeys twice a day in
their own helicopters.
Fast jet and
rocket-propelled mail planes made it so hard for telegraph companies all over
the world to compete with the postal service that dormant facsimile-transmission
systems had to be revived. It takes no more than a minute to transmit and
receive in facsimile a five-page letter on paper of the usual business size.
Cost? Five cents. In Tottenville the clerks in telegraph offices no longer print
out illegible words. Everything is transmitted by phototelegraphy exactly as it
is written—illegible spelling, blots, smudges and all. Mistakes are the
sender's, never the telegraph company's.
the Dobsons are sick they go to the doctor, in a hospital, where he has only to
push a button to command all the assistance he needs.
|Proton microscope under construction
in France probably will magnify objects up to one million
In the middle of the 20th century, doctors talked
much of such antibiotics as penicillin, streptomycin, aureomycin and about 50
others that had been extracted from soil and other molds. It was the beginning
of what was even then known as chemotherapy—cure by chemical means. By 2000,
physicians have several hundred of these chemical agents or antibiotics at their
command. Tuberculosis in all of its forms is cured as easily as pneumonia was
cured at mid-century.
It no longer is necessary in 2000 to administer the
purified extracts of molds to cope with bacterial infections. The antibiotics
are all synthesized in chemical factories. It is possible to modify their
molecular structure, so that they acquire new and useful properties.
Even in 1950 physicians did not know exactly how a
piece of beefsteak is converted by the body into muscle and energy—the process
technically known as metabolism. The physician of 2000 knows just what diet is
best for a patient. This knowledge, coupled with his knowledge of hormones,
enables him to treat old age as a degenerative disease. Men and women of 70 in
A.D. 2000 look as if they were 40. Wrinkles, sagging cheeks, leathery skins are
curiosities or signs of neglect. The span of life has been lengthened to
In 1950 little was known about a
virus beyond the fact that it could slip through a filter so fine that it would
hold back any microorganism visible in the optical microscope. The electron
microscope, which magnifies from 30,000 to 100,000 times and which substitutes a
beam of electrons for a beam of light, has changed all this. In the viruses,
little bodies have been detected with this instrument. They are virtually
protein molecules. By tying together what chemists have discovered about the
structure of protein and what the pathologists see in the electron microscope,
such virus diseases as influenza, the common cold, poliomyelitis and a dozen
others are cured with ease.
Even in the
20th century hospitals were packed with instruments and machines. The hospitals
of 2000 have even more. Instead of taking electrocardiographs, doctors place
heart patients in front of a fluoroscopic screen, turn on the X-rays and then,
with the aid of a photoelectric cell, examine every section of the
Cancer is not yet curable in 2000.
But physicians optimistically predict that the time is not far off when it will
The nervous diseases are linked up with electrochemical processes in
2000 in a way that is impossible in our time. Such afflictions as multiple
sclerosis or palsy are no longer regarded as incurable. There are
electrochemical methods of stimulating and reactivating nerves, so that victims
of Parkinson's disease are no longer objects of pity. But these sufferers from
damaged or degenerate nerves are somewhat like our diabetics who must take
insulin regularly to remain alive. A little battery-driven apparatus must be
carried in the pocket to provide the stimulus the nerves need.
|Huge aluminum girder is swung about
with ease. Even today light metals replace steel in some
Any marked departure from what Joe Dobson and his
fellow citizens wear and eat and how they amuse themselves will arouse comment.
If old Mrs. Underwood, who lives around the corner from the Dobsons and who was
born in 1920 insists on sleeping under an old-fashioned comforter instead of an
aerogel blanket of glass puffed with air so that it is as light as thistledown
she must expect people to talk about her "queerness." It is astonishing how
easily the great majority of us fall into step with our neighbors. And after
all, is the standardization of life to be deplored if we can have a house like
Joe Dobson's, a standardized helicopter, luxurious standardized household
appointments, and food that was out of the reach of any Roman