In 1989, The Daily Telegraph asked a group of futurologists to predict what the unimaginably distant year of 2010 would look like, and asked me to write up the findings. This year, as the months ticked by, I waited for validation of one of the prophecies: namely, that lunar landings would become so commonplace that the Duchess would become the first member of the Royal family to visit outer space. Alas, it was not to be. Still, the experts did claim that America would have a black president – so thank you, Barack Obama, for sparing their blushes in the nick of time.
Aside from the forecast that Britain would be back in the space race, courtesy of Russia giving us a piggyback ride to Mars, most of the predictions by Applied Futures, a consultancy specialising in long-term strategic planning, were rather more serious than whimsical: there were some big misses, some near misses and a fair sprinkling of accurate forecasts. But they all offer food for thought, not to mention casting an intriguing light on the late-Eighties mentality.
The team, led by Christine McNulty, had few reservations in predicting a greater focus on shopping, partly because the signposts were already well illuminated. Shopping by TV, with the help of cash-dispenser-type ordering terminals and delivery within 24 hours from automated warehouses controlled by robots, would take the drudgery out of proceedings. People would be healthier and live longer, through advances in medicine and science – although predictions that Aids would be a thing of the past were premature.
The experts made a modest attempt to predict changes in social behaviour. By now, marriage should be almost old-fashioned and there should be fewer divorces. Why? The evolution of the "seven-year itch" – a partnership or marriage contract renewable or abandoned every seven years.
Overall, McNulty acknowledges that the team were perhaps too optimistic. "We thought we were doing pretty well for the first 15 years. There were things we missed – the financial crisis, the internet and wars – that have had a huge effect on the economy and budgets. We also missed global warming, but we still got many things rights. I think that on a score basis we did better than 50 per cent." And the trips to the Moon? "Nasa had to cut its budgets."
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