Most visions of the future that extend beyond a few years are tragically wrong. This means that we ignore the novelty of high-speed internet access and smartphones, wishing instead for all the cooler stuff we were promised, like flying cars, personal-use jetpacks, and talking robot maids. While most technological predictions from the past gave us little more than broken hearts, a TV segment from a 1989 This Old House episode purporting to demonstrate the “home of the future” managed to set surprisingly realistic expectations.
The clip shows host Steve Thomas taking in a tour of a house decked out with sci-fi tech like... a flatscreen HDTV and a robotic assistant that can control lights, close blinds, and put on music with voice commands. The TV doesn’t look all that different from what we have now, but the most impressive prediction is the segment’s Alexa-style panopticon buddy.
A “technical specialist” named Dennis Arseneau summons “the voice of our computer” and demonstrates how it can automatically enter “evening party” or “privacy mode” when asked. “I hope she doesn’t call the police on us, too,” Thomas says before Arseneau shows off how it can do just that. (We watched the rest of the clip’s few seconds in suspense, waiting for a late ‘80s example of swatting to drastically alter the segment’s light-hearted tone.)
It’s impressive that the episode displayed so much now-familiar technology, but we’re also struck by just how optimistic it is about how helpful and pleasant our lives would be with these tools to help us. A fully rounded prediction of the future might’ve included the accompanying phenomenon of smart home devices that are dumb as shit or the myriad other breakthroughs that have given us everything from screaming dental school robots and asshole anti-homeless machines to pocket computers covered in synthetic human skin.
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