In 1988, the LA Times asked 30 futurologists what life would be like 25 years in the future. So how accurate were their ideas?
What they got right
The article's most strikingly accurate prediction is its description of satnavs: "Autos will … come equipped with electronic navigation or map systems," Yorkin writes. "Once the driver programmes a destination, the system will pick the fastest route, taking into account traffic information, then give the driver the estimated time of arrival, continually plotting the car's position on a map."
Teleconferencing and Skype-style video calls are the norm in the article's 2013 – although strangely each Skype call doesn't start "Have you turned the camera on? I can't quite hear you" – and teleconferencing involves a Star Wars-like 3D hologram.
But Yorkin is almost spot on about email and the internet: electronic mail allows Alma Morrow to "send and receive messages, graphics, illustrations and animated figures over her computer screen", while later her mother-in-law conducts "video-banking" using "the Integrated Services Digital Network, which allows the same cables to simultaneously transmit diverse types of information – voice, data and video".
And her future newspaper is a personalised product featuring only the stories that interest her, which is pretty similar to the Guardian's mobile app with its sections hand-picked by each reader. Yorkin's version, however, is "printed by laser-jet printer off the home computer", which feels pretty stone age today. Mobile phones are notable by their absence, although the Morrows' son Zach has a "personalised portable computer" the size of a credit card.
What they got wrong
Yorkin's article avoids the temptations of flying cars and commuter space travel, but it trips up when it comes to robots. Each year we're told that robotic helpmeets are just around the corner, but sadly specimens such as the Morrows' slightly unreliable robotic manservant Billy Rae, who cooks, cleans, does the washing and makes the bed, haven't materialised.
"Convenience robots that can perform a variety of household tasks may start hitting the marketplace by the late 1990s," an expert predicts in the article, while at one point Bill Morrow calls the fridge to ask what it's low on and tells it to have any missing items delivered to the house. Similarly in the morning the house "turns itself on, as it has every morning since the family had it retrofitted with the Smart House system of wiring five years ago" – although disappointingly this turns out to mean turning the heating and hot water on, which my house can do, and starting up the coffee machine and oven by themselves – surely a disaster waiting to happen.
Perhaps taking a lead from these robotic slaves, there's a slightly dystopian edge to some of the rules and regulations in the future 2013 – residents are ordered to leave for work in the morning at staggered times, and 20 minutes' exercise a day is mandatory during work time.
But most interesting is the fact that the article reflects the panic of the late 80s and early 90s about the idea that Japan could soon overtake the US as the world's No 1 nation – something that can be seen in Michael Crichton's 1992 novel Rising Sun, for example. Bill's boss, who arrives by supersonic jet, is Japanese, and Bill is constantly on the phone to colleagues in Tokyo, which is named (correctly) as one of the world's top financial centres and described as much more congested than LA.
But past predictions of the future always include the fears of the present. A 1967 US News and World Report article called "The Wondrous World of 1990" included bodypaint that could protect against radioactivity, while in 1987, with the cold war still dragging grimly on, science fiction writer Frederik Pohl predicted that by 2012 we would see a "world without weaponry" run by the UN. All those references to Japan in the LA Times piece would surely be about China if the paper ran a similar article today.