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In collaboration with Retro Report

Future of Fact

Online manipulation and immersive media have begun to eradicate our shared notion of authenticity and trust. How will society change when we can no longer believe what we see, hear, or think?

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Retro Report
Future of Fact

Where We Thought We’d Be

Hindsight is always 20/20. Here are some predictions that got the future right—or spectacularly wrong.

  • 1886
    A coal miner worker shakes hands with US president Donald Trump.

    The everyman

    Investigative journalism pioneer W. T. Stead thought journalists didn’t spend enough time talking to real people, such as Naval officers, soldiers, and “the bellman.” The effect of this, he posited, would be a loss of faith from readers, and an inability to accurately reflect the news.

  • 1908
    A polygraph machine.

    Liar liar

    Psychologist Hugo Münsterberg predicted that lie detectors would become “for the student of crime what the microscope is for the student of disease.” These early technologies often used stopwatch-style chronoscopes as a way to judge how long alleged criminals took to respond to questions. Facts could be winnowed out by biotechnology, the theory went, revealing “the hidden feeling” inside.

  • 1931

    The evolution of empathy

    Columbia Journalism School dean Carl Ackerman believed that journalism would help “stabilize the lives of men and women” by humanizing them to one another. This in turn would prevent riots, wars, and bloodshed. As people struggled to come to grips with the growing complexities of government and industry, he told his students it would be journalists who would explain this rapidly developing world to the masses.

  • 1943

    Dial N for News

    At a British science conference, novelist H. G. Wells foresaw a future in which newspapers and textbooks were relegated to the scrapheap. “The newspaper is as dead as mutton,” he said. Instead, he believed people would ring a news hotline to listen to “a summary of what has been happening in the last two or three hours.”

  • 1990

    PhotoShopped

    “You can’t always believe your own eyes,” said an editorial in tech magazine InfoWorld. High-tech editing software (such as the early edition of Adobe PhotoShop) had gone mainstream, and now anyone had the power to make their photo a little more dramatic, pleasing—or totally fake. They hoped users would pay close attention to whatever they were looking at, “otherwise, we may never be able to trust a photograph again.”