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In collaboration with Retro Report

Future of Home

Technology is transforming homes all over the world. In some places, cheap devices are powering and connecting homes long left off the grid. In others, newly automated and networked machines are reinventing convenience—but at what cost to privacy and human connection?

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Retro Report
Future of Home

Where We Thought We’d Be

We can’t predict the future, but we can learn from the past. Here are some experts who thought they got it right—but were often hilariously wrong.

  • 1911 (for 2011)
    Labourers weld steel bars at a construction site in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China.

    Uncomfortable furniture

    Thomas Edison believed steel was the material of the future. “The baby of the twenty-first century will be rocked in a steel cradle,” he wrote in the Miami Metropolis. “His father will sit in a steel chair at a steel dining table, and his mother's boudoir will be sumptuously equipped with steel furnishings, converted by cunning varnishes to the semblance of rosewood, or mahogany, or any other wood her ladyship fancies.”

  • 1971 (for 2381)
    A poor residential district and squatter colonies are overlooked by high rise residential and commercial buildings in Taguig, Metro Manila.

    Sardine cans

    In Robert Silverberg’s science fiction novel The World Inside, war, starvation, crime, and birth control have all been eliminated. To house the planet’s therefore booming population of 75 billion people, communal living en masse has become the norm. One family of eight might share about 1,000 “airy” square feet, outfitted with a deflatable sleeping platform and retractable cots for children.

  • 1972 (for 2000)

    Commune karma

    With “long-haired culture” on the rise, a group of interior-design experts anticipated that group living situations would become the standard. Think communal dormitories and kitchens, child-care stations, and—because hippies love “floor sitting” so much—a large carpeted room for “meetings, recreation, group therapy, and the like.”

  • 1980
    Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees mops floors of a school.

    Never mop again

    Oregon resident Frances Gabe was the inventor of the “self-sluicing house,” which could wash, rinse, and dry itself like a colossal dishwasher. She believed that this cleaning innovation had the power to change the future for women forever. “You can talk all you like about women’s liberation, but houses are still designed so women have to spend half their time on their knees or hanging their head in a hole,” Gabe told the Baltimore Sun in 1981.

  • 1999

    Panic button

    In the Disney Channel’s made-for-TV movie Smart House, a family home powered by an AI called “Pat” (Personal Applied Technology) goes horribly awry. Like many Internet of Things devices today, Pat anticipated her inhabitants’ needs, from thermostat control to “synthetic fresh air and virtual exercise.” Eventually, the computer takes a HAL 9000-esque turn and locks the family in the house.