What Happens Next
From a roboticist to a legendary science-fiction author, these five futurists lay out their visions for the homes of tomorrow.
Ian PearsonFounder of Futurizon
In the future, moving houses will be just a matter of uploading and downloading furniture
Alexandria LafciCo-founder of New Story
We’ll soon co-live in apartments in much the same way we co-work
Bruce SterlingScience-fiction author
The smart home is a 21st-century response to the abject failures of 20th-century living
Cynthia BreazealDirector of the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab
Social robots will become family members in the homes of the future
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)
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)
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)
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.”
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.
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.
More from What Happens Next
Future of Aging
By 2020, people over age 65 will outnumber children under age 5. Humanity faces an urgent question on an unprecedented scale: How do we care for an aging population who can’t work, and harness the contributions of those who can?
Future of College
While the internet has made online learning virtually free, the price of traditional teaching is still soaring. When the job market is transforming more quickly each year, how can we reinvent education to keep up?
Future of Water
The world’s supply of cheap and clean water will likely plummet as the climate warms and populations boom. Can we find ways to conserve, cut waste, and find new sources before it’s too late?
Future of Gaming
With revenues topping $100 billion a year, the video game industry is poised to be this century’s dominant form of entertainment. As games become more addictive and expensive to play, how will they transform our social relationships as well as our leisure time?
Future of Work
If automation continues at its current pace, 400 million workers around the globe will be displaced by 2030. In spite of the vast economic effects these changes will bring, will we seize the opportunity to reconceive the very meaning of work?
Future of Food
As global climate change worsens and the population expands, humanity must produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in the past 10,000. Are lab-made meat and automation the key to farming in the future, or must we tend to the soil we already have?
Future of Cities
By 2050, nearly 10 billion people will share our planet. As mega-cities rise and technology reshapes the urban landscape, how will these changes affect the vast majority of the world’s poor?
Future of Money
Anarchy reigns supreme in the future of finance, decentralizing the power of banks and, in some cases, the state. But will cryptocurrencies and the blockchains that underlie them solve our financial woes, or only worsen existing inequalities?
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?