Once in a blue moon, a decades-old piece of media that seems to have predicted the future with unnerving accuracy is unearthed. Unexpectedly, the most prominent oracle of our time is probably The Simpsons – seriously, it’s eerie how much the show has got right.
Now, a new contender for the "most accurate predictions of the future" award has entered the limelight, in the form of a 1997 edition of Wired magazine. In its article, The Long Boom: A History of the Future, 1980-2020, the magazine predicts 10 things we should be worried about for the 21st century, listing everything from geopolitical tensions to technologies that impact the economy and an "uncontrollable plague". Pretty much everyone will agree they got a remarkable amount right. See for yourself in the tweet below, which was taken from an archive of the issue.
Some of these things are relatively obvious. During the 1990s, a number of geopolitical events resulted in a complex relationship between China and the US, and while the prediction of a Cold War isn’t true (at least, yet), tensions between the two superpowers were expected. However, one prediction they hit with uncanny accuracy is the "modern-day influenza". An unknown disease causing a global crisis was scarcely considered in 1997, but something the World Health Organization has been warning about for years prior to 2020. This was an extreme prediction, but with the official COVID-19 death toll at 5.16 million and the actual number likely larger, the world certainly received a devastating pandemic.
There's also an argument for the "cultural backlash that stops progress dead" prediction. In a post-truth world, where "fake news", misinformation, and gaslighting are touted by the most powerful people in the world, not even the most advanced scientific knowledge in history has managed to prevent thousands of people from dying because they refuse to accept the advice of experts.
It also predicted climate change, a global ecological crisis that scientists around the world are struggling to bring to the attention of lawmakers. And it is indeed affecting global food supply – an IPCC report found that one-third of the global food supply will be at risk by the end of the century if the climate continues to spiral as a result of human interference.
Air pollution is also a major contributor of disease worldwide, and plays a role in the onset of lung cancer. It is estimated that in 2017, around 265,000 lung cancer deaths were directly attributable to pollution, making up approximately 14 percent of all lung cancer deaths. While air pollution isn’t the only thing driving up cancer diagnoses – diet and improved diagnostics all sway global cancer rates – Wired were certainly correct to a degree.
That isn’t to say it got everything right. While open to interpretation, there is certainly an argument to be had that technology has impacted almost every production system possible, and has brought significant economical boosts along with it. Genetically modified crops have boosted crop yield and survival, automation has improved mass production to levels unreachable by humans, and almost every single individual, household, and business carry a computer around in their pockets. In fact, the global information technology industry was worth around $5.2 trillion in 2020 – hardly insignificant to the economy.