Published January 17, 2009
The future ain't what it used to be.
Ten years ago, futurists — professional prognosticators — were imagining how the first decade of the 21st century would change the lives of people around the world: what we'd eat, drink and how we'd spend our time.
Would we have robots in our homes to improve our quality of life? Would we engineer computers to become part of our clothing? Would we finally have human clones?
Futurists warn us that their predictions aren't meant to be absolute truth; they are "portraits of possible futures based on trends that we're able to see right now, but we don’t forecast an absolute future," explained Patrick Tucker, senior editor of The Futurist magazine. "The future isn't a destination like St. Louis. It changes every day."
FOXNews.com took a look back at five predictions for the first decade of the 21st century that were made just before the millennium turned.
We wanted to see what was bunk, and what really has changed the way Americans live today, for better or for worse.
1. Internet Everywhere
In 2009, the Internet is everywhere, and so are the devices we use to access it.
Ten years ago, when laptops were still a novelty and the "smartphone" was mostly science fiction, the IT industry foresaw the rise of mobile computing that eventually led to innovations such as the iPhone and "netbooks," cheap mini-laptops made for surfing the web.
"The word 'mobile computing' will have a different meaning by 2009. By then, we will have computers that can be worn and give users the ability to get information and interact over the Internet anytime and anywhere," Tim Bajarin, president of IT consulting firm Creative Strategies, told Asia Computer Weekly at the turn of the century.
We may not wear computer screens as eyeglasses, but that's because today's mobile computing devices are much more chic and elegant — why look like a dork when you can have an iPhone?
No bigger than a deck of cards, most smartphones can connect to the Web with the push of a button, giving users access to the wealth of information it offers no matter where they are.
Is that progress? That depends on how your dinner date feels when you check your BlackBerry for the third time.
2. The Rise of Social Media
In his 1999 book "The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence," futurist and inventor Raymond Kurzweil predicted the rise of "cloud computing" — networks of computers where digital information is stored that can be accessed from anywhere.
"There are services to keep one's digital objects in central repositories, but most people prefer to keep their private information under their own physical control," Kurzweil wrote. "Digital objects such as books, music albums, movies and software are rapidly distributed as data files through the wireless network and typically do not have a physical object associated with them."
True and true.
In 2009, anyone can jump on the Internet and store his photographs on Flickr. He can write and edit documents online using Google Docs, check his e-mail on Yahoo! Mail or Gmail and back up all his PCs to Mozy.
On YouTube, users across the world share videos, from sleeping bunnies to on-the-scene reports of the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
While many users now post digital media content online, the Web has developed some privacy measures that allow posters to control who can access the content they post. Facebook and MySpace users can set their accounts to hide their profiles from search engines or to allow only select individuals to view content. Users can also restrict access on photo-sharing sites like Flickr.
3. The Home as Computer
Second Life and Facebook may have put our social lives online, but researchers 10 years ago predicted that our actual homes would now be on the network.
"Homes will be completely wired and we will be entering the age of Internet-enabled everything," Lance Travis, research director of enabling technologies for IT research firm AMR Research, told Asia Computer Weekly in 2000.
Travis envisioned refrigerators and washing machines getting networked software updates from a central home network. Though most of us haven't reached the days of the "smart fridge," homes have become networked for Internet and entertainment.
From a single panel in the kitchen, you can control music playing throughout the house, change the temperature in your bedroom or even turn on the lights — if you're willing to pay thousands of dollars to have it all installed.
New homes are built with networks in mind, with all rooms prewired for Internet access and audio systems and often for smart heating and cooling systems as well.
Less expensive are options such as Microsoft's Windows Media Center and Apple's AppleTV, which let you store movies on PCs in the bedroom and watch them on TVs in the living room.
4. Virtual Reality Chat Rooms
Kurzweil also predicted in 1999 that people would interact in virtual-reality chat rooms, with your eyes and ears in cyberspace and the rest of you back at home.
"Virtual partners are popular as forms of sexual entertainment, but they're more gamelike than real," Kurzweil wrote.
Anyone who's gone on Second Life knows that there's plenty of sex going on, even if the people having it can't really feel anything. After they're done with that, its players can continue imitating real life, with virtual homes, virtual money and virtual restaurants with virtual food.
It may not the all-encompassing 3-D experience Kurzweil foresaw, but with Second Life affairs already leading to real-world divorces, we may be better off.
5. Human Clones
At the turn of the century, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke predicted that the first human clone would be made public in 2004.
When Dolly the sheep — the first successful mammalian clone — was unveiled in 1997, many thought human clones to replace our long-lost loved ones, or even ourselves, would be right around the corner.
In 2007, Time magazine warned that human cloning was "closer than you think." One year ago, a California firm announced it had cloned human embryos using donated human eggs and adult skins cells from the company's CEO and an investor.
So far, no successful human clone has been brought to the public eye. Yet scientists insist it will happen.
"It's only a matter of time before some group succeeds," Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Institute and Children's Hospital Boston told the Associated Press last year.