In 1955, Life magazine looked into its crystal ball to imagine “what life may be like in A.D. 1980.” Here’s the first prediction:
Unhappy about the weather? Everybody talking but nobody doing anything about it? Well, just get in touch with the Atomic Weather Commission. A flick of the nuclear switch, and presto! — the North Pole melts, the vast continent of Antarctica thaws into productive use, Greenland grows bananas, Vermont grows oranges, and everybody’s heating bill vanishes. Not fantastic at all, according to mathematician John von Neumann, who also predicts that energy may be just about as “free as the unmetered air.” So, no light bills.
The future was sunny back then, though Von Neumann, one of the architects of both the atomic bomb and the digital computer, did temper his enthusiasm with a dash of the apocalyptic:
Weather control carries with it the possibility of climatic warfare (e.g., freezing your enemy with another Ice Age). “All this will merge each nation’s affairs with those of every other,” concludes Von Neumann, “more thoroughly than the threat of a nuclear or any other war already have done.” Political forms will have to change, in ways now unforeseeable, to accommodate these realities. (Von Neumann’s implication is that there will either be world government or no government — and no world.)
Photo by R.F. Katzenberger.