Synthetic Food, Smart Pills and... Kangaroo Butlers?
According to Athelstan Spilhaus, writing the comic strip "Our New Age" was his way of slipping a little subliminal education into the Sunday funnies. Each week the strip took a different topic—such as ocean currents or heredity or the moons of Mars—and explained in a very straightforward way just what made that area of scientific discovery so interesting. Sometimes, he would dabble in futurism, looking at automated hospitals or the robot teachers of tomorrow—but the December 26, 1965 edition of the strip stands out as its most forward-looking. Spilhaus clearly had some fun writing about these mid-'60s predictions that included everything from citizens voting on specific laws by telephone to the dapper-looking kangaroo servants of the future.
The prediction for 1976? That human space flight (the moon landing was still 4 years away, mind you) would become so common place that rescue missions for astronauts stranded in orbit may be necessary from time to time.
According to the above panel, the world of 1986 would see synthetic food, no doubt similar to the meal in a pill or some other factory-made contrivance. And, by the year 2006, the strip argues, people will see the rise of a form of direct democracy enabled by advancements in telecommunications. (A similar version of direct voting by citizens was predicted in a 1981 children's book called World of Tomorrow: School, Work and Play.)
Today, the more techno-utopian among us hope that one day we may be able to upload our entire brains into computers. But this 1965 vision of the year 2016 would be happy with a simple direct-link. Basement biohackers are currently experimenting with different ways to alter the human body, but we're still quite a ways from the technological singularity.
Time and again we've seen predictions of robot servants, like the Jetsons' Rosey. But every once and a while we come across more blood and bone visions of our futuristic servants. For instance, in 1967 nuclear chemist Glenn T. Seaborg predicted that, by the year 2020, we'd all be driven around by super-intelligent ape chauffeurs.
In that same vein, the last panel of this comic strip gave kids of the 1960s hope for a kangaroo butler in their future. Now, the kangaroo's method of hopping may make balancing a tray such as that impractical, but you can't deny that he certainly pulls off that bow-tie.
This article originally appeared at Smithsonian magazine.