Americans who opened the newspaper on January 5, 1961, were greeted with an article by Associated Press science writer John Barbour. He described the futuristic world of the year 2000 and the great medical advances that would be achieved by then. And quite frankly, reading about all of the medical miracles we were supposed to see by now is really bumming me out.
Barbour talked to Dr. Austin Smith, president of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, who predicted that future drugs would come from the oceans and that “electronics will play a big part in everyday medicine of the future.”
One of the most curious predictions has to do not with curing disease but how we’ll sleep. For some reason, the article explains, humans will take a pill to go to sleep and wake up completely refreshed roughly 36 hours later. They’ll be so refreshed that they won’t have to sleep again for an entire week.
From Smith’s report, as it appeared in The Express in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania:
By the year 2,000—and that’s only 40 years away—these may be the medical facts of life.
On Monday night you’ll take a pill and go to bed. You’ll sleep until Wednesday morning. Then you’ll wake up refreshed and be able to go on non-stop until bedtime next Monday night.
You’ll have almost forgotten what the common cold is like.
If you are ill, your doctor will give you a tiny radio and measuring device to tape to your chest. Then he’ll watch you as you go through a busy week, alert to changes in your condition.
The common cold? Still with us. But monitoring devices taped to your chest are a reality. I should know. My cardiologist gave me one, and I only learned later that it wasn’t covered by insurance. God bless America. And all of that is to say nothing of the self-administered health monitoring taking place with FitBits and smartwatches like the Apple Watch.
The article continued with predictions about designer babies of the future without explicitly using that term.
You’ll know from the second month of pregnancy the sex of your expected child.
Furthermore, if you’re planning a baby, you may be able to do something about getting the sort of child you want.
Today, expecting parents can know the sex of their child by around 18 to 21 weeks, or four to five months. So that one isn’t quite there yet. But parents around the world, especially in patriarchal societies, have been aborting female fetuses for some time—a practice that’s especially controversial not just around selection of sex but certain conditions like Down’s Syndrome.
Later in the article, Barbour explains that cancer will be cured, another prediction that hasn’t quite come to pass yet.
By the year 2,000, today’s fearsome medical enemies—cancer, polio, heart disease—will be as unexciting as diptheria, typhoid fever, and smallpox are now, Dr. Smith predicts.
Surgery and mechanics will team up for still greater wonders.
If your lungs or your heart are badly damaged, perhaps in an accident, doctors may be able to save your life with artificial organs fitted into your body.
Sever pain will be a thing of the past, as new drugs are developed to combat pain—and hence much of the anxiety that comes with disease.
Modern medicine did indeed conquer pain with incredibly strong painkillers. But they’re so addictive that America is facing an epidemic of people dying from them.
The predictions are similar to those of Victor Cohn, a science journalist who wrote syndicated articles for the Minneapolis Tribune in the 1950s and eventually would become a health writer for the Washington Post. Cohn’s 1954 book 1999: Our Hopeful Future is filled with exactly the same kind of science and health predictions that appeared in this 1961 AP article, and sadly many are still futuristic even in the year 2018.
But it’s easy to see why they were so excited about the future. The first half of the 20th century had seen incredible amounts of change, with two World Wars and the Great Depression. Those people saw the rise of the automobile, the first powered flight, and the birth of everything from radio to TV. By the 1950s and 60s, many Americans were experiencing a standard of living never possible for the majority of people before them. So it seemed only natural that the second half of the 20th century would be just as wondrous—at least for middle-class Americans.
“So much of yesterday’s science fiction has become today’s science fact,” Dr. Smith told the AP in 1961. “In many ways Buck Rogers seems an average young astronaut and not an exceptionally gifted one at that.”