Welcome to the Future
Vol: 171 Issue: 31 Thursday, December 31, 2015
I was thinking about all the technological wonders that we had envisioned for the 21st century back in the 1960’s; stuff like death-rays, videophones and flying cars.
(Cell phones weren’t expected until the 24th century, when Captain James T. Kirk uses one to call Scottie aboard the Starship Enterprise. But flying cars and videophones were due around the Year 2000.)
Videophones do exist, but they’re not all that popular. (Back in the 60’s we never dreamed hardly anybody would WANT a videophone.)
And while we could build flying cars, we still haven’t mastered driving the ones on wheels safely.
(It turned out it isn’t the building of cars that fly that was the problem. It’s the idiots that would be driving them while they’re up there.)
But all in all, the future is really much more interesting than even I had daydreamed it would be when I was a kid in the 1960’s.
Who, in the age of LPs and two-song 45 rpm records, could have envisioned a 4G iPod the size of a matchbox that could hold a radio station’s entire library?
While we imagined death-rays (and, indeed, they exist) who would have thought that the first war of the 21st century would instead be fought using high-tech rocks?
(Remember the GPS-guided cement warheads used against the tanks that Saddam parked nears schools and hospitals to minimize collateral damage?)
In 1968, a typical office consisted mainly of a desk and a telephone, some notepads, a typewriter and some filing cabinets.
Who would have dreamed that just four decades later it could all be packed into a laptop computer the size of a clipboard?
Or that an office filing room could be replaced by a “pen” drive smaller that a Bic lighter?
Or that I could sit in this ordinary room in my ordinary house and instantly communicate with thousands of people located on every continent in the world — by hitting the “send” button at the bottom of this page?
In the 1970’s, I was assigned as a computer operator in the Data Processing Department at the Marine Corps Base at Cherry Point, NC.
The computer was housed in a climate-controlled 4000 square foot room kept precisely at a chilly 68 degrees. It had rows and rows of tape drive banks, each the size of a refrigerator.
One of our jobs was printing out payroll checks for the base’s military and civilian employees.
It involved: 1) programmers writing the code; 2) keypunchers to input it onto keypunch cards; 3) a sorter to operate the EAM sorting machine and box them up; 4) an operator to hang the tape on the drive, input the keypunch cards in a big hopper, transfer it to tape, and then; 5) another computer operator to tell the mainframe where to look for the data.
The entire process tied up the whole department for five days, twice a month, using equipment that costs millions and took up a small city block.
Today, I could do it all on my MacBook (which cost less than my first microwave oven did) using Quicken and my laser printer — in two hours or less.
Wirelessly. While watching TV in a little corner of my computer screen.
In 1899, as the 19th century was drawing to a close, US Commissioner of Patents Charles H. Duell solemnly pronounced that, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
When Duell was born, transportation, communications and trade moved at the same speed as it had since the Greeks discovered hemlock was a poor choice for a cocktail beverage.
In his lifetime, he’d seen the invention of the railway, the steamship, the telegraph and the automobile. What else could be left to invent?
But Duell wasn’t the only one suffering from a lack of vision.
In 1922, Thomas Edison declared, “the radio craze . . . will die out in time.”
In 1943, Thomas J. Watson, who was at the time the chairman of IBM, gave this business forecast: “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”
In 1977, Ken Olsen, president of Digital Equipment Corporation declared, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”
And in 1981, Bill Gates opined; “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
As we’ve seen, predicting the future is no simple task. One of the problems with trying to forecast the future is that the future is a conspiracy of unknown and seemingly unrelated events that must work together exactly for the prediction to be accurate.
IBM failed to see a computer hardware market, Digital Equipment failed to see the demand, and Bill Gates failed to see its potential.
All their predictions failed — and laughably so — within a matter of decades or mere years of their prognostications. And they were the world’s leading experts in those particular fields!
But the Apostle John predicted, not over a period of years or decades or even centuries, but across two millennia, the rise of a centralized global economic system that would come into existence over the space of single generation, somewhere in time.
Such a system wasn’t possible until the invention of computers, in this generation.
The Prophet Ezekiel predicted the rise of a Russian/Persian Islamic alliance that would come into existence in “the latter years” at the same period in history when there was again a nation called “Israel.”
Ezekiel spoke across two and a half millennia, from a point in history when Israel and Judah had both been invaded and destroyed and the survivors taken as foreign slaves.
And from Ezekiel’s day until May 14, 1948, there was no such place on earth as ‘Israel’ (and no Russian/Islamic alliance, either)
The Prophet Daniel, from the same perspective in history, predicted the rise and fall of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Alexander the Great’s Greece.
Daniel also predicted the rise of the Roman Empire, its decline and fall, AND he prophesied its revival, concurrent with the restoration of Israel.
The Hebrew prophets weren’t forecasting the immediate future of a particular industry in which they were the leading actors.
They were forecasting world events, geopolitical alliances, wars, and social and technological changes so profound there were no words in their vocabulary with which to describe them.
And unlike technological ‘prophets’ like Charles Duell, Ken Olsen or even Bill Gates, the Bible prophets have proved themselves 100% accurate, 100% of the time, even when they admittedly didn’t know what they were talking about!
The Prophet Daniel didn’t have a clue as to what he was seeing and hearing:
“And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?” (Daniel 12:8)
And for centuries, neither did anybody else. Until only recently, Daniel’s words were sealed.
From the Reformation until the middle of the 20th century, the Book of Daniel was the least studied, least understood and least preached Book in the Bible.
Martin Luther questioned whether or not Daniel even belonged in the canon of Scripture, and John Calvin omitted Daniel altogether when he wrote his commentaries on the Bible.
Without the existence of a literal place called ‘Israel’ Daniel’s prophecies made little sense.
But once Israel was restored to the land, what had previously seemed to be a collection of symbolic heads, horns and beasts began to take on a literal meaning.
Especially in the context of the revealing angel’s charge to Daniel:
“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” (Daniel 12:4)
Duell, Olsen, Gates, etc., couldn’t begin to imagine the wonders that would exist by 2008, even as they were in the process of working to bring them about.
The Bible prophets, under the inspiration of God, could imagine them, but they couldn’t find the words to describe them.
But Jesus brings it all into perspective, speaking across the ages and addressing us directly, saying;
“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21:28)
As 2016 dawns, may our God richly bless and keep you all, until He comes.
Maybe this year?
Originally Published: December 31, 2007
Featured Commentary: Auld Lang Syne ~ J.L. Robb