It's fun to reflect on the past's starry-eyed visions of the future. We all know this. But reviewing retro-futuristic predictions in the field of medicine is always especially entertaining.
Many predictions for the future from the 1900s are positive, but few are as hopeful and confident as those pertaining to medicine. Many are quick to chalk this up to modernist optimism, but the fact is that there were plenty of reasons to view the future of medicine, in particular, through such an idealistic lens.
By the 1950s, humanity had experienced a little over a century of unprecedented advances in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. To quote Dr. Lowry H. McDaniel, author of the list of predictions featured here, "medicine [had] made more progress in the first half of the 20th Century than in the 6,000 previous years." Society, it seemed, had every reason to expect another 100 years of rapidly accelerating medical advancement.
It's with that understanding that we present this list of medical predictions for December 31st, 1999, originally delivered by Dr. McDaniel in 1955 in his chairman's address at the American Medical Association Convention in Atlantic City. (A transcript of the list pictured up top is featured at the end of this post.)
Many of these predictions remain so far out of reach as to inspire that familiar sense of amusement that we've come to expect when flipping through the pages of a 1950s issue of Popular Mechanics. Eternally youthful "womenfolk." The eradication of venereal diseases (ha). The dawn of famine-ending synthetic foodstuffs.
And yet, several of these predictions have come to pass in one form or another. Eye surgeries are restoring rudimentary sight to the blind; radioactivity is used regularly in the treatment of cancer; and insulin is used by millions to control their diabetes (in increasingly interesting ways).
Medical predictions represent one of the most wonderful forms of retro futurism. More than perhaps any other subject of speculation, the latest advances in medicine — including DNA nanobots; wearable electronics that collapse the divide between human and machine; and tissue regeneration — are incredible enough to renew hope in the feasibility of those "overly-optimistic" breakthroughs we've yet to make.
1. A man 90 years old will be considered "young," a man of 135 "more mature" and there will be "a minimum of senility because the heavy cholesterol which determines the age of our arteries will be absent."
2. "Our women, thanks to proper hormone medication, would stay young, beautiful and shapely indefinitely."
3. The Salk killed-virus vaccine "which is doing a tremendous job now" will be replaced in a few years by a living modified virus vaccine.
4. All human infectious disease, including rheumatic heart disease and venereal disease, will be eradicated.
5. Cancer will be "successfully treated by a virus vaccine or radioactive compounds."
6. The common cold and "even the more serious respiratory virus infections will be only a memory."
7. "Even greater victories await the highly-trained surgeon" of the future. Eye surgeons will restore vision to today's hopeless cases.
8. Synthetic foodstuff will bring an end forever to famine and starvation.
9. Electronic devices will enable deaf mutes to "speak." Initial research is underway by the Radio Corporation of America.
10. Insulin will be given in tablet form for the control of diabetes. Medical science will discover an "effective treatment" against the blood, heart and degenerative diseases of old age.