Allen Abel saw the future back in 1964. It’s not getting any fresher.

ALLEN ABEL October 10 2005


Allen Abel saw the future back in 1964. It’s not getting any fresher.

ALLEN ABEL October 10 2005


Allen Abel saw the future back in 1964. It’s not getting any fresher.



“THERE’S A GREAT big beautiful tomorrow,” they told us at the World’s Fair, “shining at the end of every day.”

I was searching for a window on the future, and I thought the great exposition would be the best place to find it. And I was right— I saw robots that stood and talked, giant ferris wheels, a monorail and visions of colonies in outer space.

That was in 1964, at the New York World’s Fair at Flushing Meadow. I was 14.

Now I am 55 and sweltering with the midsummer multitudes at Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan, just outside the city of Nagoya. What do I see? Robots that stand and talk (and play the trombone), giant ferris wheels, a monorail, and visions of colonies in outer space.

The future of the future, it seems, is the same as the future of the past. Why is this?

At the Mitsui-Toshiba Pavilion, my guide and I have our photographs taken as we enter. (For the Japanese public, this usually means a four-hour wait.) Then we watch a film about “the distant future,” when Earth no longer is habitable and we “Space Children” must seek a new home on a far planet.

“A large number of projectors, electronic equipment (including 1,700 speakers) and special effects create for the guest the sensation of travelling through space,” says my guidebook.

Sorry, that last bit was from the Mitsui Pavilion at Expo 1970 in Osaka. (Yes, I was there, too. And I keep stuff like World’s Fair souvenirs for a long, long time.)

Back to Expo 2005—and what do you know—one of the Space Children is mel They’ve inserted my digital image into the movie! It’s the Futurecast System—an “epoch-making world-first in entertainment,” according to the pavilion brochure.

The battle for human survival begins. Standing in our way is “a giant umbrellashaped goblin.” But we defeat it—hurrah for Allen!—and the Space Children are Abel to return to Earth.

There is a theme to Expo 2005—Nature’s Wisdom. Or, as my guidebook asks, “How long can Man go on meeting ever-increasing needs for energy and raw material to serve the world’s soaring population?”

Oh—that was from Expo 67 in Montreal— a pavilion called Man the Producer.

“To create a more affluent global community,” we are told, “we must reach a better understanding of the interaction of people, dwellings and the environment with technology and science.”

That was Expo 1985 at Tsukuba, Japan, up near Tokyo.

How about a computer that uses a “light pen” to transform an image sketched on a video monitor into a patterned swatch of synthetic fabric?

That was 1968—the IBM pavilion at Hemisfair in San Antonio.

You get the point.

Back to 2005: what does the Hitachi pavilion have in store for us? They have Mixed Reality, a Personal Information Viewer, and the Ubiquitous Entertainment Ride!

We walk through a room that contains numerous cut-outs of charismatic endangered animals. When we point our Nature Viewer at the display, we see a short video about the creature. Then we sit in a rollercoaster-type carriage and a hand sensor is taped to our palm. As the ride proceeds, 3-D images of turtles, parrots and crocodiles magically appear—and we can make them move with just a wave of our fingers.

At another pavilion, a pair of moving sidewalks slowly glides us past the still-frozen head, and the stump of one leg, of a Siberian woolly mammoth.

In New York in 1964, an identical conveyance swept us past Michelangelo’s Pietà. The Moving Speed-Walk!

Never mind that—on to the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization NEDO Technorium!

“See it, touch it, and feel it! Japan’s hightech will amaze you!”

But first, put on your 3-D glasses and look at the big robot.

“The wisdom and power of all the people of the world will be brought together, and a great movement that seeks a truly harmonious future society will unfold,” says my pamphlet.

That is from Expo 2005. But here at Aichi, we see the same future that we always see at the World’s Fair, whether we are young or old, whether we are home or far away. Faster trains, sleeker cars, cannier robots, smarter computers, brighter dreams.

As always, they are dreams of communication, of shrinking distances, of healing a wounded world. New technology curing the unforeseen consequences of the old technology. The abolition of absence.

“A lover talks by the hour into a cylinder, and his sweetheart hears as though the thousand leagues were but a yard.”

It is a charming forecast of the future of love. But that was from the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. And, no, I wasn’t there. Hül