Back in 1965 Tomorrow’s World hit our screens, attracting around 10 million viewers each week. Those are the kind of viewing figures many producers would envy. The programme, which was usually broadcast live, gave the general public an opportunity to see technology initiatives for the first time, and often some of these gadgets and tools went on to become commonplace.
Some of the technologies broadcast for the first time on Tomorrow’s World have transformed our lives: the breathalyser (1967), the home computer (1967), the ATM/Chip-and-PIN (1969), and the CD player (1981). The real beauty of Tomorrow’s World was the opportunity to glimpse the unknown. Back then, perhaps we were a little naïve; today we are a collective of early adopters, online shoppers, download experts, health-and-fitness trackers and connected-home pros.
I remember Teletext and Ceefax fondly. In our household, teletext was somewhat of a revelation. You could get football results without waiting for the news, and I even booked my first holiday through teletext; sending off a cheque for payment, and waiting for flight tickets to be posted back. Somehow, I can’t see millennials sitting through pages and pages of holidays, waiting for their page to come around again, but back then we were wowed to have this content and information at our fingertips… It felt very futuristic.
The BBC has announced this month that they will run a year-long campaign of programmes across all of its platforms (TV, podcasts and radio). They will be broadcast under the banner of 'Tomorrow’s World'. Very similar to the original Tomorrow's World mission, the next year of programmes will 'take science out of the lab and into people’s homes, as we seek to address how science is changing people’s lives, reshaping the world and rewriting the future of healthcare'.
I think it is a bold move by the BBC because capturing the magic and enthusiasm that was so well-defined the first time around will be a challenge. We keep hearing about the rise of robots, what 3D printing will do for us, a cashless society and virtual reality, but what does this really mean for our daily lives, and do people actually care that much? Us industry bods live and breathe it, and are far more receptive to new technologies than perhaps the average person in the street.
Take robots as an example: used in manufacturing and production for many years, they are now playing far more than a behind-the-scenes role. At McDonald's restaurants in New York, whilst from the outside they look the same as always, inside diners are no longer welcomed by real people, and are directed to ‘Create Your Taste’ kiosks which allow customers to order without any interaction whatsoever with another human being. Everything is automated.
No-one knows how many jobs have been lost by the introduction of these kiosks but a recent report by the Pew Research Center cites that two thirds of Americans believe that robots will inevitably perform most of the work done by human beings within the next 50 years. In Australia, Fastbrick Robotics has developed a robot (Hadrian X) that can lay 1,000 standard bricks in one hour, whereas it would take two human bricklayers at least a day or longer to complete the same task.
Technological innovation is now transforming all walks of life, changing how we think and behave. Across the globe, brands need to consider the impact these advances will have on their business and customers.
I for one can’t wait for the new series of Tomorrow’s World. From looking at how the human race needs to make alternative living arrangements in the next 100 years, with the looming threats of overpopulation and climate change, to the promised interactive digital hub, it will definitely offer food for thought and open up the debate, which can only be a good thing.