More than 8 billion of us will populate the earth by 2030 — fully five years after it's "quite likely" we'll be waging wars for water. 2025 is also the year, incidentally, when a pair of scientists have predicted we'll make contact with aliens — the outer space kind.

A little closer to the present, we were recently told that within four years gasoline will cost $7 or more a gallon. Not coincidentally, by 2015, Mercedes-Benz is hoping to ditch petroleum entirely.

I'm hoping to do the same thing, although I'd be happier if we could move that time frame up a little.

People like predictions, it seems. There's something comforting or awe-inspiring or just interesting about peering into the future and thinking we know what we're going to find there.

It has a practical side, too. How would policymakers ever prepare for anything without projections and educated guesstimates? Those are particularly big, by the way, in the area of aging and services for senior citizens. Because the numbers are going to make a huge difference in how we deal with age-related challenges, we're bombarded with projections on what's going to happen to Medicare and Social Security. Or how many baby boomers will turn 65 by 2011.

I mention these things because my friend Elaine tossed me a book she found on her desk: "Future Stuff," by Malcolm Abrams and Harriet Bernstein. "Wonder how many of these things came to be," she said.

Published in 1989, it predicts a bunch of gee-whiz items "that will be available by 2000."

Things you probably use everyday, like the Ultrasonic 3-D Clothesmaker. By 1993, the prediction went, we'd be able to get garments molded, not stitched, into three-dimensional shapes and produced in 45 seconds. And by 2000, lucky "customers will choose colors, fabrics and details by computer, have body scans and get the finished outfit, all in a matter of minutes.

The authors also believed we'd have a "walking TV" (You need this why?), beverage mugs made of ice to keep drinks cold (until it melts and makes a mess), and the ability to point to the pattern we want and have the local department store Xerox it on our new bedsheets. I can't even come up with an aside for that one.

My favorite was a "most intelligent toilet" by Toto Inc., that promised to take your temperature, blood pressure, analyze your waste products and weigh you every time you used the bathroom. The findings could then be transmitted to your physician's office.

That Japanese manufacturer has actually produced a form of that toilet, but it's a scaled-down version that CNN fittingly called "clever," not "most intelligent." The toilet itself can measure blood-sugar levels, but then so can a number of tools that cost far less than the toilet's $3,000-plus. Nearby (but not actually part of the commode) is a blood-pressure monitoring station, a set of scales in front of the basin and a way to measure your body mass index. Results are transferred to a home network and analyzed on a computer spreadsheet.

Some of the predictions were exactly right: Flat TVs that can hang on the wall like a picture frame, movies on demand, electronic books and newspapers, lawn seed that contains natural weed killers, satellite navigation for the car. Miniaturization has played out big in what at the time must have seemed like some pretty far-fetched products.

The book tells me a couple of things. Just because something seems kind of unlikely doesn't mean it can't happen. And there's no reason your odd idea couldn't be the one that rides into the future.

We can learn a lot by looking forward and planning. But a projection is never a reality until it comes to pass.


Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at lois@desnews.com