Serbian-American engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856. Beyond his many important scientific contributions, Tesla also had a powerful imagination for future technology. Several of Nikola Tesla’s predictions have come to fruition long after his lifetime.
Tesla’s Breakthroughs in Electric Power
According to History.com, Tesla invented the first alternating current (AC) motor and developed AC generation and transmission technology. Remarkably ahead of his time, AC power is still the global standard for power transmission today. He also invented electric oscillators, meters and the Tesla coil, a high-voltage transformer. Tesla demonstrated radio communication two years before Guglielmo Marconi. He also partnered with General Electric to build the first modern power station by installing AC generators at Niagara Falls.
Nikola Tesla’s Predictions
In addition to being a prolific inventor, Tesla was also a futurist. Many of his predictions about future technology precisely describe today’s world, which is remarkable considering that Tesla lived during a time when cutting-edge technology included radios and light bulbs. Four of his biggest predictions of future technology came true.
Wi-Fi and IoT
“When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain,” Tesla said, in a 1926 interview with Colliers reprinted by Wired. Tesla predicted that wireless devices would eventually be simplified, with many transmitters and receivers operating without interference. He described livestreaming and FaceTime, saying that in the future people would remotely witness events, such as a World Series game, as if we were present.
Tesla said that one day people would be able to communicate, send documents, music and video around the world with wireless technology. Not only did his prediction come true with the invention of the internet in the 1980s and Wi-Fi in the 1990s, but he even described the internet of things (IoT). “Domestic management — the problems of heat, light and household mechanics — will be freed from all labor through beneficent wireless power,” Tesla said.
Artificial Intelligence, Robots and Autonomous Cars
Always ahead of his time, Tesla described self-driving cars, drones and autonomous robots. He imagined a vehicle that could operate itself and make its own decisions. Tesla believed that there would be remote-controlled machines in the future, in other words, drones. To prove his point, he demonstrated a remote-controlled boat in 1898. According to BBC, the technology was so advanced that many people who witnessed the wirelessly controlled boat assumed there was a tiny monkey controlling it from the inside.
Wireless Power Transmission
In 1901, Tesla built Wardenclyffe, a wireless communication tower in New York. The goal was to use the tower to transmit wireless signals and energy across the Atlantic to bring resources to people who were living in poverty. However, BBC explains, the project’s investors didn’t agree with the plan to give everything away for free, so the tower was destroyed before it was completed.
Tesla described our modern smartphones with vivid details. In the Colliers interview, he described a wireless device that would be used for video and telephone calls. It would be simple, sophisticated and portable.
“A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket,” Tesla said.
Tesla was famous and well-respected during his lifetime, but he fit the stereotype of many notable scientists, driven mad by his genius. He made some outlandish claims, saying that he was working on a motor that ran on cosmic rays, a new form of energy that defied Einstein’s physics, a new technique for photographing thoughts and a death ray that would end all wars.
Although he was an accurate futurist and a pioneer of electricity, Tesla struggled socially and professionally throughout his life. His genius was regarded by notable scientists like Albert Einstein, but he wasn’t business savvy. He never achieved the long-term financial success of his contemporaries, George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, although they profited from his ideas.
Tesla patented 300 inventions, many of which we still use today, and his legacy continues to grow as his predictions are proven to be correct.