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‘Tomorrow’s World’ returns for an outing – but is today’s world moving too quickly to predict?

Teachers of a certain age may remember with fondness the original series of the BBC’s futuristic science and technology programme, ‘Tomorrow’s World’. Starting in the 1960s, it made compelling viewing – and not simply because it was on just before Top of the Pops.  The 30-minute programmes were filmed either live or on location, and made all kinds of predictions about how we would be living and working in the future.  Presenters would look very silly when the state of the art technology malfunctioned (as it frequently did) but viewers were delighted. Some predictions were hailed as prophetic whilst others were greeted with derision – what, one day everyone will own a computer? Ridiculous!

The BBC still hosts a Tomorrow’s World site with clips from the programmes. Apart from the bad hairstyles, these make fascinating viewing as they capture the world of the past so vividly.

And on Thursday 22 November the BBC broadcasts ‘Tomorrow’s World Live: For One Night Only’ (BBC4 at 9 pm). This 90 minute programme takes a nostalgic view of the old series but also explores how the Tomorrow’s World spirit lives on today. Broadcast live from Pacific Quay, Glasgow, the new studio set evokes the old one and captures the live experience enjoyed by the millions who watched throughout the four decades the programmes were aired.  (The programme will be available on iPlayer after the broadcast) But it also promises something that older viewers never experienced – interactivity.

Former presenters Maggie Philbin and Howard Stableford are joined by Dr Hannah Fry (‘Mysterious World of Maths’) to celebrate the hits and misses of the old programme which inspired so many budding scientists and engineers. And many of the Tomorrow’s World predictions did come to pass, such as mobile phones and keyhole surgery.

And the brand name continues via the BBC’s collaborative interactive site where themed material from other providers is also showcased.

But the world moves so quickly now that viewers no longer have to wait for years to find out if a mechanical cow is really viable (it wasn’t).  By the time most of us know about a new invention, it may have already been superseded or even be completely obsolete.

The BBC used the old title ‘Tomorrow’s World’ last year during its focus on science and technology to launch a series of podcasts. These explore innovative ideas such as the possibility that we are living in a simulated reality, the internet of the future and the potential presented by artificial intelligence. But listeners should be quick – it probably won’t be long before the questions asked in these podcasts have been answered and they are old hat!