Paleo-Future, a wonderful blog that offers a "look into the future that never was," unearthed a 1986 article in The Futurist magazine about the future of personal robots. The future as envisioned in 1986, that is.
The Futurist article, which includes a photo of an Omnibot carrying snacks to a smiling couple [right], makes for an entertaining read, saying at one point that "future robots will be complete home-entertainment centers, able to sing and dance and tell jokes..."
Well, unfortunately a future of pervasive snack-fetching, dancing robots roaming around the house is is not quite here yet. It appears that one big obstacle has been making the darned machines autonomous, capable of doing things -- entertaining the kids, loading the dishwasher, or whatever -- all by themselves.
Maybe the way to go is using humans to control the robots? iRobot's new ConnectR "virtual visiting" robot is one example. It's a kind of mobile teleconference device to be remote controlled by that absent parent always on a business trip. Another example are Anybots humanoids, also designed to be operated remotely by a person (in this case an outsourced servant in a faraway country).
Check back in 20 years to see which personal robots made it to the living room.
PS: On a forecasting-the-future related note, Spectrum has its share of brilliant and embarrassing predictions, many of which you can see in the "Write & Wrong" article that appeared in our 40th anniversary special issue.