Saturday, January 4, 2014

In 1964, Isaac Asimov Looks Ahead 50 Years

Isaac Asimov's 50-Year-Old Prediction For 2014 Is Viral and Wrong.  (Slashdot, 1/3/2014)

Here's the op-ed piece Slashdot is referring to.

Visit to the World's Fair of 2014.  (The New York Times, 8/16/1964)

And how wrong was Asimov?  Well, in some cases, it's more a case of being off the mark rather than out-and-out wrong.

Windows.  " more than an archaic touch."

We just replaced 7 bedroom windows.   With new windows.  It's still a big part of Waunakee Remodeling's business.

The new Levittown.  "Suburban houses underground, with easily controlled temperature, free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common."

An earth-sheltered housing movement occurred during the 1970s, although it had a minimal impact on the home construction industry.  I remember purchasing the above book (5 copies available in LINKcat), published in 1979, for the Oshkosh Public Library's collection.

Three squares. "Breakfasts will be "ordered" the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning. Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing."

I'd called that semi-prepared food that Jack Narz is taking out of the freezer compartment of a refrigerator.

Robotics.  "Robots for gardening work will also have made their appearance."

I don't think this qualifies as "gardening work.  Consider it a replacement for migrant labor.

3-D movies.  "There will be a three-hour wait in line to see the film, for some things never change.

OK, a yes and no prediction.   But Asimov missed the concept of buying tickets online in a "gadgety" world.  , tell me, when did anyone wait in line 3 hours to see a movie in 1964?  It was still the era of "roadshow" movies, e.g., My Fair Lady

Unplugged.  The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long-lived batteries running on radioisotopes.

See "Lightly Buttered, with Angst".

Not ready for prime time.  "And experimental fusion-power plant or two will already exist in 2014."

Wikipedia:   A 2006 editorial in New Scientist magazine opined that "if commercial fusion is viable, it may well be a century away."

Isaac, meet the highway lobby.  "There is every likelihood that highways at least in the more advanced sections of the world will have passed their peak in 2014; there will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface."

Meet George Jetson. "Jets of compressed air will also lift land vehicles off the highways".

We have jet packs, but they're out of most people's price range.

Getting from here to there.  "For short-range travel, moving sidewalks (with benches on either side, standing room in the center) will be making their appearance in downtown sections."

Airports.  Where you're most likely to see moving sidewalks.  No benches.

Ralphie Boy follows through, for once.  "For that matter, you will be able to reach someone at the moon colonies."

Ralph confesses that he's a blabbermouth, a BLABBERMOUTH!. "Any number of simultaneous conversations between earth and moon can be handled by modulated laser beams."

Glub glub glub.    "Underwater housing will have its attractions to those who like water sports, and will undoubtedly encourage the more efficient exploitation of ocean resources, both food and mineral."

Yum!  "Processed yeast and algae products will be available in a variety of flavors."

Let's take a look at the flip side

In a 2529-word op-ed piece, anyone is bound to get something right, and Asimov is no exception.  In fact, he nailed a number of important concepts with which we're stilling wrestling*.

Electroluminescence.  "Ceilings and walls will glow softly."  The patent for electroluminscent ceiling panelings was filed on 12/11/1957 and published on 7/11/1961.  In 2014, most rooms are still illuminated in the standard fashion.  I suspect Asimov was a regular reader of Popular Electronics* and its ilk.  ["Glowing walls and ceilings (primarily for decorative effect rather than illumination) are already a reality..."]

Dream bigger, Isaac.  "I suspect one of the major attractions of the 2014 fair will be rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two-foot level, neatly and automatically avoiding each other."

Bingo.  Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone.  (Although not everyone is playing.)

Big screen TV.  "Wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set"

*Our crowded planet.  "There is every likelihood that the world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000."

(2014 world population:  7,138,000,000. 2014 U.S. population:  317,317,000)

*The digital divide.  "Not all the world's population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full."

*The automated workplace.  "The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being."  (SEE Robotics, above.)

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