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Flashback Friday: Issac Asimov’s Predictions

by Sean P. Aune | January 3, 2014January 3, 2014 11:00 pm PDT

Isaac Asimov

Science fiction writers are always popular to turn to for predictions on what future technology holds for the world. Issac Asimov went on record in 1964 with some pretty dead-on predictions for 2014, and some that weren’t quite as dead-on.

Recently a video surfaced of Arthur C. Clarke making some pretty accurate predictions about what computers would be like in the future. Seeing as he did this in 1974, it was pretty eye-opening. Now an article written by Issac Asimov in 1964 about a visit to the World’s Fair of 2014 has resurfaced, and while this document is a bit broader, it also had some pretty accurate predictions.

Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. If machines are that smart today, what may not be in the works 50 years hence? It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the “brains” of robots. In fact, the I.B.M. building at the 2014 World’s Fair may have, as one of its prime exhibits, a robot housemaid*large, clumsy, slow- moving but capable of general picking-up, arranging, cleaning and manipulation of various appliances. It will undoubtedly amuse the fairgoers to scatter debris over the floor in order to see the robot lumberingly remove it and classify it into “throw away” and “set aside.” (Robots for gardening work will also have made their appearance.)

Robots? Check. (Think Roomba) Computers doing translations? Check. Things go a little wonky on the robot housemaid front, but again, Roomba.

Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with “Robot-brains”*vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver. 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.

Google and many other car companies are indeed working on this technology right now. With states having already approved some tests, it really is just a matter of time at this point.

Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica.

Pretty much dead on.

The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being.

Bingo.

As I said, Asimov did get some of his predictions dead on, but there were also some that were way off course. Moving sidewalks so long that benches would be on the sides for you to ride on? Those video calls, by the way, would also work with our colonies on the moon. Cars would be traveling a few feet off the ground on cushions of air and so on.

So, yes, credit to Asimov for getting some things right, but as happens so often with predictions of future technology, some were also way off base.


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Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...


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