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Isaac Asimov's 50-Year-Old Prediction For 2014 Is Viral and Wrong 385

Posted by Soulskill
from the so-just-like-everything-else-on-the-internet dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "The media is currently praising Isaac Asimov's vision for 2014, which he articulated in a New York Times opinion piece in 1964. The sci-fi writer imagined visiting the 2014 World Fair, and the global culture and economy the exhibits might reflect. NPR called his many predictions, which range from cordless smart telephones, to robots running our leisure society, to machine-cooked 'automeals,' 'right on.' Business Insider called the forecast 'spot on.' The Huffington Post called the projections 'eerily accurate.' The only thing is, they're not. Taken as a whole, Asimov's vision for 2014 is wildly off. It's more that 'Genius predicted the future 50 years ago' makes for a great article hook. Asimov does hit a couple pretty close to home: He got pretty close to guessing the world population (6.5 billion); he anticipated automated cars ('vehicles with 'robot brains'"); and he seems to have described the current smartphone/tablet craze ('sight-sound' telephones that 'can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books.') But he also thought we'd have a colony on the moon, be living under a global population control regime, eating at multi-flavored algae bars, and letting machines prepare us personalized meals. Most divergent of all, he believed that increasing automatization of labor would spawn not inequality or joblessness, but spiritual malaise."
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Isaac Asimov's 50-Year-Old Prediction For 2014 Is Viral and Wrong

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  • I beg to differ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vikingpower (768921) <exercitussolus@NOspaM.gmail.com> on Friday January 03, 2014 @03:41PM (#45860147) Homepage Journal

    Most divergent of all, he believed that increasing automatization of labor would spawn not inequality or joblessness, but spiritual malaise.

    How is this different from what we have now, I insist and ask ?

  • 3 out of 8 (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2014 @03:43PM (#45860161)

    not exactly eerie and shows why i say the huff post site is nothing more then hollywood garbage spin site run by chicks and there boyfriends ....

    you'd not be passing mant tests with that score now would ya

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2014 @03:47PM (#45860199)

    >Most divergent of all, he believed that increasing automatization of labor would spawn not inequality or joblessness, but spiritual malaise.

    Lol what? Automatization is to blame? What sort retard actually believes this? SURELY it's not god-awful policies, allowing corporations and banks to get out of control, or any of that sort of "serious" business. It's OBVIOUSLY improvements of our working conditions and the ability to produce more.

  • by ledow (319597) on Friday January 03, 2014 @03:51PM (#45860233) Homepage

    It's easy to win on predictions - just make sure your predictions are obvious. Throw in a "robot controlled car" or two to make people think and so you don't get 100% and you're golden. Hence

    - People will continue to be stupid.
    - There will be wars still.
    - Computers will become cheaper, more powerful, more "invisible" and thus more ubiquitous.
    - We'll send more stuff out of the atmosphere, and it won't just be the US doing so.
    - We'll make advances in personal medicine in (pick any particular area here, say, genetics, or mental health).
    - etc. etc. etc.

    Read Asimov's predictions: the more specific you are, the less accurate you will be. Multi-flavoured algae is a sci-fi staple, one up from a magic meal-pill. Automated cars? We could have had them back in the 40's, it depends on your definition of automated (hint: When was the first autopilot invented? - go looking for the answer on the BBC TV show "QI"). Video phones? People have been predicting them since before TV existed. World population? Just extrapolate the curve and you won't go far wrong. The rest is all stuff that could easily have happened, we just didn't happen to go in those directions.

    The problem with predicting the future isn't in being right. It's in being USEFUL in being right. None of the above predictions are helpful to anyone, even if you could GUARANTEE they would be correct. Which, even Asimov, who had a pretty good grasp of what the future could be, couldn't be better than about 20%.

  • Not bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BringsApples (3418089) on Friday January 03, 2014 @03:52PM (#45860247)
    From one of TFAs:

    ... mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.

    But what he failed to grasp was that the mindset of people in general changes. So if we're all bored, all we'll do is invent shit like facebook, and call it 'an integrated part of our society'. But he knew that 'passing time' isn't just some thing to do. This guy was a genius to conclude that robots would be doing a lot of the labor that men used to do, and since the people would be so great in numbers, they'd get bored to such an extent that would cause them mental repercussions. This is beyond what anyone would have been able to experience up to the 60's, in my opinion.

  • by doti (966971) on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:02PM (#45860367) Homepage

    You overestimate sex.

    Once you can get it freely and any time you want, it eventually decays into just another thing you do for pleasure, or even just to satisfy another nature's urge.

  • Actually... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:05PM (#45860391)

    The current result of automated labor is spiritual malaise... Because that's an inexorable product of it having brought radical inequality and joblessness since our culture bases one's personal value upon one's wealth.

    We do have algae in our beverages [nakedjuice.com], China did undertake a massive population control regime, and I'm not sure what you'd called TV dinners if not "machine-created meals". Granted, they aren't personalized and prepared on the spot as he might perhaps have envisioned, but I'm more than willing to grant him a correct prediction there because we've heard of robotic burger joints lately. [singularityhub.com]

    As for the colony on the moon, that is easily within our capability, but the political will is not there. And that's merely a matter of the caprice of our lawmakers. Besides, Mars One is well underway, and we are eyeballing asteroid mining. Give it only a few more eyeblinks in the grand timeline of things and it's quite likely that we'll be there.

    I'm willing to grant him a margin of error the same as I'm willing to grant a margin of error to all calculations, observations and predictions.

    It's a bit asinine anyway as Asimov never claimed to have clairvoyance anyway. These "predictions" were just whimsical entertainment in the first goddamn place, so I have no idea why people are intensely interested in the rightness or wrongness of it all.

  • Re:I beg to differ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:31PM (#45860657) Homepage Journal

    Keep in mind Asimov was an avowed atheist, and his description of "spiritual malaise" referred more to human nature, and less to going to church.

  • Why so negative? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OblongPlatypus (233746) on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:32PM (#45860661)

    Sure, "spot on" is obviously stretching it, but considering the time scale I think he did really well - I doubt anyone today would be able to predict 2064 equally well. Some good examples from the original article:

    State of robotics: "Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence."

    State of space exploration: "By 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works."

    Smartphones: "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."

    Fiberoptics for data transmission: "Laser beams will have to be led through plastic pipes, to avoid material and atmospheric interference."

    Flatscreens: "As for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set."

    Slightly too optimistic on the proliferation of programming skills, but remarkable considering the state of computers in 1964: "All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary "Fortran""

  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:40PM (#45860731)

    If "spiritual malaise" doesn't describe 21st century America, then I don't know what does.

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:44PM (#45860783)

    I don't know about Asimov being that inaccurate. Keep in mind that a lot of what he is describing are exhibits at the 2014 World's fair. These would still be futuristic things even in 2014, but technologically possible. Many of the things he describes are devices or systems that are technically possible, but still not quite reasonable from an economic perspective. Obviously he is way off on some things, but that just goes to show how difficult it is to predict future developments.

  • by HeckRuler (1369601) on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:55PM (#45860909)

    If only we could explain what causes this upheaval of the status quo that lead to social and cultural issues. Surely it's the not automation taking jobs while still supplying a net gain in resources! That would never explain why the masses have shit jobs, yet the nation can still support the dole.

    A guaranteed income,

    Welfare, housing assistance, charity. It's rough, but the basics are provided for if you go out and get them.

    mass joblessness,

    Underemployment. College grads are flipping burgers.

    and strict population controls

    China did it. But yeah, it's really not a problem for first-worlders. Asimov didn't see that coming.

    would all have much, much larger effects on the world we live in

    You're using the term "would have" like these things didn't come to pass.

  • Re:RTFA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lgw (121541) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:32PM (#45861181) Journal

    Very poor post, gets an "F".

    While you do of course blame Males, and blame The Rich, you're don't even try to blame Christians nor Whitey/Colonialism for anything, and only partially and vaguely blame people who can't accept gays. 2.5 out of 5 points. Try harder, or you'll never pass this class.

    For extra credit next time, also be sure to use the word "bullies" to describe those with heteronormative expectations, and do try to use the word "privilege" at least once in every post.

  • Re:I beg to differ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Intron (870560) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:38PM (#45861231)

    Most divergent of all, he believed that increasing automatization of labor would spawn not inequality or joblessness, but spiritual malaise.

    How is this different from what we have now, I insist and ask ?

    The 60s were different in that they were one of the few times when there wasn't increasing inequality/joblesness - people married young and could hold on to a job for 50 years - which is the outlier, not the historical norm. Just look at the 19th century by comparison. For a bit more discussion, see here [nytimes.com].

    Having lived through that period, there was a general feeling that we could do anything: stop wars, have civil rights, go to the moon, end poverty by sharing as taught in the bible^W the Whole Earth Catalog. It was a dream, but a pretty good one. Even though the war in Iraq was as unjust and pointless as Vietnam, there was a lot less marching and rock-throwing. People seem to not believe that they can change things. I would call that a malaise.

  • This. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MickLinux (579158) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:47PM (#45861305) Journal

    I agree with parent, but let me try to drive it home. Sushi is largely... fish, well, okay. What's it wrapped in? Algae. So what's the fish, the mustard, the avocado slice? They're there for interest, color, and fllavoring. Do we have sushi bars? Yep.

    Global population control regime? Ever here of the UN? Have you not noticed that they've been trying, and more and more successful?

    Spiritual malaise: Foxconn is an excellent example. But considering that Asimov is from a Jewish culture [I think he was ... hereditarily Jewish, but not very religious] let me point out a judeo-christian concept: the physical and spiritual are inherently tied. So that un- and under-employment, the inequality, the endless hours spent on computer games, the school massacres, the suicides, the twerking, the reality shows, are all signs of spiritual malaise. A man who despises his neighbor is not healthy. Nor is a person who directs his/her sexuality to the masses, as opposed to using it to form a real, full, life-enhancing relationship with another person. Nor is a school shooter. To quote the Asimov quote in the article, "I can make about A.D. 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!". Enforced leisure is called unemployment. And yes, the most glorious single word seems more and more to be 'work'.

  • Where is Mobile? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ottibus (753944) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:54PM (#45861383)

    The science and technology are amazingly accurate

    I must have been reading a different article. The one I read had working Fusion reactors, cars that float above the ground, Cubic TVs, windowless underground houses, no electic cords, colonies on the moon and automatic cooking machines in every kitchen.

    But the article has absolutely no mention of mobile devices which seems, to me, to be a massive failure of foresight.

  • by samkass (174571) on Friday January 03, 2014 @07:22PM (#45862121) Homepage Journal

    - Access to affordable birth control. In third world countries, birth control isn't always affordable or easy to come by.

    These predictions were made in 1964. "The pill" had just become available for birth control use in the United States a few years previous, but only in some states and only to married women... it wasn't generally available to any woman who wanted it in all states until the early 70's. Maybe it was because he was a male, but not realizing the impact this would have on the (developed) world seems to be one of his bigger oversights.

  • bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RelliK (4466) on Friday January 03, 2014 @08:14PM (#45862473)

    Just as with Nostradamus, bible, etc. "predictions" they kinda sorta came true if you squint at them the right way. And there are enough true believers to parrot praise in unison. However, a more objective look reveals that these "predictions" are way off.

    A guaranteed income,

    Welfare, housing assistance, charity. It's rough, but the basics are provided for if you go out and get them.

    That is NOT guaranteed income [wikipedia.org]. Welfare (in US at least) has existed since 1935, so that's hardly a prediction.

    mass joblessness,

    Underemployment. College grads are flipping burgers.

    Not to the level that was predicted, and certainly not to the level afforded by guaranteed income.

    and strict population controls

    China did it. But yeah, it's really not a problem for first-worlders. Asimov didn't see that coming.

    Precisely. *One* country has a problem with overpopulation. And their solution is NOT strict population controls, but economic disincentives for families that have more than one child (so it costs more, but rich families can afford it).

    would all have much, much larger effects on the world we live in

    You're using the term "would have" like these things didn't come to pass.

    Because it fucking didn't. Quit trying to see things that are not there.

  • by Peyna (14792) on Friday January 03, 2014 @11:27PM (#45863269) Homepage

    If my employees can receive a check for not working that is higher than what I am willing to pay them to work (or, probably even lower than, because who would work a full time job if you're only going to make a few bucks more than if you didn't work), what is my incentive to maintain my business at all?

    Rather than pay my employees more so I can stay in business, but make less money myself, I too could simply not work and make a decent wage.

    Your logic is horribly flawed.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @02:02AM (#45863827) Journal

    Generally the increased automation we see is not of the Rosey the Robot (Jetsons) style, but embedded and back-end automation and semi-AI that incrementally improves. Automation and AI are sneaking in the back door such that they are not so visible to the everyday person in the way most futurists predicted, even though they seem to be having some of the impacts they predicted, such as joblessness.

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