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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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:41PM (#45860149)

    Seeing your gripe at Asimov's article I am very curious... What are your predictions for 2064?
    Do you think you can hit as many home runs as Asimov?

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

    by mwvdlee (775178) on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:45PM (#45860171) Homepage

    There is a lot less influence from religion and a far greater part of social contact is indirectly, through devices.
    Our current spiritual "average" situation may wel look like malaise to somebody living in 1964.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday January 03, 2014 @04:59PM (#45860309)

    On reading the original I think it is amazingly accurate.

    Thanks for the link.

  • Re:Only Art (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:01PM (#45860349) Homepage

    Don't be so dismissive of recipes.

    The 2nd thing that the printing press was used for was recipes.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:07PM (#45860407)
    I have yet to see how inequality and joblessness don't cause "spiritual malaise" as a consequence. At least they certainly have "serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences", even if not along the same pathway. Ask your psychiatrist.
  • by RightSaidFred99 (874576) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:08PM (#45860417)

    Bullshit. Make 30 non-trivial predictions, let's see if you get even 10 right.

    Asimov was a smart dude, and he did a lot better at predicting 50 years away than most "technologists"/"futurists" would today.

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:12PM (#45860457)

    The science and technology are amazingly accurate, the social and cultural changes are not even close; and really the social and cultural issues are far more important. A guaranteed income, mass joblessness, and and strict population controls would all have much, much larger effects on the world we live in than video conferencing and drones on Mars.

  • Re:I beg to differ (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:17PM (#45860523)

    Asimov thought we'd automate everything and everyone would basically have access to everything they really desired. He thought everyone living like kings and never having to work would make everyone a bit depressed and dissatisfied with their lives.

  • Re:I beg to differ (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:22PM (#45860561) Homepage

    Wasn't it? Brooding over existential issues is a pastime largely confined to the better off (it's hard to worry about the meaning of life when you're more worried about getting enough food to eat). It could be argued that by increasing affluence enough that large segments of the population are secure enough to be having these sorts of issues, automation did cause the malaise.

  • RTFA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Friday January 03, 2014 @05:43PM (#45860765)

    I disagree. If you read RTFAs that cover this topic, he was clearly very prescient. His Big Mistake was to consider that the people who Run The Show would have any interest in elevating humanity so as to achieve Asimov's own egalitarian vision of universal equality wrt to material well being, leisure time and general wealth. Given when he wrote , this was universally just accepted as The Goal of Society.

    We now know better. We now understand that males will attempt to create and sustain as much of a material differential as they possibly can between themselves and other males for the purpose of creating, in the minds of fertile females, a perception of being "better" than other males.

    This is, at core, what drives inequality. It's sexual competition where "fitness" is measured, as it is in every other species, as the ability to control resources OVER AND ABOVE the amount of resources the average specimen controls. This is what "being attractive" amounts to, for males, or at least that part of "being attractive" which is under their control so far.

    So Asimov's thinking just wasn't well informed on this matter the way it was on technical matters. That's hardly to his discredit.

  • Re:I beg to differ (Score:4, Interesting)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Friday January 03, 2014 @06:03PM (#45860973) Homepage Journal

    What he said in his books was that he was essentially since late childhood, but he was pretty scared of admitting it in public. Atheists have made amazing progress in social acceptability since 1980, and a lot of people who hate on "new atheists" don't understand that people feared for their lives and careers, and couldn't talk in public at all.

  • Summary is wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

    by goombah99 (560566) on Friday January 03, 2014 @06:17PM (#45861077)

    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

    multi-flavor algae: Sodium alginate is a major food additive. many flavors.

      global population control regime:
            china we all know about:
            uzbekistan: forced sterilization or IUD.
            india: more than two children and you can't particiapte in many elective offices
            iran: manadatory contraception to obtain marriage lic.
          USA: ask Sarah Palin what she thinks of Title X
          Israel: ordered sterilizations.

    Auomated custom meal preparation robots:
              http://www.psfk.com/2012/11/burger-making-robot.html#!rgOyn [psfk.com]

    Automated labor sparks malaise:
            Foxcon suicide fences. no layoffs just repetitive work that machines won't do.

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Friday January 03, 2014 @06:21PM (#45861093) Journal

    The science and technology are amazingly accurate, the social and cultural changes are not even close; and really the social and cultural issues are far more important. A guaranteed income, mass joblessness, and and strict population controls would all have much, much larger effects on the world we live in than video conferencing and drones on Mars.

    It figures. In his writing, the scientific concepts were pretty mind-blowing, but the characters were flat as pancakes and the dialog was abysmal. He struck me as a writer who understands technology a lot better than its effects on people, and he didn't seem to be in tune with how people interact.

  • No, we was right (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fustakrakich (1673220) on Friday January 03, 2014 @06:27PM (#45861133) Journal

    We are living under a global population control regime. It's called world finance. The borders are only there to push up the profit margins.

  • Re:Summary is wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

    by complete loony (663508) <Jeremy.Lakeman@g ... om minus painter> on Friday January 03, 2014 @08:24PM (#45862129)

    Automated custom meal preparation robots

    Go to your local supermarket and really look around. How much of the foods you see purchase there were made exclusively by human hands?

    There is a huge amount of automation in the food industry. It just scales better further up the supply chain.

  • Re:I beg to differ (Score:2, Interesting)

    by deconfliction (3458895) on Friday January 03, 2014 @10:06PM (#45862703)

    What he said in his books was that he was essentially since late childhood, but he was pretty scared of admitting it in public. Atheists have made amazing progress in social acceptability since 1980, and a lot of people who hate on "new atheists" don't understand that people feared for their lives and careers, and couldn't talk in public at all.

    I am a 38 year old christian that was an atheist till about 10 years ago. I would just like to emphasize the above comments. Ironically, popular tolerance of things like non-white-male PoTUS, masturbation, homosexuality, cannabis, and atheism these days (versus the 70s and 80s of my childhood) factor greatly into my worship of God.

  • by Chalnoth (1334923) on Friday January 03, 2014 @11:01PM (#45862983)

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

    Knowing a number of extremely poor people, this isn't even remotely true. Especially not of late, when we have the national and state governments cutting back so severely on various programs to help the poor. I have one friend, for example, who has precisely zero normal income (due to various family issues and an untreated disability). Yet she has an incredibly hard time getting any sort of aid, because she has no proof of income!

    This is why we need an unconditional basic income, instead of all these stupid programs. The very large number of conditions set on the various programs to help the poor end up guaranteeing that many extremely poor people get left out, if only because they have a hard time supplying the paperwork to prove that they qualify. Poor people also very frequently have a hard time traveling any significant distance, meaning that if they live in rural America, traveling to the various government offices to apply for aid becomes a significant burden. Some of the required documents (e.g. birth certificate) also come along with charges that are difficult to cover.

    There is no good reason for this. Nobody deserves to be left destitute on the street, so we should just guarantee a base level of income so that nobody has to. Get your Social Security card, and get your monthly check, end of story (paid for with a moderate hike in income taxes). That way almost nobody will fall through the cracks.

    And the most awesome thing about a guaranteed basic income that is high enough: if it is high enough that not working becomes a viable option, then it will break the stranglehold that employers have over their employees. Employers will actually have to provide decent working conditions and/or pay, or they will quickly find themselves without employees.

  • by DexterIsADog (2954149) on Friday January 03, 2014 @11:56PM (#45863135)

    The science and technology are amazingly accurate, the social and cultural changes are not even close; and really the social and cultural issues are far more important. A guaranteed income, mass joblessness, and and strict population controls would all have much, much larger effects on the world we live in than video conferencing and drones on Mars.

    It figures. In his writing, the scientific concepts were pretty mind-blowing, but the characters were flat as pancakes and the dialog was abysmal. He struck me as a writer who understands technology a lot better than its effects on people, and he didn't seem to be in tune with how people interact.

    You're right, he was clueless about people. As part of his security entourage at a couple of Star Trek cons in NY (don't ask), I spent plenty of time talking with him and observing. Very nice guy (he wrote me a personalized limerick about having two penises!), but not very perceptive about people.

  • by ultranova (717540) on Saturday January 04, 2014 @07:51AM (#45864375)

    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 business is obviously not providing much, if any, added value if you can't make it profitable without an endless supply of desperate people to exploit. It would be an awesome boost to economy to have such living dead enterprises go under and release the resources they've tie up for the use of actually profitable ones.

If A = B and B = C, then A = C, except where void or prohibited by law. -- Roy Santoro

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