More than 50 years ago, legendary sci-fi author and humanist Isaac Asimov predicted what life in 2014 would be like for an op-ed in the New York Times. As it turns out, his accuracy is stunning.
Titled “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014,” Asimov’s op-ed runs down what an attendee should expect to see at this year’s World’s Fair, which apparently is the most antiquated notion in the entire piece. Rightly so, given that Asimov was one of the world’s foremost thinkers before his death in 1992.
Throughout his career, Asimov routinely seemed to be waiting for the “science” side of his craft to catch up with his own imagination—which, as it turns out, took about 50 years or so from his NYT op-ed. The real good news, though, is that Asimov’s unusually optimistic view of humanity’s future seems to be blossoming nicely.
So what exactly did the old codger pitch as our future in 2014? Most things we’re currently seeing pop up in the press, as it turns out. From self-driving cars to the world’s population boon, Asimov hit many predictions dead on:
"Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence."
From the Roomba to Amazon’s coming delivery drones, Asimov was absolutely correct with this one. If he were any less correct, though, we might have something to worry about.
"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."
Google, most of all, know’s this one to be true. The driverless car is currently one of Google’s biggest projects going, and it stands to revolutionize the way we travel, meaning that Asimov saw their move more than 50 years out. This one just makes sense, but it took a brain like Asimov’s to see it.
"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."
To tick them off the list, that’s smartphones, tablets, apps, e-readers, and Skype all wrapped-up and predicted decades before anyone ever sent a photo via SMS. Perhaps Asimov perfected the age-old riddle of time travel before he wrote his op-ed.
"The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders. "
AKA the “they took our jobs” prediction. Asimov was obsessed with robots, and evidently saw endless applications for their use in the work force. Now, we’re seeing that potential become more and more ubiquitous as factory workers and customer service agents his the unemployment line en masse. Perhaps this one would best be labeled a warning.
“Not all the world’s population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today will be deprived and although they may be better off, materially, than today, they will be further behind when compared with the advanced portions of the world. They will have moved backward, relatively.”
Ah, the digital divide. Before it ever existed—at least in the terms we speak about it today—Asimov was well aware of the potential for the technology gap to develop. And develop it has, with us in Philly showing that just 45 percent of homes have an internet connection at all. If ever there was an argument that internet access ought to be a human right, this is it.
As 2014 develops, expect Asimov’s predictions to increase in their success rate. After all, you can’t stop technology.