Isaac Asimov's predictions for 2014 from 50 years ago

Rick Moran
Fifty years ago, Sci-Fi and science writer Isaac Asimov penned an op-ed in the New York Times predicting what our world would be like in 2014.

Perhaps it's not surprising that he got a lot wrong ("The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long-lived batteries running on radioisotopes."), but rather some of the shocking predictions where he hit the bullseye.

Huffpo:

"By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use."

You may not realize what electroluminescent panels are, but these thin, bright panels are used in retail displays, signs, lighting and flat panel TVs.

"Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs."

True.

"Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone."

Skype, Google Hangout, FaceTime and more have made video chatting common.

"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."

With computers, tablets and smartphones, all of this is true.

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

If you define "robot" as a computer that looks and acts like a human, then this guess is definitely true. We don't have robot servants or robot friends, but we do have robots that can twerk, do the "Thriller" dance and sing. It sounds like our priorities have been off...

Asimov also made some predictions that were close, but not entirely accurate:

"Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare 'automeals,' heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on."

We have Keurigs and other instant coffee machines -- so he's not too far off there. But as for a total "automeal," we still can't press a button and have breakfast ready. Someone please get on this ASAP.

"Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button."

This could probably be true if we felt like it, since the technology exists. But glowing walls and ceilings aren't extraordinarily popular.

"[T]he world population will be 6,500,000,000."

Good guess, but it's actually more like 7,100,000,000.

"Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction."

Sure, computer science has become an important field of study, but we have hardly become "a race of machine tenders." Of course, a lot of us are never far from a machine (our smartphones) that we pretty much constantly "tend."

Of course, no one's perfect:

We will live in a "society of enforced leisure," and "the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!"

Sigh. Not yet, Asimov, not yet.

What's interesting to me is that I can recall mid-20th century predictions from prominent scientists of what the year 2000 would look like. Flying cars, living on Mars, gleaming cities, no poverty - they were a lot more optimistic about our ability to use technology to solve stubborn social problems.

Asimov, after living through the shock of the Kennedy assassination and seeing the first tentative steps in manned spaceflight took a far more realistic (pessimistic?) view of the future. His vision proved to be far more accurate than those from just a few years earlier.





Fifty years ago, Sci-Fi and science writer Isaac Asimov penned an op-ed in the New York Times predicting what our world would be like in 2014.

Perhaps it's not surprising that he got a lot wrong ("The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long-lived batteries running on radioisotopes."), but rather some of the shocking predictions where he hit the bullseye.

Huffpo:

"By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use."

You may not realize what electroluminescent panels are, but these thin, bright panels are used in retail displays, signs, lighting and flat panel TVs.

"Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs."

True.

"Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone."

Skype, Google Hangout, FaceTime and more have made video chatting common.

"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."

With computers, tablets and smartphones, all of this is true.

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

If you define "robot" as a computer that looks and acts like a human, then this guess is definitely true. We don't have robot servants or robot friends, but we do have robots that can twerk, do the "Thriller" dance and sing. It sounds like our priorities have been off...

Asimov also made some predictions that were close, but not entirely accurate:

"Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare 'automeals,' heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on."

We have Keurigs and other instant coffee machines -- so he's not too far off there. But as for a total "automeal," we still can't press a button and have breakfast ready. Someone please get on this ASAP.

"Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button."

This could probably be true if we felt like it, since the technology exists. But glowing walls and ceilings aren't extraordinarily popular.

"[T]he world population will be 6,500,000,000."

Good guess, but it's actually more like 7,100,000,000.

"Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction."

Sure, computer science has become an important field of study, but we have hardly become "a race of machine tenders." Of course, a lot of us are never far from a machine (our smartphones) that we pretty much constantly "tend."

Of course, no one's perfect:

We will live in a "society of enforced leisure," and "the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!"

Sigh. Not yet, Asimov, not yet.

What's interesting to me is that I can recall mid-20th century predictions from prominent scientists of what the year 2000 would look like. Flying cars, living on Mars, gleaming cities, no poverty - they were a lot more optimistic about our ability to use technology to solve stubborn social problems.

Asimov, after living through the shock of the Kennedy assassination and seeing the first tentative steps in manned spaceflight took a far more realistic (pessimistic?) view of the future. His vision proved to be far more accurate than those from just a few years earlier.