What part of our modern world was once a science fiction dream?
Science fiction writers have always been obsessed with the future. They’ve put this interest to good use through their novels and screenplays to come up with futuristic models of what Earth would look like years after they were gone. Some of these have turned out to be incredibly accurate. So if Isaac Asimov, the prolific Russian novelist, is regarded as one of the greatest science fiction writers of his time, along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, he surely envisioned at least a few things we’ve come to have in our present, 25 years after his death.
And he did. His most famous books, the Foundation series and particularly the Robot series, are filled with all sorts of artifacts that seemed strange at the time he wrote them, but exist nowadays. These include: robots used for war (drones), transhumanism (when humans integrate robots into their bodies, such as prosthetics), and industrial robots used for production in factories. He went even further with his forecasts when asked by The New York Times to write an essay on what he expected the world to be like in 2014. Asimov failed in many of his predictions, but he was surprisingly accurate in others. Here are 10 excerpts from the essay that were correct predictions of life in the second decade of twenty-first century.
1. “Men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 1960 (close to the time Asimov made his predictions), 34% of the world’s population lived in urban areas. This number grew to 54% in 2014, and it’s expected to rise to 60% by 2030. He was right. We’re constantly moving away from nature to live in urban centers, where life is more comfortable.
2. “Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs.”
The automation of work has been underway for some years now, robots have taken over certain areas of labor, a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future. The Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis estimates that around 60% of low-wage jobs could be lost by 2035 in urban areas.
3. “Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”
We’re still a few years away from a society where robots, such as those featured in Asimov’s stories, are everywhere and in constant interaction with us. We do have things like the Roomba to clean our houses, but yeah, they’re not yet awe-inspiring, like he said.
4. “Large solar-power stations will also be in operation in a number of desert and semi-desert areas.”
An article published by Fortune calculated that up to 14 million gigawatts of energy could be generated in solar farms built in American deserts by the end of 2016. That’s enough to power 2.3 million houses.
5. “Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with ‘Robot-brains.’”
Automated cars, anyone? We’re currently witnessing an arms race between companies such as Google, Tesla, Uber, Daimler, Ford, and Apple to produce driverless cars. We should be seeing these babies on the road in the next few years.
6. “Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone.”
Skype and FaceTime cover this prediction, even WhatsApp now allows you to have video-calls with your contacts.
7. “By 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works.”
We’ve successfully managed to land seven unmanned spacecrafts on the surface of Mars, the most recent being the Mars Science Laboratory, which carried the Curiosity rover inside, a remote control vehicle that’s taken multiple photographs of the planet. The United States, China, and other European nations are in the planning stages to send a manned mission to our closest neighbor in the Solar System.
8. “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.”
In 2015, the Pew Research Center estimated that 71% of the world’s population are in poor or low income situations. So despite the fact that we’re living in an era of technological progress, most people don’t get to access all its benefits.
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