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October 01, 2013


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Robot gardener? Why don't we have one? After all...

Hedge trimming? Piece o Cake. Watering? No problem. Even planting. Tree trimming, really not too hard. Lawn mowing? Been around for a while actually. So what keeps it from happening?

The killer app for a robo gardener is weeding. That's dirty, messy and hard. And you need a robot which weeds well before the robot gardener happens.

I'm not sure that I can score Asimov as high as you. If you try to sort out the relatively small things (wall televisions) from the big trends, he either missed them, or missed their significance. (Or didn't go into it in one short column, which isn't the same thing.)

1. Dirt-cheap video communication - but not the Internet. No idea that his video screens could be used to publish information to the world, or to buy and sell better than "Operators are standing by." Half check.

2. Gadgets galore. Possibly he wrote this article too soon after seeing the GE Pavilion, and did a straight-line extrapolation of Gadgets! into the future. On the one hand, his kitchen could simply be wish-fulfillment; on the other his public transport and freight systems (pneumatic tubes?) sounds like something he put in without too much thought to check a box. Radiopunk! Fail.

3. However, "the world of 50 years hence will have shrunk". True, but he doesn't follow it up. Half check.

4. Power will be cheap (Implied, I think). This is sorta true about electric power, but Asimov doesn't seem to be aware of the existence of gasoline. Or he's assuming that all transport will be electric. Either way, largely a fail.

5. Food will be dear. "Ordinary agriculture will keep up with great difficulty and there will be "farms" turning to the more efficient micro-organisms. Processed yeast and algae products will be available in a variety of flavors." It's not surprising that someone in 1964 wouldn't guess the Green Revolution, but the question isn't whether the guess was dumb, but whether it was wrong and by how much. Fail.

6. Extended life expectancy, up to 85 in some areas. A big deal if he'd followed it up. Half check.

(Did he use this idea in his fiction? I can't remember.)

7. Birth control widely available. Gotta give him this one. Full check.

8. Technopessimism. "Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders." As opposed to the state of nature in which we lived in 1964, presumably. Not so much wrong as completely misunderstood, but still approaching an epic fail.

9. Finally, "mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity."


Asimov wrote this at about the same time as he was writing the Foundation series, based on the fall of Rome, and he doesn't think of bread and circuses? The ancient Romans may have been entertained to death, but I've never heard that they were bored.

I'd say this is an epic fail.

uh. No. Asimov wrote the Foundation books about 10-20 years before.

"Foundation was originally a series of eight short stories published in Astounding Magazine between May 1942 and January 1950. According to Asimov, the premise was based on ideas set forth in Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and was invented spontaneously on his way to meet with editor John W. Campbell, with whom he developed the concept."


"The first four stories were collected, along with a new story taking place before the others, in a single volume published by Gnome Press in 1951 as Foundation. The remainder of the stories were published in pairs by Gnome as Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953), resulting in the "Foundation Trilogy", as the series was known for decades."

He wrote the 2014 piece long after he'd wrapped up Foundation. He'd return to it in the 1980s.

That's what I get for trusting my memory late at night.

"9. Finally, "mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity.""

Could compare to the rise of depression and therapy. Half-check, maybe. Not boredom, but mental problems. I've also seen the 1950s alcoholic housewife stereotype as linked to suburban jobless boredom (with all the new gadgets), so maybe check for something we had but moved away from.

"No on-street parking in central cities. Compressed air tubes carrying intra-city cargoes"

Though some places are moving to reduce or eliminate central on-street parking. The tubes is odd; we *had* pneumatic small package delivery.

"Asimov saw the future and it turned out to be Belgium!"

And Sweden and Switzerland, and in France it's 80% of electricity. And he's talking about "the World Fair", not the US. Still fail but not completely so.

"there will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface. There will be aircraft, of course, but even ground travel will increasingly take to the air*a foot or two off the ground."

Megafail, even with the occasional maglev.

"Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica"

Not quite but working on it. Ironically we might be able to tap those weather stations, but via the Internet.

"On earth, however, laser beams will have to be led through plastic pipes, to avoid material and atmospheric interference. Engineers will still be playing with that problem in 2014."

Does fiber optic use lasers?

In 2014, there is every likelihood that the world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000. Boston-to-Washington, the most crowded area of its size on the earth, will have become a single city with a population of over 40,000,000."

Mild undershoot, mild overshoot, big fail.

"Does fiber optic use lasers?"


Hey, Damien! You out there?

Here I am, late again. Regarding the Boston-to-Washington prediction, the urban corridors between the two cities had a 2010 population of 51.8 million. There is an unbroken belt of urban counties between them. (Density > 750 people per square mile.)

Of course, they had a 1960 population of 37.2 million, although the belt of urban counties was still patchy. So rather than a fail, couldn't you call this the easiest prediction ever?

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