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FLASHBACK: Asimov foresaw the future in 1964 - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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FLASHBACK: Asimov foresaw the future in 1964

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Posted: Sunday, January 5, 2014 7:00 am

It is amazing that the forward-thinking sci-fi writer of the 20th century, Isaac Asimov, would have predicted what the New York World’s Fair would be like in 2014 – 50 years in the future.

And as 2014 rolled around, many who read the piece he penned for The New York Times in 1964 say that his predictions for technology and the way of the future were spot on.

The earth and the nation have come a long way in 50 years, particularly in area of technology. He talked about visiting the World’s Fair that year which, in the era of the Cold War and the race to space, was dedicated to “Peace Through Understanding.”

“What is to come, through the fair's eyes at least, is wonderful. The direction in which man is traveling is viewed with buoyant hope, nowhere more so than at the General Electric pavilion. There the audience whirls through four scenes, each populated by cheerful, lifelike dummies that move and talk with a facility that, inside of a minute and a half, convinces you they are alive,” Asimov wrote.

So he asked, “What would the World’s Fair of 2014 be like?”

“Men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better,” Asimov predicted.

Well that has certainly happened. As gamers continuously strive to create new alternate universes and Avatars, it is very apparent this has become a reality.

“Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. 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. Breakfasts will be ‘ordered’ the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning. Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semi-prepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing. I suspect, though, that even in 2014 it will still be advisable to have a small corner in the kitchen unit where the more individual meals can be prepared by hand, especially when company is coming.”

Well, Isaac, we still love to cook and the foodie craze has highlighted that. But, things are certainly easier than they once were. We don’t have the auto meals yet, which Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry also foresaw. On each episode we were amazed when Capt. Kirk would enter the commissary and order a complete pot roast meal that would materialize in mere seconds, piping hot, as if your grandmother was somehow in an invisible kitchen whipping up your favorites.

We do have microwave meals and dehydrated ones (mostly used by the military). But some firms, like Soylent and Ambro, are touting their nutrient-packed smoothies which come out this year, as all you need.

"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,” Asimov wrote.

This one is completely spot on. We now spend all of our time tending to the little hand held computers AKA smart phones which for most, have become an extended appendage. We have Skype and FaceTime and we read books, magazines and newspapers on our notebooks or tablets.

“As for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible,” Asimov predicted.

Once again, on the money — most of us now have flat screen TV’s which can even serve as computer screens so you can Skype on a 64-inch TV. At my former newsroom in Abilene, we Skyped daily with reporters and editors from our sister newspaper in Corpus Christi via a flat screen.

Alas, everything is not rosy in 2014. Asimov predicted that automation will take out many routine jobs — in other words, man will be replaced by machines or technology.

“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,” he wrote.

I used to predict back when I was a teller that this was a position that would be largely replaced by machines, and it has to a degree. You see ATM machines at banks and self check-out lines at the grocery store. And when was the last time you got a “human” when you died the operator or made the first call to a business? And coming soon to a hospital near you — robotic surgeons, which is still a burgeoning technology.

But as our minds are constantly spinning with information overload and the constant presence of technology, mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, Asimov postulates,.

“This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.”

And finally, he predicts we will become a society of workaholics.

“Indeed, the most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!,” Asimov wrote.

Now wait a minute. I need a vacation …

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