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How Isaac Asimov correctly predicted 2014 tech in 1964

Jason Snell | Sept. 2, 2013
Unencumbered by the details of today's world, science fiction can make audiences think about modern issues without getting bogged down with the details and prejudices that might make them less open-minded

Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.... It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the "brains" of robots. In fact, the I.B.M. building at the 2014 World's Fair may have, as one of its prime exhibits, a robot housemaid*large, clumsy, slow- moving but capable of general picking-up, arranging, cleaning and manipulation of various appliances.

Outside of factories, robots aren't very common. We've got telepresence robots, sure, but most importantly we've got the Roomba—"a robot housemaid" from a company actually named iRobot! How Asimovian. Roomba doesn't pick up junk and arrange pillows, but it vacuums!

3-D movies
General Electric at the 2014 World's Fair will be showing 3-D movies of its "Robot of the Future," neat and streamlined, its cleaning appliances built in and performing all tasks briskly. (There will be a three-hour wait in line to see the film, for some things never change.)

Although 3-D movies were already around before Asimov wrote this, they went away for a long time. Unfortunately, they're back. Isaac failed to imagine the arrival of the cinema multiplex, which reduces the need for long lines.

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.

Wall screens we've got; old-style tube TVs have finally faded away from most homes. I'm less sanguine about the possibility of transparent cubes that show me Transformers 2 in my home, given the abandonment of 3D TV by such giants as ESPN and the BBC.

Nuclear batteries and solar arrays
The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes.

Nuclear batteries! A cool idea, but one with a lot of environmental repercussions. My appliances still have plugs.

And experimental fusion-power plant or two will already exist in 2014. (Even today, a small but genuine fusion explosion is demonstrated at frequent intervals in the G.E. exhibit at the 1964 fair.) Large solar-power stations will also be in operation in a number of desert and semi-desert areas—Arizona, the Negev, Kazakhstan. In the more crowded, but cloudy and smoggy areas, solar power will be less practical. An exhibit at the 2014 fair will show models of power stations in space, collecting sunlight by means of huge parabolic focusing devices and radiating the energy thus collected down to earth.

Finding nontraditional sources of energy has definitely been a major story over the past couple of decades. While fusion remains perpetually 30 years away, solar and wind power increasingly contribute to the grid, and a recent study suggested that they might be competitive with natural gas prices before too long. Unfortunately, satellite mirrors reflecting solar energy to earth remain an untapped resource.

 

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