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Best futurists ever: How Isaac Asimov shaped robotics and space exploration and predicted the Internet

A sketch of science-fiction author Isaac Asimov by Zakeena.

By Jenna Owsianik

Some futurists try to foresee the future. Others attempt to shape it. Yet prolific science-fiction author and biochemist Isaac Asimov did both.

Asimov not only invented the word “robotics,” his “Three Laws of Robotics,” first written as part of a short story in 1942, have had a massive impact on framing how people think about the development of artificial intelligence and the field of robotics itself.

Outside scientific domains, Asimov’s many writings have also inspired several popular movies including Bicentennial Man and I, Robot. His IMDb page shows contributions to various televisions series throughout his life, as well as a number of posthumous writing credits.

Perhaps most amazing are Asimov’s many accurate predictions on the Internet and what the world would look like in this decade. Several were in made a famous article published in The New York Times in 1964, which envisioned life in 2014.

Below are some of Isaac Asimov’s most accurate predictions.

On robotics:

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

“Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with “Robot-brains”*vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver.”

On space:

“By 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works.”

“Any number of simultaneous conversations between earth and moon can be handled by modulated laser beams, which are easy to manipulate in space.”

On the human race:

“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. They will have moved backward, relatively.”

“Mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. 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.”

On solar energy:

“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.”

On what would become smartphones and tablets:

“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.”

On food:

“Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, 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.”

On the Internet:

Further noteworthy and prophetic statements from Asimov emerged during a 1988 interview with American journalist Bill Moyers.

“Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries, where you can ask any question and be given answers, you can look up something you’re interested in knowing, however silly it might seem to someone else.”

“Now, with the computer, it’s possible to have a one-to-one relationship for the many. Everyone can have a teacher in the form of access to the gathered knowledge of the human species.”

“One essential thing would be a screen on which you could display things, and another essential part would be a printing mechanism on which things could be printed for you. And you’ll have to have a keyboard on which you ask your questions’ although ideally I would like to see one that could be activated by voice.”

Image source: Zakeena