Issac Asimov on 2019 in 1984 ........

Discussion in 'Discussion Group' started by Wayne Stollings, Oct 13, 2019.

  1. Wayne Stollings

    Wayne Stollings Well-Known Member

    Isaac Asimov, the brilliant science fiction writer, tried to predict what 2019 would be like in 1984. His predictions about computerization were amazingly prescient, but his predictions about space were hopelessly optimistic. I’ll review what I see as his most interesting predictions and evaluate how they stack up against reality. Do you agree with my evaluations? Comment below and let me know!

    There is bound to be resistance to the march of the computers, but barring a successful Luddite revolution, which does not seem in the cards, the march will continue.

    The continuing march of computerization was one of his two central predictions. It’s not a bold prediction, given that computers were already improving exponentially in 1984. Still, the conservative predictions are usually right, and Asimov definitely nailed this one.

    Before the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of humanity was engaged in agriculture and indirectly allied professions. After industrialization, the shift from the farm to the factory was rapid and painful. With computerization the new shift from the factory to something new will be still more rapid and in consequence, still more painful.

    Most of the economic ills in the US can be attributed directly to automation — the de-industrialization of the Rust Belt, the collapse of mining towns, the stagnation in wages. I wouldn’t say the transition has been more painful than industrialization, but the rise of populism in the US and Europe means there’s still plenty of time for the transitional pains to play out.

    It is not that computerization is going to mean fewer jobs as a whole, for technological advance has always, in the past, created more jobs than it has destroyed, and there is no reason to think that won’t be true now, too.

    Again, Asimov is entirely right about the economics. The idea that automation will take away jobs was already a centuries-old cliche back in 1984, and it had been proven wrong time and again. Just as computers didn’t leave everyone unemployed in the past 30 years, neither will artificial intelligence get everyone fired in the next 30.

    The jobs that will appear will, inevitably, involve the design, the manufacture, the installation, the maintenance and repair of computers and robots, and an understanding of whole new industries that these “intelligent” machines will make possible.

    This is only true to an extent. Most manufacturing jobs have been replaced by service industry jobs, not high-tech jobs that require advanced education.

    By 2019, then, it may well be that the nations will be getting along well enough to allow the planet to live under the faint semblance of a world government by co-operation, even though no one may admit its existence.

    This is wonderfully apt. Asimov didn’t predict the fall of communism, but the fall of communism did usher in a new world order where the EU expanded to all of Europe, the United States became the world’s only superpower, and the soft power of the free world far surpassed that of any rival ideology. “A faint semblance of a world government by co-operation” describes the Pax Americana well.

    Schools will undoubtedly still exist, but a good schoolteacher can do no better than to inspire curiosity which an interested student can then satisfy at home at the console of his computer outlet.

    There will be an opportunity finally for every youngster, and indeed, every person, to learn what he or she wants to learn. in his or her own time, at his or her own speed, in his or her own way.

    The opportunity definitely exists. In fact, I’d say that most of my own knowledge about the world comes from years of browsing the Internet, not from school. Unfortunately, this knowledge is broad but extremely shallow, as the Internet has so many distractions that I don’t end up focusing on any one topic for very long. I imagine this is the case for most youngsters — they have the entirety of humanity’s knowledge at their fingertips, and are exposed to infinitely more facts and figures than anybody from older generations could have imagined. Despite this, they still need formal schooling to deeply and truly understand a topic.

    While computers and robots are doing the scut-work of society so that the world, in 2019, will seem more and more to be “running itself,” more and more human beings will find themselves living a life rich in leisure. This does not mean leisure to do nothing, but leisure to do something one wants to do; to be free to engage in scientific research. in literature and the arts, to pursue out-of-the-way interests and fascinating hobbies of all kinds.

    A lot of people seem to think this is too optimistic, but the data at least partially backs him up. Since 1984, the number of people in extreme poverty has plummeted from nearly 50% to 10%. The number of scientists in the world really has gone up drastically over the past few decades, as has the number of books published per capita in the US, UK, Germany, and France. All of this would seem to suggest that leisure is indeed on the increase.

    The data on leisure indicates that it has indeed gone up for all subgroups. Paradoxically, it seems that leisure time has increased more among the less educated than among the highly educated. This Atlantic article tries to examine reasons why this might be, but it’s safe to say that Asimov’s assumption that leisure will be spent on science, literature, and art rather than video games is charming but overly optimistic.

    By 2019, we will be back on the moon in force. There will be on it not Americans only, but an international force of some size; and not to collect moon rocks only, but to establish a mining station that will process moon soil and take it to places in space where it can be smelted into metals, ceramics, glass and concrete — construction materials for the large structures that will be put in orbit about the Earth [..]

    One such structure which very conceivably, might be completed by 2019 would be the prototype of a solar power station, outfitted to collect solar energy, convert it to microwaves and beam it to Earth. […]

    And humanity, not its structures only. will eventually be in space. By 2019, the first space settlement should be on the drawing boards; and may perhaps be under actual construction.

    It would be the first of many in which human beings could live by the tens of thousands, and in which they could build small societies of all kinds, lending humanity a further twist of variety.

    Ah, the exuberant optimism of the mid Space Age. They could not have imagined that by 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, the United States has not only made no progress in human exploration of other worlds, but lost the ability for human spaceflight altogether. The Space Shuttle was never a stepping stone to destinations beyond low Earth orbit. The Apollo landings did not lead to human colonies on the Moon or Mars. A manned Mars mission is 20 years away — as it has been for decades, and as it might forever remain. The teenagers who watched the Apollo landings and dreamed of vacationing on other worlds are retired now, and never had a chance to even orbit Earth. Our world needs some of the confidence and optimism those teenagers used to have right about now — not just in the realm of space travel, but in Western civilization in general.

    It is not likely that we will abandon space, having come this far. And if militarism fades, we will do more with it than make it another arena for war. Nor will we simply make trips through it.

    We will enter space to stay.

    I hate to end on a sad note, so I will say that although his predictions about human spaceflight were far off the mark, Asimov was right about our intensifying use of space. The advent of private companies like SpaceX has brought down the cost of spaceflight, leading to more spacecraft launches per year than ever more. Space is now accessible to an increasing number of private companies. This year, SpaceX will become the first private company to take humans to the ISS. Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are close to taking paying customers on suborbital flights.

    Personally, I hope that as climate change becomes a more urgent problem, some of the paranoia around nuclear reactors will dissipate. It will then be politically possible to make a nuclear thermal rocket, which can take very large payloads into space with minimal fuel. In the very long term, I hope we take a second look at the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and make an exception for Project Orion — the only feasible way we know to get to another star within a human lifetime.
    Auxie, Sherry A. and Hught like this.
  2. BuzzMyMonkey

    BuzzMyMonkey Well-Known Member

    Hanna Barbera was spot on computerization well before Asimov. Just saying
  3. poppin cork

    poppin cork Well-Known Member

    Yes, what a wonderful fairy tale.
  4. Wayne Stollings

    Wayne Stollings Well-Known Member

    Not really since this question was posed to Asimov in 1984, but his writings show up much earlier than that ...

    Back in 1950, in a passage that was eventually published as the first section of my book Foundation, I had my protagonist pull out a pocket computer. I didn’t call it a pocket computer, I called it a “tabulator pad.”
    Read more:
    Hught likes this.
  5. DWK

    DWK Well-Known Member

    That’s a lot of “psychohistory” to parse through, but damn, wasn’t Asimov one of a kind?

    Last edited: Oct 14, 2019
    Auxie and Hught like this.
  6. Wayne Stollings

    Wayne Stollings Well-Known Member

    With Heinlein they were a two of a kind ....
    Auxie and DWK like this.
  7. Wayne Stollings

    Wayne Stollings Well-Known Member

    Heinlein has three of the top ten ranked Sci-Fi books and Asimov has the top ranked book with his Foundation Trilogy.
    Auxie likes this.

Share This Page