What Isaac Asimov got right (and wrong) about the year 2014--in 1964

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Jan 2, 2014, 2:10 PM EST (Updated)

The name Isaac Asimov is practically synonymous with science fiction, and there’s a reason why: He wrote some of the genre's most recognizable Golden Age books, such as I, Robot and the Foundation trilogy, not to mention one of its greatest short stories, “Nightfall” (the uninitiated can read it here). When he wasn’t busy with science fiction, science, mysteries, histories and more, he found time to write an essay for the New York Times ... one that predicted life in the year 2014.

After visiting the 1964 World's Fair, Asimov envisioned what the world would look like 50 years in the future. As with any good imagineer, he was spot-on with some predictions (“psychological resistance” to ersatz foods like tofurkey) and spotty with others ("The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind").

But when he was good, he was very, very good. It seems that Asimov accurately predicted the iPhone:

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

Reasonably predicted 3-D TV:

“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.”

And predicted with freakishly eerie accuracy our exploration of Mars:

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

Interestingly, some of the things he got wrong -- solar power beamed down from space, fusion power -- are still being explored right now. So he may still be right about the technology, even if he’s off by a couple of years.

Alas, some of the good doctor's forecasts, such as underwater cities and jetcars, are still science fiction.

Isaac Asimov was born today in 1920. He would have been 94.

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