When sci-fi author Isaac Asimov sojourned to the New York World’s Fair in 1964 — according to his writings, he “enjoyed it hugely” — he regretted the Fair’s lack of foresight. So, thoughts turned to the future, Asimov penned a New York Times essay he titled “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014,” a glimpse 50 years ahead into the future of human history. Here are twelve aspects of what 2014 should hold for mankind, excerpted from Asimov’s imaginative predictions.
1. The human race would be incurably bored
In what Asimov declared his “most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014,” the writer believed society would fall into a sense of enforced leisure: “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.”
2. Appliances would no longer have electric cords
Instead, previously-plugged in gadgets would be powered by “long-lived batteries running on isotopes.” A probably expensive proposition in today’s 2014, except, according to Asimov, the batteries would be cheap by-products of…
3. Fission-power plants that would energize most of the world
By 2014, Asimov surmised that fission-power plants would be “supplying well over half the power needs of humanity.” But Asimov also predicted that fission-power technology would already be on the way out in favor of…
4. At least two experimental fusion-power plants
Scientists would also have constructed models of “power stations in space, collecting sunlight by means of huge parabolic focusing devices and radiating the energy thus collected to earth.” Solar energy would be just as big a deal on Earth, too: enormous solar power stations in a number of semi-desert regions (including Arizona and Kazakhstan) would be fully operational.
5. Cars would fly — sort of
Roads and bridges would be rendered all but obsolete: “Jets of compressed air will also lift land vehicles off the highways, which, among other things, will minimize paving problems…cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets, though local ordinances will discourage the practice.”
6. There would be robots
But they’d lack in quantity and quality: “Robots will be neither common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.” Asimov predicted one Jetsons-ish advancement in robotics with his idea for a General Electric “robot housemaid…large, clumsy, slow-moving but capable of general picking-up, arranging, cleaning, and manipulation of various appliances.” Another of Asimov’s predictions picked up on by The Jetsons was…
7. Moving sidewalks, raised above traffic
Which Asimov determined would only be be functional for “short-range travel.” The writer also envisioned that “compressed air tubes will carry goods and materials over local stretches, and the switching devices that will place specific shipments in specific destinations will be one of the city’s marvels.”
8. Humans would have colonized the moon
And Earth-bound citizens would be able to communicate with lunar friends by sending conversations through “modulated laser beams, which are easy to manipulate in space.” Asimov freely admitted that “conversations with the moon will be a trifle uncomfortable,” accounting for the 2.5 seconds it would take for a question or answer to reach the other end of the conversation — that’s how long it would take the light to make the trip.
9. Some of us might start taking up residence underwater
An attractive option for “those who like water sports,” Asimov foresaw 2014 as a banner year for the beginning of the colonization of the continental shelves beneath the oceans’ depths. He pictured the 2014 World’s Fair as boasting exhibits showing “cities in the deep sea with bathyscaphe liners.”
10. The area from Boston to Washington, D.C. would become one big city
Due to the region encompassing Boston to the nation’s capital being the most crowded area of its size on earth, the region would band together to form one metropolis of more than 40 million residents. That’s chump change compared to Asimov’s guesses of the world’s population (6 and a half billion) and the population of the United States (350 million). As of January 1, 2014, the U.S.A.’s actual population was 319 million, and Asimov’s prediction was a bit short of the world’s 7.1 billion citizens.
11. Life expectancy would hit 85 years old in some parts of the world
Which is one of the reasons Asimov concerned himself so much with the possible problems of overpopulation. Why would most humans live to such a ripe old age? Asimov chalked it up to “the increasing use of mechanical devices to replace failing hearts and kidneys, and repair stiffening arteries and breaking nerves.”
12. The world would be seriously automated
Asimov imagined that “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.” To fit the need, all high school curricula of the future would make “binary arithmetic” and “formula translation” mandatory.