Isaac Asimov’s 1964 Predictions About What the World Will Look 50 Years Later

asimov throne

Painting of Asimov on his throne by Rowena Morill

When New York City hosted The World’s Fair in 1964, Isaac Asimov, the prolific sci-fi author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, took the opportunity to wonder what the world would look like 50 years hence — assuming the world survived the nuclear threats of the Cold War. Writing in The New York Times, Asimov imagined a world that you might partly recognize today, a world where:

  • “Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare ‘automeals,’ heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on. Breakfasts will be ‘ordered’ the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning.”
  • “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.”
  • “[M]en will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button.”

  • “Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”
  • “The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes.”
  • “[H]ighways … in the more advanced sections of the world will have passed their peak in 2014; there will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface. There will be aircraft, of course, but even ground travel will increasingly take to the air a foot or two off the ground.”
  • “[V]ehicles with ‘Robot-brains’ … can be set for particular destinations … that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver.”
  • “[W]all screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible.”
  • “[T]he world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000.” And later he warns that if the population growth continues unchecked, “All earth will be a single choked Manhattan by A.D. 2450 and society will collapse long before that!” As a result, “There will, therefore, be a worldwide propaganda drive in favor of birth control by rational and humane methods and, by 2014, it will undoubtedly have taken serious effect.” [See our Walt Disney Family Planning cartoon from earlier this week.]
  • “Ordinary agriculture will keep up with great difficulty and there will be ‘farms’ turning to the more efficient micro-organisms. Processed yeast and algae products will be available in a variety of flavors.”
  • “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. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction…. All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary “Fortran.”
  • “[M]ankind 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.”
  •  “[T]he most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!” in our “a society of enforced leisure.”

Isaac Asimov wasn’t the only person who peered into the future during the 60s and got it right. You can find a few more on-the-mark predictions from contemporaries below:

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Future in 1964 … And Kind of Nails It

Walter Cronkite Imagines the Home of the 21st Century … Back in 1967

The Internet Imagined in 1969

Marshall McLuhan Announces That The World is a Global Village

via Buzzfeed

The Art of Fugue: Gould Plays Bach

Between 1979 and 1981, the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould collaborated on a series of documentary films with the French violinist, writer and filmmaker Bruno Mansaingeon. In the scenes presented here, Gould plays a pair of movements from Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Art of Fugue.

Gould was nearing the end of his life when he gave these performances. He died of a stroke on October 4, 1982, only a few days after his 50th birthday. Similarly, The Art of Fugue was one of Bach’s final projects. He worked on it over the last decade of his life, and the unfinished manuscript was published after his death, perhaps also from a stroke, in 1750 at the age of 65.

The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, is made up of 14 fugues and 4 canons, each exploring the contrapuntal possibilities of a single musical subject. Gould plays “Contrapunctus I” in the video above. Below, he plays “Contrapunctus IV.”

via @SteveSilberman

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Seamus Heaney Reads His Exquisite Translation of Beowulf and His Memorable 1995 Nobel Lecture


We were among millions deeply saddened to learn today that Seamus Heaney had passed away at age 74. Called the greatest Irish poet since Yeats, Heaney was not only a national treasure to his home country but to the global poetry community. The 1995 Nobel laureate worked in a rich bardic tradition that mined mythic language and imagery, Celtic and otherwise, to get at primeval human verities that transcend culture and nation.

One prominent theme in Heaney’s work—connected to the Irish struggle, but accessible to anyone—is the persistence of tribalism and its damaging effects on future generations. In one of his darker poems, “Punishment,” one I’ve often taught to undergraduates, Heaney’s speaker implicates himself in the execution of a woman found buried in a bog many centuries later. In the last two stanzas, the speaker betrays empathy clothed in helpless recognition of the tribal violence and hypocrisy at the heart of all systems of justice.

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.

The theme of tribal violence and its consequences is central to the Old English poem Beowulf, which Heaney famously translated into a rich new idiom suited for a post-colonial age but still consonant with the distinctive poetic rhythms of its language. You can hear Heaney read his translation of Beowulf online. Above, we have the Prologue. (Apologies in advance for the irritating ad that precedes it.) The remainder of the reading appears on YouTube — listen to Part 1 and Part 2Plus find more of Heaney’s work at the Poetry Foundation.

Finally, you can also listen to his Nobel lecture delivered on 7 December 1995. It was posted on YouTube today, and we thought it worth your while. It’s presented in full below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Learn to Make Borscht with Neko Case and Get a Taste of Her New Album

What’s the difference between borscht and alt-country music?

Uh, pretty much everything, except for singer-songwriter, Neko Case, the most recent in a long list of celebrities to share Ukrainian beet soup recipes with an adoring public.

Filmed at the behest of Rookie, an online magazine by and for teenage girls, Neko’s videotaped lesson is both basic and refreshingly unexacting. Her status as the child of Ukrainian immigrants affords her the street cred to tell viewers they should take it as a sign they’re on the right track should someone of eastern European extraction insist they’re doing it wrong. (Her on-camera version is gluten-free, and—prior to the addition of sour cream and chicken stock—lactose-free and vegan, as well.)

Interested in sampling her version? Put the laptop on the counter. You won’t miss anything if you commence chopping right away. The demo is as casual as her lack of styling, clocking in at nearly twenty minutes, including tips for tear-free onion cutting, celery leaf usage, and the making of mirepoix.

You’ll also get a tiny taste of “Man,” the first single from her soon-to-drop new album,The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, though keep your ears peeled for the song that plays as the credits roll. In an age defined by such pressure cooker shows as Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, and Chopped, the phrase “If I puked up some sonnets, would you call me a miracle” is oddly alt-appetizing.

Neko Case’s new album is still streaming for free at NPR’s First Listen site.

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Ayun Halliday just discovered kvass. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Watch Big Time, the Concert Film Capturing Tom Waits on His Best Tour Ever (1988)

Here at Open Culture, we’ve often featured the many sides of Tom Waits: actor, poetry reader, favored David Letterman guest. More rarely, we’ve posted material dedicated to showcasing him practicing his primary craft, writing songs and singing them. But when a full-fledged Tom Waits concert does surface here, prepare to settle in for an unrelentingly (and entertainingly) askew musical experience. In March, we posted Burma Shave, an hour-long performance from the late seventies in which Waits took on “the persona of a down-and-out barfly with the soul of a Beat poet.” Today, we fast-forward a decade to Big Time, by which point Waits could express the essences of “avant-garde composer Harry Partch, Howlin’ Wolf, Frank Sinatra, Astor Piazzolla, Irish tenor John McCormack, Kurt Weill, Louis Prima, Mexican norteño bands and Vegas lounge singers.” That evocative quote comes from Big Time‘s own press notes, as excerpted by Dangerous Minds, which calls the viewing experience “like entering a sideshow tent in Tom Waits’s brain.”

Watch the 90-minute concert film in its entirety, though, and you may not find it evocative enough. In 1987, Waits had just put out the album Franks Wild Years, which explores the experience of his alter-ego Frank O’Brien, whom Waits called “a combination of Will Rogers and Mark Twain, playing accordion — but without the wisdom they possessed.” The year before, the singer actually wrote and produced a stage play built around the character, and the Franks Wild Years tour through North America and Europe made thorough use of Waits’ theatrical bent in that era. Its final two shows, at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre and Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre, along with footage from gigs in Dublin, Stockholm and Berlin, make up the bulk of Big Time‘s material. As for its sensibility, well, even Waits fans may feel insecure, and happily so, about quite what to expect. (Fans of The Wire, I should note, will find something familiar indeed in this show’s rendition of “Way Down in the Hole.”)

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

A Short Visual History of America, According to the Irreverent Comic Satirist R. Crumb

Today, countercultural cartoonist Robert Dennis Crumb, better known as R. Crumb, turns 70. As a founder of the “underground comix” movement in the 1960s, Crumb is either revered as a pioneering satirist of American culture and its excesses or reviled as a juvenile purveyor of painfully outmoded sexist and racist stereotypes. Crumb doesn’t apologize. He keeps working, and his fans are grateful. He has parlayed his sexual obsessions and outsider relationship to black culture into an intriguing vision of the country that reflects its own fixations as much as those of the artist/author of comics like Zap and Weirdo.

But Crumb’s work—permeated by drug use, pop-culture references, skirt-chasing oversexed men, very specifically-shaped (and always sexually-available) women, and all sorts of creepy underground characters—has another side: an almost sentimental attachment to purist Americana from the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century. Most notably Crumb is an antiquarian collector of old-time music—country, jazz, ragtime, the blues—as well as a musical interpreter of the same. One of my favorites of his books collects a series of trading cards he made into R Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country, a reverential set of illustrations of folk musicians, accompanied by a CD of Crumb-curated music.

Crumb’s love for simpler times is more than the passion of an aficionado. It is the flip side of his satire, a genre that cannot flourish as a critique of the present without a corresponding vision of a golden age. For Crumb, that age is pre-WWII, pre-industrial, rural—a time, as he has put it in a recent interview, when “people could still express themselves.” His experience with the slop of American popular culture was decidedly less idyllic. Ian Buruma writes in The New York Review of Books:

Crumb, like his brothers, soaked up the TV and comics culture of the 1950s: Howdy DoodyDonald DuckRoy RogersLittle Lulu, and the like. While on LSD, in the 1960s, Crumb thought of his mind as “a garbage receptacle of mass media images and input. I spent my whole childhood absorbing so much crap that my personality and mind are saturated with it. God only knows if that affects you physically!”

Crumb’s comic art—which he has described in almost therapeutic terms as an emptying of his “garbage receptacle” unconscious—is balanced by his more sober and nostalgic illustrations, the counterweight to the “crap” of his childhood media exposure. One might even think of Crumb’s consumption of old-time music and imagery as a kind of cultural health food diet. One of the most popular of his nostalgic works is “A Short History of America” (1979) a series of panels showing the shift from open countryside, to the town settlements brought by the railroads, to the gross overdevelopment of the late-twentieth century. The only text besides the title (and the burgeoning billboards and street signs) is a coda at the bottom-right-hand of the last panel asking, “What next?!!!” You can see the comic animated above (top), set to an old-time piano piece. Another fitting version of his vision of the country’s growth (or ruination) is above, in color, scored by Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” See the full series of images here and here, and be sure to check out Crumb’s three epilogue speculations on what’s next.

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The Confessions of Robert Crumb: A Portrait Scripted by the Underground Comics Legend Himself (1987)

Record Cover Art by Underground Cartoonist Robert Crumb

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Philosopher Portraits: Famous Philosophers Painted in the Style of Influential Artists

Ludwig Wittgenstein/Piet Mondrian:

Ludwig Wittgenstein & Piet Mondrian

What do the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian have in common? For philosopher and artist Renée Jorgensen Bolinger, the two have similar beliefs about the logic of space.

“Many of Mondrian’s pieces explore the relationships between adjacent spaces,” says Bolinger “and in particular the formative role of each on the boundaries and possibilities of the other. I based this painting [see above] off of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, in which he develops a theory of meaning grounded in the idea that propositions have meaning only insofar as they constrain the ways the world could be; a meaningful proposition is thus very like one of Mondrian’s color squares, forming a boundary and limiting the possible configurations of the adjacent spaces.”

A second-year PhD student in the philosophy program at the University of Southern California, Bolinger studied painting a Biola University before making philosophy her second major. “I actually came to philosophy quite late in my college career,” Bolinger says, “only adding the major in my junior year. I was fortunate to have two particularly excellent and philosophic art teachers, Jonathan Puls and Jonathan Anderson, who convinced me that my two passions were not mutually exclusive, and encouraged me to pursue both as I began my graduate education.”

Bolinger now works primarily on the philosophy of language, with side interests in logic, epistemology, mind and political philosophy. She continues to paint. We asked her how she reconciles her two passions, which seem to occupy opposite sides of the mind. “I do work in analytic philosophy,” she says, “but it’s only half true that philosophy and painting engage opposite sides of the mind. The sort of realist drawing and painting that I do is all about analyzing the relationships between the lines, shapes and color tones, and so still very left-brain. Nevertheless, it engages the mind in a different way than do the syllogisms of analytic philosophy. I find that the two types of mental exertion complement each other well, each serving as a productive break from the other.”

Bolinger has created a series of philosopher portraits, each one pairing a philosopher with an artist, or art style, in an intriguing way. In addition to Wittgenstein, she painted ten philosophers in her first series, many of them by request. They can all be seen on her Web site, where high quality prints can be ordered.

G.E.M. Anscombe/Jackson Pollock:

G.E.M. Anscombe & Jackson Pollock

Bolinger says she paired the British analytic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe with the American abstract painter Jackson Pollock for two reasons: “First, the loose style of Pollock’s action painting fits the argumentative (and organizational) style of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, which Anscombe helped to edit and was instrumental in publishing. Second, her primary field of work, in which she wrote a seminal text, is philosophy of action, which has obvious connections to the themes present in any of Pollock’s action paintings.”

Gottlob Frege/Vincent Van Gogh:

Gottlob Frege & Van Gogh

Bolinger paired the German logician, mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege with the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night and Frege’s puzzle concerning identity statements such as “Hesperus is Phosphorus,” or “the evening star is identical to the morning star.”

Bertrand Russell/Art Deco:

Bertrand Russell & Art Deco

Bolinger painted the British logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell in the Art Deco style. “This pairing is a bit more about the gestalt, and a bit harder to articulate,” says Bolinger. “The simplification of form and reduction to angled planes that takes place in the background of this Art Deco piece are meant to cohere with Russell’s locial atomism (the reduction of complex logical propositions to their fundamental logical ‘atoms’).”

Kurt Gödel/Art Nouveau:

Kurt Godel & Art Nouveau

Bolinger paired the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel with Art Nouveau. “The Art Nouveau movement developed around the theme of mechanization and the repetition of forms,” says Bolinger, “and centrally involves a delicate balance between organic shapes — typically a figure that dominates the portrait — and schematized or abstracted patterns, often derived from organic shapes, but made uniform and repetitive (often seen in the flower motifs that ornament most Art Nouveau portraits). I paired this style with Kurt Gödel because his work was dedicated to defining computability in terms of recursive functions, and using the notion to prove the Completeness and Incompleteness theorems.”

To see more of Renée Jorgensen Bolinger’s philosopher portraits, click here to visit her site. And if you like them all, the PhilPortraits Calendar might be perfect for you.

via Leiter Reports

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Iconic Photographs Re-Created in Play Doh: Man Ray to Nan Goldin

photosrenderedplaydohPoints for creativity go to Eleanor Macnair, who recently launched the “Photographs rendered in Play-Doh” Tumblr. Given the name of the Tumblr, I probably don’t have to explain the concept. I think you get it. Above we have “Photographer Dennis Stock holds a camera in front of his face, 1955” — the original by Andreas Feininger (right), and the recreation by Ms. Macnair (left). Also on the Tumblr you’ll find, among others:

  • “Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City, 1983” by Nan Goldin (original – play doh)
  • “Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, August 1955” by Richard Avedon (original – play doh)
  • “Helen Tamiris, 1929” by Man Ray (original – play doh)

Stay tuned, there’s hopefully more to come.

H/T goes to James Estrin, co-editor of The New York Times Lens Blog

Photo above via DVAfoto

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