Isaac Asimov Predicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today


Painting of Asimov on his throne by Rowena Morill, via Wikimedia Commons

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 during the 60s who peered into the future in a fairly prescient way. 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

Note: This post originally appeared on Open Culture last August. If there was ever a time to show it again, it’s today. So, with your indulgence, we’re giving it an encore performance. 

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Comments (71)
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  • Subhayan Mukerjee says:

    Sorry to spam, but I felt like sharing this, that I wrote a near-identical post on my blog, on the same topic, a few days back.

  • Rose McDonald says:

    Wow! Just wow!

  • Flu antic says:

    Pretty Much, RIGHT ON THE MARK !

  • stuart says:

    All the proof is in films

  • Jay says:

    Right on the mark? Really?

    There were only 3-4 of those that he was right on — and even some of those, you’ve got to stretch the truth a bit…

  • Sunwoo says:

    Which ones would you say were not ‘right on’? Most of these are actually true.

  • Sanae says:

    So true

  • Stu says:

    Wow, sadly we don’t live in a society of false leisure; nor does anyone preorder their breakfast or have highways reached their peak in favour of flying cars.

  • Steve Ardire says:

    my fav “The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being”

  • Lisa says:

    As far as the breakfast making itself… there are programmable coffee makers!
    And for living in false leisure or not… as a kid, I played in the garden while my family worked so we could have food on the table. Now days kids wouldn’t do that because their video game might get dirty! But my grandma remembers being the kid and doing work along side of her mama and daddy. No playing in the dirt or on the video games!!!

  • Laurel L. Russwurm says:

    Ike was an optimist who thought those in power would seek to use science to make the world a better place. These predictions weigh in at a time when his government still attempted to reflect the will of the people over the will of the multinational corporation.

    For instance:

    “The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes.”

    *could* be true but for the corporate greed. What thet gets us is Proprietary non-standard batteries that deliberately don’t work well. My nearly 10 year old digital camera runs on rechargable AA batteries, unlike “new improved” cameras which instead tie digital devices to expensive rechargeables that artificially make the device obsolete when the manufacturer chooses to stop supporting the battery. Thus you have to invest in lots of the overpriced non-standard batteries (increasing profits) or junk your device more frequently (increasing profits). Has anyone noticed the irony that any coffee shop filled with people working on their laptops also has to be equipped with electrical outlets because the batteries are so useless? I’m lucky if my current “smartphone” can hold a charge for a whole day, my old one could mange triple that.

  • bengineer says:

    which ones were not on the mark?
    #1 autobreakfast
    #3 electroluminescent panels for lighting (unless you count flat-screen TVs, but he has a separate, accurate prediction for those)
    #5 cordless radio-isotope powered appliances (more is battery powered now but still conventional electrochemical; atomic power isn’t what they hoped it would be)
    #6 fewer highways, flying cars common
    #9 global birth control campaign (In the US this has gone backwards; China is relaxing its 1 child policy)
    #11 few routine jobs (tell that to Foxconn workers, Bangladeshi clothing makers, supermarket cashiers and shelf-stockers…)
    The last two are debatable. It’s still only the wealthy who live the “lotus lifestyle”. If the word “work” is glorious it’s only because, for the vast majority of people, destitution, not excessive leisure, is the alternative.

  • Dan Simonds says:

    Lets not forget Paul Harvey. He spoke on the radio in 1965 about “If I Were The Devil” and here we are in 2014 and everything has come to pass. You can hear it on youtube.

  • John Fowler says:

    For the people saying he was spot-on, how many kids do you know that are “proficient in binary arithmetic” or farms that focus mainly on raising micro-organisms? Do you program your breakfast the night before to be ready the next morning? What’s it like with an automatic egg poacher in every kitchen? Or your refrigerator and television that has no cord and runs on radioactive isotopes? How are your glowing walls working, since they’ve replaced lamps and ceiling fixtures? How much did you pay for your floating car that doesn’t touch the road?

    Your exhibiting confirmation bias. You remember the couple bulls-eyes and forget the misses, and the text is only inches above what you’re posting. How could you be so wrong so quickly?

  • Peter Vollan says:

    One of the things he missed is disposability: those nuclear batteries exist, they can last for like 100 years and are used in space probes, remote arctic outposts and so on. Appliances are not meant to last that long, they are meant to wear out so that they can sell you another one. I am still using my grandfather’s vacuum cleaner, while the newer plastic stuff just breaks apart. (Lucky for Asimov that the self driving car is here in the nick of time)

  • mike says:

    yeah more wrong than right if you ask me.


    Pretty impressive job by Asimov if you ask me. I wish he dealt more with the issue of societal collapse. He worried about overpopulation because he did not the BEST form of birth control on earth: BIG GOVT which leads invariably to massive inflation and crushing taxes.


    Pretty impressive job by Asimov if you ask me. I wish he dealt more with the issue of societal collapse. He worried about overpopulation because he did not realize the BEST form of birth control on earth: BIG GOVT which leads invariably to massive inflation and crushing taxes.

  • SHarrison says:

    He was close on that word…not work…twerk.

  • RKarath says:

    I met him and kissed him at WorldCon 1974 in Washington DC. Now I just miss him, and a lot of others.

  • Incremental Jones says:

    My auto breakfast is better than Asimov’s idea of ordering it the night before for a specific time. I pop a frozen breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon into the science oven and 2 minutes later, instant breakfast!

  • Dylan Wyn says:

    Have around 60 of his books in my collection, inspired visions from a great author that infused my imagination from the age of 12. I am now 52, and started re reading a lot of the books. The striking thing is, that the values he espoused are ones I have adopted as a moral code, unwittingly, fascination at his writings still endures.

  • GalacticDomin8r says:


    Pretty funny since Asimov advocated pretty much the BIGGEST GOVT in sci fi history and showed how well it can work when idiots aren’t allowed to interfere.

  • ratnsh says:

    The people who can incision the world ahead makes the current world enriching in the same direction. The world Would really be much more liveable with the visibility approach by all of us.

  • Greg says:

    Asimov like other SF writers in the 40s and 50s thought the benefits of automation would be shared and boy were they wrong! They thought the unions would buy robotic and other automated equipment to lease back to corporations. The money earned would be paid to workers who’s hours would be reduced over time as the equipment was developed. Eventually everyone working in an automatible industry (and their descendants) would retire, living off the income. But the unions were destroyed and the working class suffer more depredations ever day at the hands of the greedy slave-drivers who run our country.

  • Rhonda Shepard says:

    If scholars would have only listened to him years ago, we could have eliminated a lot of pain and suffering in the last 50 years.
    People are narrow minded to a fault.

  • Warren says:

    Sorry- remarkable in its generality and unimpressiveness. Almost none are on the mark, and even those require quite a stretch.

  • Bob says:

    Here’s the overriding theme about Asimov or any other SF writer’s predictions. They get the technology part generally right but the adoption part wrong, because they assume that the existence of a useful technology automatically equates to its widespread adoption. They don’t really see the market or political forces that stand in the way of things like robotics and flying cars and such.

  • Harkonnen says:

    I would say that he was too specific in his predictions. Certainly his more general remarks are accurate, but otherwise he was off the mark.

  • Al Ayla says:

    For a balanced view, how many predictions that are way off didn’t make it to this list?

  • Philip Sajeesh says:


  • Jellifer says:

    Enforced leisure- themed amusement parks, malls, etc. that make you spend money & at the end of it all you’re still unsatisfied.

  • Nick Hood-Powell says:

    Future prediction, singularity versus plurality …

  • Ron says:

    If we were all in 1964 could any of us made such predictions. We would have more of these advancements but we are oppressed by a monetary(greed) system.

  • Zoltan says:

    “Sorry- remarkable in its generality and unimpressiveness. Almost none are on the mark, and even those require quite a stretch.”

    Really? I’d say most of them were pretty close. Ok, some of them aren’t accurate:

    * Radioisotope power isn’t around.
    * No flying cars, fair enough

    The rest is pretty accurate, the Western world is completely relient on automation of one sort or another.
    You must remember this was written from a Western point of view.

    Boredom is absolutely true unfortunately, our culture is entirely based on entertainment. Yes, you still need to work but otherwise it’s all about the weekend, or the next holiday or the next model TV.

  • Tom Fisher says:

    I, too attended the 1964 World’s Fair in New York with my brother. I was a college kid at the time. I can clearly remember what things were like back then 50 years ago; things are not much different today.

    Biggest change has been in communication with PCs, cell phones, developing social media, and in medical treatment.

    Popular Science magazine wrote in the 60’s about cars moving along elevated a foot off the ground, programed to a destination with no driver. It didn’t seem realistic, or desirable back then, and not so even today.

    Never any talk that I can remember about radioisotope battery power for appliances. All batteries eventually leak. Who would want to have batteries leaking radio active material in your house? A really bad idea.

    Hanging a TV screen on the wall like a picture was talked about then, and has come true today.

    My dream for the next 50 years is to develop cheap power, with far less reliance on petroleum.

  • Priscilla Winslow says:

    He did not foresee that the actual practice of psychiatry/psychotherapy/voodoo would just about disappear and be replaced by useless, noxious, dangerous drugs/placebos.

    Not sure why he gave so much credit to the “medical practice of psychiatry.” It’s been pretty much put out to pasture, by psychiatrists themselves (even though there are still a lot of crazy people). It’s a lot more lucrative to see someone for 5 minutes and renew a Rx.

  • jj says:

    Looking at that photo, I wonder if he ever predicted his mutton-chops and longish hair, a scant 10 years later?
    Predicting the future is a fools game, with unforeseeable changes. Can you imagine atomic batteries, in this age of terrorism?
    Last week, my wife and I were talking about life before the Net. This is one of the few things that have really changed our lives – digital communications and computers. Maybe medicine, too. Other than that, we aren’t living much differently than we did in 64 – except we don’t have the Beatles! ;>

  • Amanndaa says:

    Yes the ‘3D holographic cubes’ are totally true bro!

  • TRoller says:

    Lots of trolls commenting here… like Amanda and Jay.

    Get a life noobs.

  • Paul Thorne says:

    A few of these are quite close to what we have today.

    As for pre-ordered breakfast. I Sometimes have done that. Order a bacon sandwich on Thursday to pick up for 10am Friday. I used do the same about sixteen years when I worked in a garage. Then it was cheese scones. I know this is not electronic but it can be done for regular customers.

    I think hover cars are a few hundred years away at least. However the bullet train in Japan does hover above the rail.

    You can get robotic vacuum cleaners but they are not very good. Round robots cannot get into corners.

  • Maria Camps says:

    Inspired & connected clear foresight.

  • Kyguy says:

    Well our skytrain works just fine here in Vancouver. There’s a huge push to move away from the car and the highways. So for where I live it sounds on to me…

  • John Hildeburn says:

    Re: last prediction about work and enforced leisure. Clearly the author has never been to France (or Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Argentina…)

  • Cliff says:

    Mr. Asimov got it right–or at least partially right– on the majority of his predictions. One that I found uncomfortably close to accurate was his statement, ”[T]he most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!” in our ”a society of enforced leisure.” The only fact he may not have understood was the mechanism driving this “enforced leisure” so many of us are ‘enjoying’ today: chronic unemployment, and the political, governmental business, and industrial lack of a positive response to dealing with it.

    Glowing wall rheostat-adjustable paint already exists in the labs, some of our kitchen gadgetry, such as coffee makers and microwaves, are programmable, flying cars are in development, as are “smart cars”, etc. And he nailed food production problems and world and U.S. population pretty closely from 50 years out.

    Mr. Asimov was a brilliant thinker. Don’t take my word for it; read some of his books.

  • Adam says:

    What @John Fowler said.

  • Mika says:

    I have always loved Issac Asimov…since I first discovered him as a young teenager. Reading this makes one wonder if he time travelled.

  • Eseris says:

    ”[T]he most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!” in our ”a society of enforced leisure.”

    He was close. What he meant was “twerk”.

  • Ken says:

    The part that goes “Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.” probably should has said “androids” not “robots”. There are lots of robot things out there.

  • mk says:

    Which ones would you say were not ‘right on’? Most of these are actually true.

    I’m fascinated by your very low level of cognitive functioning.

  • mk says:

    Mr. Asimov got it right–or at least partially right– on the majority of his predictions.

    For very small values of “partial”.

  • laura says:

    It occurs to me that the developers of many of our fabulous tehnologies may have read the works of Asimov, et al. and dreamed if creating the world they predicted. so maybe it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the world hss turned out the way they predicted. pretty cool to see dreams come true

  • Ben says:

    His earlier work was pretty accurate, short stories he wrote in the 40’s and 50’s depicting the internet and supercomputers and that children were no longer taught basic arithmatic instead relying on computers. He seems to have changed his mind by the 60,s

  • Scott says:

    “No flying cars, fair enough” — there is a company that has a prototype named Terrafugia — Google it. I think this guys has way more right than wrong.

  • Gordon says:

    Remember, Asimov is using the scientific vocabulary & knowledge of the 60s. While it could be argued Asimov’s crystal ball reading isn’t 100% spot on, conceptual thought of how much of the developed world would operate 50 years in the future — I think he is amazingly one target. Is he exact? No. Is he close in many areas? Yes. Think robotics, wifi, smart phones, drive-thrus (rather than kitchens) for pre-ordered meals, etc. These are a daily part of our lives, and I think that’s where his thoughts are on target.

  • Stiefken says:

    Thank you.

  • Manas says:

    A true visionary. .. predicted the population so precisely. ..

  • Robert Barrett says:

    Chalk me up as one who doesn’t think this stuff was prescient, or even similar in spirit to the reality of 2014. I think it was naively optimistic and philosophically flawed. I’ll give him credit for trying to be rational in his predictions, but that’s about it.

    Emphasis on transportation with the least surface contact? Hello, the whole world is a parking lot. You can’t twist enough politicians’ arms to build a decent rail system in this supposedly most advanced country on Earth. Green energy solutions are all fine and dandy on paper, but they’re not considered economically profitable in the short term, so they don’t get implemented on any large scale.

    Kids proficient in binary math? Try kids proficient in texting.

    Autobreakfast? Why the hell is everyone saying oh yes, autobreakfast was so spot-on? I never had any damn autobreakfast. Having someone else cook it for you wasn’t exactly what Asimov meant by autobreakfast, you know. Microwaving a breakfast burrito doesn’t quite get it, either.

    A push for birth control? Try an absurd push to REPEAL any progress on that topic – said push actually getting kooks elected.

    I know everyone loves Asimov, but I’ve never found him all that profound, sorry. THREE laws of robotics? Just three? Seriously?

    REALLY? Nothing could possibly go wrong with THREE laws. Sheesh.

  • Eileen Jackson says:

    Didn’t anyone predict climate change? What about the population bomb?

  • sherpeace says:

    So . . . where are those long-lived batteries he is talking about?
    I am tired of spending so much money on batteries! ;-( . . .

  • Sten says:

    What do you mean “right on”? He got most of it wrong!

    The kitchen appliances that prepare breakfast was wrong.

    You still don’t see the person you’re talking too, usually, and most calls go on the ground, not by satellite. Only the part about viewing documents was spot on.

    Things still have electric cords – no isotope batteries. Batteries for mobiles you charge every night.

    Glowing ceilings and walls…? Come on!

    Flying a few feet off the ground instead of highways…? Come on!! Back to the future…?

    Vehicles with “robot brains” taking us automatically to a location are still on the drawing board.

    Transparent cubes for 3D? Not in everyones’s home, if anywhere! If you stretch it you could call the flat-screens viewing on the wall, and they are starting to be 3D, but…

    Farms using microorganisms? Not as far as I see in my supermarket!

    Routine jobs disappearing? Partly in industry, yes, but hardly in service jobs…

    Far from all students learn programming languages. They aren’t needed to use computers…

    Robots not only exist, they are hugely used in industry. He was maybe correct in that they don’t exist as house servants, as in sci-fi movies. But they are the base of the industry.

    What he got right:

    – Gadgets (but not preparing food, for communication).

    – Communication in documents (Internet)

    – Industry work is machine-tendering (but far from all)

    – The boredom.

    That’s about it

  • Jawad says:

    Fair points from fellow readers but understand the context it has been written. Yes, many of his predictions may be somewhat off precision but the question posed was what the world would look like in 2014.

    Everything mentioned in the list is either being looked into or alternative means and methods developed.

    Let’s take seeing the person when speaking to them; FaceTime, Skype. We may not use these resources daily or build them into ‘everyday’ life but the fact it exists is testament he has predicted correctly.

    Credit due to such an inspiring and forward thinking individual.

  • Greg says:

    Ya’ gotta love all the nitpickers and naysayers posting in the comments about how inaccurate Asimov was in predicting what might come 1/2 century into the future.

    I would love to see what all those critics are willing to predict about the world as it might be in 2064.

    Thanks to Dr. Asimov and his brethren, my imagination soared in the 50’s and 60’s…and it hasn’t come back to Earth yet, 60 years later.

  • Sally Edelstein says:

    The new year has always been the traditional time for crystal ball gazing offering tantalizing prediction for our imagined future. Stumbling across an article from n January of 1956 in which they look ahead 20 years venturing a guess at what we might find in a 1975 home, the predictions are both accurate, fanciful and amusing

  • Cherrix says:

    No offence, but some of the comments here are pretty narrow minded and unworthy of the personality of Asimov. It is truly a pity, I believe, to waste neurons, when they seem to be already in short supply for some people, on this topic. Yeah, Asimov said your car would be floating about this year and it does not. What a fool, Asimov, you might have just outsmarted him!
    I personally am thankful for the chance I’ve had 25 years ago to read a few of his books. They’ve shaped me, made me dream my future and where my incentive to become what I’ve dreamt I would.
    Asimov was a genius and a visionary, and he wrote a guideline of science and morals for many great people to which you owe your world wide web, smart phone, kitchen robots…
    He was not in the business of guessing our future at all!
    So it does not really matter how accurate he was in details. It does matter he thought of the unthinkable in terms of technology at that time, and he did so with a set of values few of us have anymore. He (and other great visionaries of his generation) brought into the world 50 years ago the seeds of our present commodities.
    Our parents watered them and now we harvest.
    We should hope our generation will put some good seeds for the future!

  • Eliseo Martinez says:

    LOVED … Mr Isaac Asimov prophet XX CENTURY .

  • Jewels Vern says:

    “All earth will be a single choked Manhattan by A.D. 2450 and society will collapse long before that!”

    It only takes a minute of doodling to figure out that the entire world population could live in Texas with the same density as New York City: 1200 square feet per person. Mr. Asimov wrote some nice stories, but he blew this one. “Overpopulation” is a code phrase for “Let’s kill something!”

  • Elena says:

    Actually flying cars are a reality now. You can buy them for $50,000 USD. They have three motors and are shaped–you guessed it–like a flying saucer. Not sure if that made the design more efficient or if it was just someone’s sense of humor at play!

    Anyway, whether most of his predictions are correct or not, it’s fascinating that a man of science came close on some of them! How many of us could have done the same?

  • Laura Ess says:

    “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.”

    Did they not have instant coffee in 1964?

  • jeffmason says:

    Shoulda done it like Nostradamus, less specific. Would have had every one of those right.

  • Marie says:

    Of course he predicted this because he was and is one of the planners.

    Star Trek was written by NASA Scientists…. Gene Roddenberry was CIA and. Scientist!

    It’s called predictive programming… people.

    Wake up and unify in community to take down the Global Cabal!

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