Isaac Asimov Predicts in 1983 What the World Will Look Like in 2019: Computerization, Global Co-operation, Leisure Time & Moon Mining

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

“It’s dif­fi­cult to make pre­dic­tions,” they say, “espe­cial­ly about the future.” The wit­ti­cism has been var­i­ous­ly attrib­uted. If Yogi Berra said it, it’s adorable non­sense, if Mark Twain, dry plain­spo­ken irony. If Niels Bohr, how­ev­er, we have a state­ment that makes us won­der what exact­ly “the future” could mean in a rad­i­cal­ly uncer­tain uni­verse.

If sci­en­tists can’t pre­dict the future, who can? Sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers, of course. They may be spec­tac­u­lar­ly wrong at times, but few pro­fes­sion­als seem bet­ter equipped to imag­i­na­tive­ly extrap­o­late from cur­rent conditions—cultural, tech­no­log­i­cal, social, and political—and show us things to come. J.G. Bal­lard, Octavia But­ler, Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Von­negut… all have fore­seen many of the mar­vels and dystopi­an night­mares that have arrived since their time.

In 1964, Asi­mov used the occa­sion of the New York World’s Fair to offer his vision of fifty years hence. “What will the World’s Fair of 2014 be like?” he asked in The New York Times, the ques­tion itself con­tain­ing an erro­neous assump­tion about the dura­bil­i­ty of that event. As a sci­en­tist him­self, his ideas are both tech­no­log­i­cal­ly farsee­ing and con­ser­v­a­tive, con­tain­ing advances we can imag­ine not far off in our future, and some that may seem quaint now, though rea­son­able by the stan­dards of the time (“fis­sion-pow­er plants… sup­ply­ing well over half the pow­er needs of human­i­ty”).

Nine­teen years lat­er, Asi­mov ven­tured again to pre­dict the future—this time of 2019 for The Star. Assum­ing the world has not been destroyed by nuclear war, he sees every facet of human soci­ety trans­formed by com­put­er­i­za­tion. This will, as in the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, lead to mas­sive job loss­es in “cler­i­cal and assem­bly-line jobs” as such fields are auto­mat­ed. “This means that a vast change in the nature of edu­ca­tion must take place, and entire pop­u­la­tions must be made ‘com­put­er-lit­er­ate’ and must be taught to deal with a ‘high-tech’ world,” he writes.

The tran­si­tion to a com­put­er­ized world will be dif­fi­cult, he grants, but we should have things pret­ty much wrapped up by now.

By the year 2019, how­ev­er, we should find that the tran­si­tion is about over. Those who can be retrained and re-edu­cat­ed will have been: those who can’t be will have been put to work at some­thing use­ful, or where rul­ing groups are less wise, will have been sup­port­ed by some sort of grudg­ing wel­fare arrange­ment.

In any case, the gen­er­a­tion of the tran­si­tion will be dying out, and there will be a new gen­er­a­tion grow­ing up who will have been edu­cat­ed into the new world. It is quite like­ly that soci­ety, then, will have entered a phase that may be more or less per­ma­nent­ly improved over the sit­u­a­tion as it now exists for a vari­ety of rea­sons.

Asi­mov fore­sees the cli­mate cri­sis, though he doesn’t phrase it that way. “The con­se­quences of human irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty in terms of waste and pol­lu­tion will become more appar­ent and unbear­able with time and again, attempts to deal with this will become more stren­u­ous.” A “world effort” must be applied, neces­si­tat­ing “increas­ing co-oper­a­tion among nations and among groups with­in nations” out of a “cold-blood­ed real­iza­tion that any­thing less than that will mean destruc­tion for all.”

He is con­fi­dent, how­ev­er, in such “neg­a­tive advances” as the “defeat of over­pop­u­la­tion, pol­lu­tion and mil­i­tarism.” These will be accom­pa­nied by “pos­i­tive advances” like improve­ments in edu­ca­tion, such that “edu­ca­tion will become fun because it will bub­ble up from with­in and not be forced in from with­out.” Like­wise, tech­nol­o­gy will enable increased qual­i­ty of life for many.

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.

If this seems “impos­si­bly opti­mistic,” he writes, just wait until you hear his thoughts on space col­o­niza­tion and moon min­ing.

The Asi­mov of 1983 sounds as con­fi­dent in his pre­dic­tions as the Asi­mov of 1964, though he imag­ines a very dif­fer­ent world each time. His future sce­nar­ios tell us as much or more about the time in which he wrote as they do about the time in which we live. Read his full essay at The Star and be the judge of how accu­rate his pre­dic­tions are, and how like­ly any of his opti­mistic solu­tions for our seem­ing­ly intractable prob­lems might be in the com­ing year.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1964, Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like Today: Self-Dri­ving Cars, Video Calls, Fake Meats & More

Philip K. Dick Makes Off-the-Wall Pre­dic­tions for the Future: Mars Colonies, Alien Virus­es & More (1981)

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

Octavia Butler’s 1998 Dystopi­an Nov­el Fea­tures a Fascis­tic Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date Who Promis­es to “Make Amer­i­ca Great Again”

Sci-Fi Author J.G. Bal­lard Pre­dicts the Rise of Social Media (1977)

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

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  • Louise Sumrell says:

    I’ve been read­ing SF since I was 10 years old. That’s fifty years… The knowl­edge, tech­nolo­gies, and social prob­lems are amaz­ing­ly sim­i­lar to many of the pos­si­ble worlds “pre­dict­ed” by my favorite authors. Just, say, forty years ago, I would have been absolute­ly ‘floored’ by an item like the Galaxy S8 that I’m writ­ing this on. That puts me in mind of a quote, “Any tech­nol­o­gy, suf­fi­cient­ly advanced, will appear to be mag­ic.….” Amaz­ing! Right here, in my hands!

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