Sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov predicted the world of 2014 in 1964: here's what he got wrong

Predictions made by the writer 50 years ago have been whizzing around the internet, but that doesn't mean Asimov was right about everything

Isaac Asimov was undoubtedly one of the greatest science fiction authors of the last century, and – like science fiction authors today – his skill at imagining the future led to him making predictions about what the world would look like after his death.

Recently unearthed by the eclectic and enlightening Open Culture blog, an article written by Asimov for the New York Times in 1964 imagines what planet Earth will be like fifty years in the future, in 2014. However, whilst Asimov’s piece has received a lot of attention on the internet recently, it’s unfair to say that he was entirely accurate.

Asimov was writing on the occasion of the 1964 World Fair – cheerfully dedicated to “Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” - and his thoughts are full of what he perceptively identifies as his own “buoyant hope”. With the scare of the Cuban Missile Crisis just two years past (Asimov hopes that "the missiles slumber eternally on their pads") it's hard to blame him.

Some of his ideas are spot-on (for example he sees Skype and video-calls coming a long way off, predicting that "communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone") but reading over the piece is a fine reminder that future technology will always confound completely acccurate prediction:

“Men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better”

This prediction depends on how exactly you want to interpret humanity’s ‘withdrawal’ from nature. Asimov was referring to a world in which it was fairly common for humans to live underground, in environment-controlled dwellings where windows have been replaced by glowing ceilings and walls and “electroluminescent panels”.

Although this sort of technology certainly exists (recent innovations have included carpets with LEDs woven into the fabric and multi-coloured lightbulbs that link to your smartphone) modern society still values the natural world highly. Indeed, for some sections of society our technology world has made outdoor pursuits even more prized for their ‘authenticity’ whilst we buy gadgets like alarm clocks that mimic sunrises to specifically recreate the benefits of the natural world we feel we have lost.

However, if you think that the omnipresecent screens of modern life - always tempting us with news, entertainment and tidbits from our friends - have made us “withdraw” from nature, then you still might chalk this one up as a win for Asimov.

Screen gaze: does this count as a 'withdrawl from nature'?

“Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”

Asimov is pretty much spot on in this, and he even predicts that in the World’s Fair of 2014 a prime exhibit might be a “large, clumsy, slow-moving” robot cleaner that is capable of “general picking-up, arranging, cleaning and manipulation of various appliances.”

This romantic conception of the multi-purpose android (human in its mobility if not in its intelligence) is as much as a novelty as ever, although specialised bots working in industry have become an established reality (and more on those later).

One of the many types of Boston Dynamic robot bought by Google in 2013.

“Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with "Robot-brains” - vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver.”

Although these haven’t reached wide-spread use, the forthcoming fleet of driverless cars spearheaded by Google (but with most major manufacturers pursuing their own project) is certainly on its way. The dull and necessary work of testing their safety and debating the right legislation to create (who do you blame in a driverless crash?) are some of the speedbumps currently slowing the cars’ progress but ‘robot-brained’ vehicles are on their way.

You might not be plugging directions into your GoogleCar for the morning commute, you might soon be stepping into a driverless pod to power you round Milton Keynes

The EN-V Pod, one of the many driverless 'car' designs that could change how we get around city centers.

“Population pressure will force increasing penetration of desert and polar areas.”

Asimov was entirely correct in his prediction that medical advances “will have cut the death rate [and] lifted life expectancy in some parts of the world to age 85” (well, it’s as high as 83 in Japan and Switzerland, whilst the UK has an average of 80 and the US is at 79) but the idea that humanity would feel the need to colonise the desert or the polar regions is misplaced, as is his prediction that the world of 2014 will have “undoubtedly” agreed to “lower the birth rate” to stem population growth.

Indeed, although he was pretty close in his estimate of the world population in 2014 (he guesses at 6.5 billion and the actual number is closer to 7.1bn), Asimov misses out the true importance of the deserts and polar regions. They're not targets for expansion but rather emblems of our failure to achieve sustainable growth, through the desertification and shrinking ice caps caused by climate change.

Beijing smog: we've seen population growth but at the cost of possibly irreversible environmental damage.

“The most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!”

Okay, so this final sentence of Asimov’s is certainly tongue-in-cheek but it indicates a serious belief that increasingly efficient machines will unburden society of work and that we will – in the writer’s own words – effectively become “a race of machine tenders”  suffering “badly from the disease of boredom.”

In reality many academics believe that the opposite is true, crediting the global trend of sluggish employment growth to our increasingly powerful robots and technology and making Asimov’s phrase “enforced leisure” sounds like a bad euphemism for “on the dole”. Robots are certainly taking human jobs, but that doesn’t mean life is getting better for those with less work to do.

Click here to read Asimov's predictions in full for yourself.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Senior IOS Developer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    SAP SD OTC Consultant | 12Months

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP SD OTC Consultant | 12 Months | 500/...

    Business Systems Analyst - London - £40,000 plus benefits

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Business Syst...

    Business Continuity Manager

    £300 - £301 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: The successful can...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests