Isaac Asimov's predictions for 2019 from 1984

by Jan_Kulveit1 min read28th Dec 20181 comment

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Forecasts (Specific Predictions)Futurism
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My vague impressions

The whole essay is conditional on no nuclear war. Than, he explored two main big trends - computerization and space utilization. If something like a general model how Asimov did futurology can be extracted from the text, it is extending the large trendline, and than thinking about social consequences.

In case of space utilization, this failed badly, because the trend extrapolation did not work, and most of the specific predictions are wrong (e.g. we do not have prototype of a solar power station, outfitted to collect solar energy, convert it to microwaves and beam it to Earth or mining station that will process moon soil)

In case of computerization, the trendline stayed linear. The predictions of social consequences are often good

  • The growing complexity of society will make it impossible to do without [computers] except by courting chaos; and those parts of the world that fall behind in this respect will suffer so obviously (...)
  • There is a longer part about work, jobs and the force, e.g.: The jobs that will appear will, inevitably, involve the design, the manufacture, the installation, the maintenance and repair of computers and robots, and an understanding of whole new industries that these “intelligent” machines will make possible. ... By the year 2019, however, we should find that the transition is about over. Those who can he 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.

Predictions about international cooperation are less precise - my impression is Asimov got the trend right, but the causal mechanism wrong

  • In short, there will be increasing co-operation among nations and among groups within nations, not out of any sudden growth of idealism or decency but out of a cold-blooded realization that anything less than that will mean destruction for all. (It seems the increased coordination was driven more by trade)
  • By 2019, then, it may well be that the nations will be getting along well enough to allow the planet to live under the faint semblance of a world government by co-operation, even though no one may admit its existence. (This is interesting: if anything has faint semblance of a world government by co-operation, it's probably the financial system / markets)

Predictions about education are precise with regard to opportunities. He would be probably disappointed how the opportunities are utilized, which is likely caused by the educational system having a lot of hidden goals different from education

  • There will be an opportunity finally for every youngster, and indeed, every person, to learn what he or she wants to learn. in his or her own time, at his or her own speed, in his or her own way.
  • Education will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.

Overall, it seems to me the essay shows that futurology on this timescale is viable. (With the caveat that as the world got faster, comparable time horizon is likely shorter)

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Education will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.

Part of me wants to say "alas, he got it wrong" but maybe less wrong that you would think if you went through public education in the United States (I can't speak well to education in other countries, although education throughout the Anglo-sphere seems similar along relevant dimensions).

I'm thinking specifically of things like

  • Wikipedia (and the many more narrowly-focused wikis)
  • YouTube
  • Reddit (and to a lesser extent, Quora)
  • LessWrong (dare I add it to the list?) and other specialty forums

These all present ways in which education and learning is made accessible and can be discovered and used because people are interested, not because somebody told them they had to learn something. The experiences I'm thinking of that back these ideas up:

  • Spending hours with dozens, if not hundreds, of tabs open exploring related ideas in a wiki and getting lost in the network of related ideas, like a personally constructed episode of Connections.
  • Watching one video after another about topics of interest. For example, things I've gotten into patterns of watching on YouTube (helped along by the algorithm) just because they were interesting: amateur anthropology, literature summaries, science explainers, in-depth news reporting, and, of course, applied engineering.
  • Seeing people talk about and explore their personal experiences and learn from each out about how other people experience life differently from each other. Basically I think of Reddit like civics class if the only topic was "what universal human experiences are you missing".
  • Having a place to read and write with people with similar interests, especially since once you're in you'll easily get pointed to stuff nearby you'll likely be interested in learning more about.

It seems like if you ignore formal educational systems and look for places where people are genuinely interested in learning and sharing what they've learned, there's never been a better time to be alive if you enjoy learning things, no matter what you enjoy learning.