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6Sep 2013

Asimov's 1964 predictions--better than Nostradamus.

Asimov in 1965.

There are any number of things you could say about the science-fiction master Isaac Asimov, but Jason Snell at TechHive captures him as well as anyone could: "Isaac Asimov," he writes, "was a pretty cool guy."

Snell reports that Asimov wrote 500 books, which impressed me, considering that it's 496 more than I've written, and my last one isn't quite finished. Asimov's work included fiction, nonfiction, short stories, long stories, and one small piece for The New York Times that Snell and others found interesting: In 1964, at the time of the World's Fair, Asimov wrote a piece for the Times in which he predicted what the 2014 World's Fair would look like.

Some of those predictions were astonishingly on target. The French magazine L'Express, in an email promoting its story, said Asimov was "plus fort que Nostradamus," or better than France's own Nostradamus, a concession with international repercussions.

Asimov's 50-year predictions are "the best I've seen," writes Snell. Some are small--such as a machine that will heat water "and convert it to coffee" (the Keurig). Others are momentous: "Not all the world’s population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today will be deprived and although they may be better off, materially, than today, they will be further behind when compared with the advanced portions of the world," Asimov predicted. He's sadly quite close on that one.

Some of his predictions were wrong. We don't have walls and ceilings that glow with electroluminescent light, or levitating cars. But Google is working on the driverless cars that he predicted, and he was right to say that by 2014, "only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works."

Charlie Warzel and John Herrman at BuzzFeed attached amusing images to each of the predictions it discusses, managing to work in Miley Cyrus. Asimov's most telling miss, they wrote, was that there not longer are World's Fairs.

Rachel Nuwer at Smithsonian writes that "we haven't moved into underground cities in order to replace the Earth’s surface with 'large-scale agriculture, grazing and parklands, with less space wasted on actual human occupancy,'" as Asimov predicted. She also laments the demise of World's Fairs in favor of international Expos "whose primary focus is improving their host country’s branding rather than inspiring dreamy visions of the not-too-distant future."

-Paul Raeburn

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