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Self-driving cars and ocean colonies: revisit Isaac Asimov's vision of 2014

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1964 world's fair (pcbjr on flickr)
1964 world's fair (pcbjr on flickr)

Isaac Asimov has detailed countless visions for what the future could look like, most with a clear label of "fiction" on them. But in 1964, while reflecting on that year's World's Fair, Asimov described in The New York Times what he believed the 2014 World's Fair would really look like. He predicted a world of advanced appliances, simple robots, and incredible ways of harnessing power, with a common theme being that "gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs."

"Much effort will be put into ... vehicles with 'Robot-brains.'"

For the home, Asimov predicted that kitchens would automatically prepare meals, that walls would glow with light, and that windows would intelligently alter their opacity to prevent harsh sunlight from coming through. He also predicted that work would have begun on cars capable of automatically driving people around. "Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with 'Robot-brains,'" Asimov wrote, explaining that they could be "set for particular destinations and ... then proceed there without interference." His guess lands surprisingly on the mark: it's nearly the exact type of system that Google has been designing for years, and some manufacturers are now working to bring the technology to market.

But while Asimov's vision for how cars will be operated was spot on, his predictions for transportation at large were hit and miss. "Jets of compressed air will also lift land vehicles off the highways," Asimov wrote. "Bridges will also be of less importance, since cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets."

The details may be far from correct, but Asimov's reasoning, that "there will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface," isn't all that different from from certain high-tech plans. The sentiment is heavily echoed by Elon Musk's Hyperloop design, which would have high-speed trains floating over air to reduce friction.

Radioactive isotopes would serve as batteries

For gathering energy, Asimov predicted that the world will have begun to experiment with fusion power, but will largely rely on fission power plants and huge solar stations located in deserts. He wrote that most appliances wouldn't need direct power anyway, because they'll rely on inexpensive radioactive isotopes for energy.

Video chatting is also mixed into Asimov's predictions — it's far from a unique vision, but he goes further, noting that it'll be capable of reaching people in space. He also wrote that communications will be beamed through lasers insulated by plastic pipes, effectively describing a fiber optic connection of sorts. Other predictions are a bit more off the mark: Asimov suggested that humans will be moving toward underwater colonization, and will have already begun living in underground dwellings to leave more free space on the surface.

For those curious to see how every one of Asimov's predictions panned out, the entire piece can still be read online at the Times. Unfortunately, there isn't actually set to be a World's Fair again until 2015 — but that does give mankind another two years to catch up with Asimov's vision of the future.