If you’re anything like the average employee at eNotes headquarters, you’re probably still drooling over the forthcoming generation of Apple iPhones. So allow me to ease you out of your reverie with a fun retrospect of how our bright future was predicted near perfectly almost 50 years ago.
Back in 1964, the Jetsons were on television, the lava lamp had just been invented, and the Moon was as yet uncharted territory. Isaac Asimov was also a popular science fiction writer of the time, though it was still six years before he would write his most famous short story “I, Robot.” Instead, he wrote an essay for the New York Times in which he imagined a trip to the World’s Fair of 2014, five decades into the future. On the brink of that very event and in the middle of a whirlwind of technological advancement, let’s take a look at five of the astounding predictions Asimov made for the 21st century:
The brave new world would apparently be designed without windows in mind.
One thought that occurs to me is that men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button.
Windows need be no more than an archaic touch, and even when present will be polarized to block out the harsh sunlight. The degree of opacity of the glass may even be made to alter automatically in accordance with the intensity of the light falling upon it.
Sorry Asimov, but for the most part we still look to good old window dressings to block out the sunlight. We do, however, have polarized transition lenses in our eyewear. Though I believe science is still trying to work out a way that won’t leave one with permanently halfway-tinted glasses in your averagely lit room…
There is an underground house at the fair which is a sign of the future. if its windows are not polarized, they can nevertheless alter the “scenery” by changes in lighting. Suburban houses underground, with easily controlled temperature, free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common.
Once again we’ve wasted one of Asimov’s completely practical ideas by employing it for needlessly decadent purposes, like having a casino in Vegas that’s lit to make you feel like you’re walking the streets of Paris… but hey, it’s something.
Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare “automeals,” heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on. Breakfasts will be “ordered” the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning. Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing.
Writers, perhaps unsurprisingly, are among the harshest critics of the word “patriotism” and especially of decisions to go to war. Many express sentiments similar to James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain) who said, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Despite their often vocal criticism, many authors have served in our armed forces. Here are ten of those who risked their lives and reflected on the experiences of war.
1. E.E. Cummings – Volunteer Ambulance Driver, France, World War I
“America makes prodigious mistakes, America has colossal faults, but one thing cannot be denied: America is always on the move. She may be going to Hell, of course, but at least she isn’t standing still.”
2. Ernest Hemingway, Volunteer Ambulance Driver, Italy, World War I
“Once we have a war, there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than can ever happen in war.
3. Isaac Asimov, Philadelphia Navy Yard Naval Air Experimentation Station, United States Army, World War II
“No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”