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If thermonuclear war takes place the future will not be worth discusion
August 27, 2013 1:34 AM   Subscribe

Why not visit to the World's Fair of 2014, as envisioned by science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov in 1964? By 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony. (Via)

Bonus:
Stunning concept art reveals NASA's 1970s vision for humanity in space
posted by Mezentian (29 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
He's actually a hell of a lot closer to the mark than I would have expected.

An exhibit at the 2014 fair will show models of power stations in space, collecting sunlight by means of huge parabolic focusing devices and radiating the energy thus collected down to earth. This could happen by 2025 (but probably won't).

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. Well, Google is working on the driverless car.

And that's just two stories from today's Slashdot.

Right, I'm off to enjoy "mock-turkey" and "pseudosteak" from the algae bar. Eh, close enough.
posted by Mezentian at 1:46 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


NASA has been struggling lately to find a mission that unites us the way the Apollo program did. Will we send somebody to the Moon? Or Mars? (But the best projection for a Mars mission is the 2030s...)

I think instead our mission should be building something like what we see in this Bonus section. It could be at a LaGrange point, or simply orbiting the Earth. But whatever it is, we have to figure out how to build a space habitat. Microgravity is harmful, and so is space radiation. We'll never make it to Mars or anywhere until we sort those two things out.
posted by Sleeper at 1:47 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


He nailed quite a few things - interesting how back then they were still full of hopes for space travel but not much about computers.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:49 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


NASA might have some competition:
China aiming to be newest—and largest—space superpower
Experts say a Chinese moon landing "very much in the cards."
He nailed quite a few things - interesting how back then they were still full of hopes for space travel but not much about computers.

In some respects his hopes for computers were a bit too lofty:
All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary "Fortran" (from "formula translation").
posted by XMLicious at 2:01 AM on August 27, 2013


Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books.

Pretty good.
posted by vacapinta at 2:05 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


China?
Why not Canada?
posted by Mezentian at 2:06 AM on August 27, 2013


I like how so many of these predictions were technologically accurate but economically naive. We can do polarised windows but it's far cheaper to just knock holes in the wall.
posted by ddd at 2:14 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony

I would support a one-off Futurama special just to achieve this. With hookers! And blackjack!
posted by jaduncan at 2:30 AM on August 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Exactly, many of these are technically possible but just cost more for little benefit. Delivery of items to shops via plastic tubes? Possible, but with the great variety of sizes and shapes, far cheaper just to use a truck.
posted by dave99 at 2:40 AM on August 27, 2013


So let the missiles slumber eternally on their pads ...

Well whatever else he was right or wrong about, I'm pretty sure this one won't stand the test of time. 50+ years we've had these things pointed at each other, but that's a long way from eternity.
posted by three blind mice at 3:05 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


NASA is too safe without their growing civilian partners. China is interesting... but SpaceX is where it's at.

Reusable rockets will change everything because of the dramatic cost reductions of bringing payloads into space, and I don't think that's a future that China will be able to buy into. Steal? Maybe... but not buy.
posted by markkraft at 3:07 AM on August 27, 2013


Do world fairs still happen? I want to go to a world fair.

Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books

Or, you know, cat pictures...
posted by malapropist at 3:07 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find it amazing in some ways that people are even viewing programs by China, Canada, India, etc. as anything approaching something that could compete in the space race, given that SpaceX is very visibly cracking a problem as critical as true, rapid reusability.

Really, the difference between the horse and buggy and, say, the Model T wasn't nearly as profound as the difference between a standard rocket and the kind of reusable rockets they are making. Most likely by early next year, SpaceX will roll out everything they've learned about reusable rocket landings and integrate it into their ISS resupply missions, testing relanding initially over water, and then land... and once they get that working -- which they will -- it will change everything.

"Everyone that talks about being in this business in the long haul says eventually we've got to solve this reusability issue."
- Jim Paulsen, Aerojet Rocketdyne

And no wonder. SpaceX's progress lately is so rapid, I can't imagine how hard it must be to find investors for space projects that don't hold out the progress of reusability. There are still big risks, but Elon Musk is so hot that VCs are chomping at the bit to be his partner, because the potential for success is Weyland-Yutani big. I suspect that he can fail and fail and fail and it won't matter, because that's progress.

These are hugely expensive companies to operate with lots of upfront costs... and nobody wants to be the one with a $10,000-per-pound solution in a $709-per-pound world.
posted by markkraft at 3:32 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use.

Yes and no. Yes, they are. No, they don't replace other forms of lighting. That's the LED.. :-)

Windows need be no more than an archaic touch

Wrong with wrong sauce. Even in sealed environments like commercial buildings, we want lots of windows. They do seal out weather much better than they used to, though.

even when present will be polarized to block out the harsh sunlight.

Polarized? No. Energy rejecting films? Yes. (Though apparently the 787 was going to use polarizers in the windows....)

There is an underground house at the fair which is a sign of the future.

Wrong with wrong sauce and sprinkles. Humanity likes light too much.

complete with light- forced vegetable gardens.

Only the word "vegetable" is wrong here. :-)

Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing.

100% right.

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

Right (in Asimov's sense) and wrong (in an industrial sense.) Doubly wrong in industry, where they're both very common and very good.

which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English.

He's as right as he can be while being completely wrong. Computers are amazingly complex and powerful, but translation of speech is a much bigger problem than he thinks.

General Electric at the 2014 World's Fair will be showing 3-D movies

Fuck you, Asimov. (100% right)

There will be a three-hour wait in line to see the film, for some things never change

And 100% wrong!

The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries...

Remarkably correct....

...running on radioisotopes.

....up until that point. And even if there wasn't a general fear of Teh Radiation, isotopes with enough radioactivity to be useful are going to need enough shielding to make them unportable.

And experimental fusion-power plant or two will already exist in 2014.

I have to note this was written saying "Fusion power is 50 years away!" Funny enough, it still is.

Large solar-power stations will also be in operation in a number of desert and semi-desert areas -- Arizona, the Negev, Kazakhstan.

Borderline right. I define large as Gigawatt class, and those aren't there. If he'd written this for the 2019 Worlds Fair, I suspect he'd be 100% right. He missed wind entirely. It's also interesting enough to note that he didn't think Fusion would be ready in time, and we'd need something else that wasn't coal, oil or hydro.

There will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface

Alas, wrong wrong wrong.

Bridges will also be of less importance, since cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets, though local ordinances will discourage the practice.

I have to point out the remarkable awareness that there's more than technology that dictates the future.

Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with "Robot-brains"

I can't call it much, despite Google, et. al. But again, this is a miss in degree, I think it's mostly right in 2019 and 100% not long after.

I suspect one of the major attractions of the 2014 fair will be rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two-foot level, neatly and automatically avoiding each other.

Hmm. Hasn't Disney done this?

For short-range travel, moving sidewalks

No. And you lived in New York, you know what winter is like, Mr. Asimov!

only because all parking will be off-street and because at least 80 per cent of truck deliveries will be to certain fixed centers at the city's rim.

This was a blatant fantasy on his part. And 100% wrong.

Compressed air tubes will carry goods and materials over local stretches,

There were some small parcel systems -- which already existed in 1964, but really, no. Very large pressure vessels are hard.

Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone.

95% right. The only wrong word there, really, is telephone.

Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica

Wrong in a few senses. No, not synchronous sats, but really, most people use short haul radio or wires. The hard part about sats is getting the signal up to the sat, a wireless tower nearby needs much less power on the phone. But far more close to right -- and there are people who direct dial the stations in Antarctica.

moon colonies

No. And seriously, moon colonies are pretty much useless, unless we discover a mystical element that happens to be there. The moon is a harsh mistress with a fairly deep gravity well.

On earth, however, laser beams will have to be led through plastic pipes, to avoid material and atmospheric interference.

Missed by >< that much. It's not plastic (except in low rate short haul things like TOSlink), it's glass. Otherwise, exactly right.

However, by 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars

Bing!

As for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set;

For all intents, Bing!, even if most don't hang them.

but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible.

Transparent cubes is wrong, but 3D isn't.

In 2014, there is every likelihood that the world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000

That's remarkably close. Better numbers are 7B total, 335M US, but still, you have to call that right.

Boston-to-Washington, the most crowded area of its size on the earth

That wasn't even right in 1964....

will have become a single city with a population of over 40,000,000.

Wrong, but not that far off. Better transit links and it could happen.

Ordinary agriculture will keep up with great difficulty and there will be "farms" turning to the more efficient micro-organisms.

Not yet, but they're trying.

Not all the world's population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full.

100% correctly. 100% sadly correct.

Indeed, the increasing use of mechanical devices to replace failing hearts and kidneys, and repair stiffening arteries and breaking nerves will have cut the death rate still further and have lifted the life expectancy in some parts of the world to age 85.

Not quite, but not far off, either.

The rate of increase of population will have slackened but, I suspect, not sufficiently.

In the industrialized first world, yes. Otherwise, no -- but he did see the trend starting.

World Population Control Center

Oh, Asimov, ever the idealist.....

Indeed, 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!

Oh, Asimov, ever the idealist....
posted by eriko at 4:18 AM on August 27, 2013 [16 favorites]


China?
Why not Canada?




Why not Zoidberg?


*runs mouth-feelers over Martian colony model, leaving trail of slime*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:31 AM on August 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony

I would support a one-off Futurama special just to achieve this.


Oh, so I guess a working buggalo ranch isn't elaborate enough for you.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:48 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Strange that he didn't predict that the World's Fair would be a historical relic by 2014.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:59 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Expo 2015!
posted by tilde at 5:46 AM on August 27, 2013


XMLicious: "...All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary "Fortran" (from "formula translation")."

Ha! Fortran.

May as well have done this skit:
*puts envelope to head*
"COBOL"
*pulls question out*


Everybody knows we live in a society that works primarily on languages derived more from Algol than Fortran.
posted by symbioid at 6:36 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


only because all parking will be off-street and because at least 80 per cent of truck deliveries will be to certain fixed centers at the city's rim.

This was a blatant fantasy on his part. And 100% wrong.


I would agree that it's wrong, but I don't know about 100%. Amazon shipping centers are a bit like this, where you have the big semis carting large bulks of goods to the most efficient hub, and then smaller, agile trucks going the last few feet to the doorstep. Of course, this is mostly for one-off consumer goods, and also you still have trucks (albeit smaller trucks) making the final step, but the Amazon shipping model where you order whatever you like from a computer, and a giant all-purpose company delivers it in 3 days to your doorstep would be genuinely futuristic from the perspective of the 60s, if not the general form (store to door shipping), then the specific implementation (the price, selection, and technology involved).

Listen to me. I sound like Thomas Friedman. "And that's how Amazon paved the way for a new window of opportunity that we can step through to a flatter, cooler, better world!"
posted by codacorolla at 6:50 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect one of the major attractions of the 2014 fair will be rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two-foot level, neatly and automatically avoiding each other.

Hmm. Hasn't Disney done this?


Segways are 50% of this, a decade earlier, if you allow wheels. A bunch of car companies are trying too.
posted by bonehead at 7:29 AM on August 27, 2013


NASA has been struggling lately to find a mission that unites us the way the Apollo program did.

Unfortunately, terrorism doesn't have a space program for us to compete with.
posted by tommasz at 8:30 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find it amazing in some ways that people are even viewing programs by China, Canada, India, etc. as anything approaching something that could compete in the space race, given that SpaceX is very visibly cracking a problem as critical as true, rapid reusability.

I recently read this article that describes how SpaceX is getting around some of the cost hurdles. Some if it was because they are bypassing the established aerospace industry altogether and designing and building their own parts:
Mueller recalls asking a vendor for an estimate on a particular engine valve. “They came back [requesting] like a year and a half in development and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just way out of whack. And we’re like, ‘No, we need it by this summer, for much, much less money.’ They go, ‘Good luck with that,’ and kind of smirked and left.” Mueller’s people made the valve themselves, and by summer they had qualified it for use with cryogenic propellants.

“That vendor, they iced us for a couple of months,” Mueller says, “and then they called us back: ‘Hey, we’re willing to do that valve. You guys want to talk about it?’ And we’re like, ‘No, we’re done.’ He goes, ‘What do you mean you’re done?’ ‘We qualified it. We’re done.’ And there was just silence at the end of the line. They were in shock.” That scenario has been repeated to the point where, Mueller says, “we passionately avoid space vendors.”
posted by Fleebnork at 10:25 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Unfortunately, terrorism doesn't have a space program for us to compete with.

Just think of how awesome our drones would be if they did though!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:31 AM on August 27, 2013


Unfortunately, terrorism doesn't have a space program for us to compete with.

Just tell them Osama bin Laden isn't dead, he's actually hiding in a cave on Mars.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:45 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jihadis in spaaaaaaaaaaaaace!
posted by symbioid at 1:29 PM on August 27, 2013


I recently read this article that describes how SpaceX is getting around some of the cost hurdles. Some if it was because they are bypassing the established aerospace industry altogether and designing and building their own parts:

The traditional 'space industry' are basically the result of government make-work corporate welfare programs, and have been since the apollo program. Which isn't to say there isn't a place for programs like that in supporting the middle class, but there's no way they're going to be able to compete with china.
posted by empath at 10:44 PM on August 27, 2013


In some respects his hopes for computers were a bit too lofty:

All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary "Fortran" (from "formula translation").

posted by XMLicious


Eponysterical! And here's why. Consider how many people have mastered HTML or even just bastard variants for web markup. HTML derives from SGML which derives from GML which was first implemented on the CP-67 OS which was primarily a foundation for FORTRAN code. So the descendancy may not be all that direct, but it is certainly closer than you think.

(I'm pretty sure he just used FORTRAN because it was the default language, in many ways, for business applications in that era.)

Obviously web markup has become much less important in recent years but many, many high school students can master that; it's just that we've built smarter tools for manipulating things as our device ecology has grown more complex, and it's utterly commonplace for a child to operate a personal computing device which has far more computing power than the Apollo spacecraft.

The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books.

Considering this was Asimov, a bit surprised he didn't foresee these screens being used to study boobs.
posted by dhartung at 4:00 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just saw this... ah, radioisotopes. Odd how Asimov was all hard-science about lightspeed lag with phone calls to the moon but he just skimmed over the dangers of making everything radioactive.
posted by GuyZero at 5:03 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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