1. We have at least one fusion plant I know of, the UK Joint Torus, which I know have been operating for decades. It just consumes more power than it generates. But Asimov suggests one or two, which is strikingly accurate.
2. We could probably make radio-decay batteries (maybe not AA size, but car batteries running on Thorium or some such, albeit an extremely expensive containment for something running so hot). We probably just don't do it because the radiation risks are too high.
And I'd count airport conveyors as moving sidewalks. Or just the complexity of baggage carrying systemes in those airports, lend that we easily have the technoloy to create weather resistant rotary motor systems as sidewalks, but like Asimovs suggestions of underground housing, cost is the bigger prohibitor than technology.
Also, I don't think the degree of boredom he touches on has occured. Consumerism and the wealth concentration in the US has kept people needing to maintain 40 hour work weeks where productivity is magnitudes higher. We produce vastly more, but work as much as ever. Back in the 60s the sentiment was that 21st century Americans might have 10 hour work weeks.
And this, incidentally, is why there never will be "more jobs". Occupation is production over productivity. With an increment of productivity, you can ramp up production up to mass-production keeping the same occupation level. But markets get saturated, so you can't increase production indefinitely. Still, productivity, with automation and robotization and renewable energy sources, could be make practically infinite. But for the reason in the post above, work is not distributed in the work-force.
One interesting interpretation is the ratio of people with desk jobs consisting of 50% (or higher) fooling around vs sweaty manual labor jobs has led to the average American perhaps only working 20 hours a week right now.
Think of pointless meetings, smoke breaks, soda breaks, talking about sports, life, hobbies, debating/complaining, talking politics, talking about TV shows, online shopping, keeping up with twitter/FB/Linkedin, Hacker News, the average cubie dweller probably only puts in 10-20 hours a week of actual work right now.
"Everyone knows" the guy who's forced to put in 60 hours at the office who spends 50 of those hours on FB / Reddit / talking about football, etc.
There's a Russian proverb about we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.
If you define work as "hours spend on premises" then no one has worked as many hours as Americans do today since the early 1900s. If you define work as actually doing something productive, well, thats a whole nother ball game.
>One interesting interpretation is the ratio of people with desk jobs consisting of 50% (or higher) fooling around vs sweaty manual labor jobs has led to the average American perhaps only working 20 hours a week right now.
For actual work, maybe even less.
But not having pocession of your body for 8-12 hours every day in exchage for a pay-check, is work too. Even if you just sit there and "do nothing".
However, if the rise in average incomes in the US over the past thirty or forty years were more evenly distributed among the working population, and not just concentrated at the top, many people would probably choose to work much less.
People work to support themselves, but I would wager that most would work less to support themselves if they could earn enough to do so.
Can I assume you have neither spouse nor child? I'd argue that once those things come along you might disagree with your own statement. You could probably rephrase it so I agreed with you, though: "People don't work because they want to support their boss's high standard of living, they work because they want to improve their own."
I'm not sure what you think job creators are. Is it some kind of medal you get when you employ someone? Do you loose it if you fire them? What kind of conditions constitutes employing? Do I get to be a job creator if I give you a dollar for explaining your point?
Job providers, I get why those are important. Not everyone wants to be bothered with the business side of living, along with its risks. I can actually see how that division of labour and responsibilities aids both sides of the equation.
But if you count self-employment, there's job providers on every rung of the social ladder. The chinese guy selling chua'r on the street is a job provider, just as much as the multimillion entrepreneur employing thousands of people.
So it becomes senseless to say that one wealth bracket supplies jobs, and another one doesn't.
And then there's "job creation", which seems like a meaningless metric if you don't factor in loss of jobs, current amount of jobs, unemployment, etc. And you seriously want to pin that metric down on a single group?
By the way, if the take the logic further, and look at who's implicated in major job destruction (layoffs), it's us. Hackers. I'm going from the Systems optimization definition here, and when you optimize away a part of a system, someone's bound to get fired. Your packaging machine eliminated 5 packaging workers. Your fiber optic cable eliminated 50 post office workers.
I hate when the discussion devolves into putting flesh bodies into 40 hour a week boxes to repeat some repetitive task.
The truth behind job scarcity or not is supply and demand. Period. If there is no demand for yours, or someone elses labor, there is no job. No wealth redistribution will change that. The arguments behind why, though, the concentration of wealth was bad, is that the wealthy have fewer demands they want met relative to the entirety of everyone else. A more prosperous majority gnerates tremendous demand, millionaires generate limited and specific demand.
But you don't escape the reality of having a supply of something trying to meet the demand for it. There just isn't much demand for a lot of labor types, and producitivity multipliers in technology lets that demand be met with much less workforce supply, which means tremendous economic efficiency gains.
That just requires a realization that few people can provide the necessary resources and goods to maintain the rest. We avoid that realization, hence elsewhere in this comment thread discussions of 50%+ office jobs and only working 10 hours of your 40 hour shift come into play. I guess it plays counter to the rugged individualism model of thinking (that, let us be honest, wealthy business owners love because it creates surplus labor supply on a cultural basis rather than a fiscal need) even though we have had 1% of the population working as farmers for 30 years providing all the crops we eat, even when our crops are grossly inefficient like beef.
Well, I don't think anyone should choose for 'the rest'.
With regards to your comment on 1% of people being farmers and that being adequate, here's some fast facts about the US agricultural industry:
(1) 300 million people in the US, and the US can sustainably produce food for only 130 million of them. (recentish UN estimate I believe)
(2) Many US farms are net energy consumers, ie. they burn more energy in production than they give people in food.
Second, the earth will actually produce enough to support many humans using no humans (ie. "let the plants grow back, stop maintaining the concrete, stop unsustainably exploiting and poisoning the environment"). It just requires us to be a bit more in tune with the environment (eg. decentralize, consume in-season, eat less meat, start sharing a bit more).
Like with the prescient Ladies' Home Journal predictions, much of what hasn't happened isn't so much that we couldn't do it, but that we can do it and find it uninteresting or inconvenient after all (like moon colonies: doable, just not much point given the cost involved vs benefits).
+1 to Willi there, moon colonies are not currently "doable". They will be once we have on-orbit re-fueling. That is because you have to have some way of transporting things you cannot get or make on the moon, too the moon.
The Apollo program, as impressive as it was, was never expected to be extendable to a colony effort. Rather first a space station was to be put in orbit, then on-orbit refueling, then space 'tugs', and then you could send up things that could land on the moon and ship additional building materials there.
That said, I found the hovercraft idea interesting since the benefit of hovercraft are completely negated by the inability to push against the surface for turning force and thus to re-capture forward energy into turning energy. This is a huge problem with lighter than air airships as well. Asimov should have known that.
It is irritating to hear claims that something can be done which has never been done. As evidenced by every project I've ever worked on, people have a very poor idea of how much work it takes to accomplish a task. There are very likely hurdles to building moon colonies that you have not considered.
There is a big difference between saying something is possible and saying something is easy. I don't think it is easy to build a moon colony. On the other hand, I do not see any scientific or engineering reason why it is not possible. We have already proven we can land on the moon and that we can build space colonies (i.e. ISS). Sure there are hurdles I have not considered, but that just makes it hard not impossible.
It is irritating to hear claims that something can be done which has never been done.
Hardly irritating - that's my job, which I enjoy.
Sure, moon colonies would require enormous effort, staggering cost, and some new technology. The problem isn't the engineering challenge; we put people & equipment in a habitable box, and brought them back, using half-century-old technology. The problem is the cost far exceeds the payoff for anywhere close to the foreseeable future, and the scenery there is about as interesting as Death Valley (briefly compelling, but you wouldn't want to live there).
Of note is chart 6, which shows GDP per hour worked has grown, albeit slowly, for most developed countries; and table 2a, which shows real GDP per employed person has more than doubled since 1960 for the US, and in some developed countries like Japan, increased 6-7x.
If you consider 'productivity' as generating financial wealth, yes, but GDP is not a material measure. Going solely by that, bankers would be the most productive workers on earth, and I'm sure lots of people would disagree.
There are several teams working on a dense plasma focus design for fusion rather than the large and expensive tokamak or laser designs. What I like about dense plasma focus is if it works, little or no neutrons (bad radiation), the apparatus is the size of a garage, extremely cheap for a power plant. As far as I am aware, these guys are the closest to achieving a fusion power plant with dense plasma focus: http://lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com/
1. The National Ignition Facility  recently reported record amounts of energy produced by laser-based fusion, but it is more of a research facility than a power plant.
2. Do the betavoltaics  in some early pacemakers and the small reactor on spacecraft and the Mars Science Laboratory count as radioactive batteries? But I am assuming that, since betavoltaic pacemakers and nuclear spacecraft have been around since Asimov's time, they probably don't count.
The wikipedia page doesn't seem to have any information about "record amounts of energy produced" at NIF. The closest thing I've found is a press release that mentions "highest [neutron] yield achieved so far from a layered DT implosion". Neutron production should be proportional to the number of fusion events (and thus also the energy released). But, its odd that they don't claim this specifically.
underground building will always be more expensive than the above ground equivalent. Some of the more interesting close to underground alternatives are still very costly in labour (earthships, straw bale), and not thoroughly tested in many climates. Engineered below ground construction will always cost a shit-tonne in concrete and waterproofing (source - just built an engineered 3.5 metre downstairs in a 2m cut on the side of a hill).
Smart glass exists (Transitions lenses), as do radioactive batteries (using beta-decay by a company called BetaBatt, and RTGs used by NASA). The former is a commercial success; I've owned and loved the lenses for years. I don't know if the latter is used outside certain sensing, defense, and aerospace applications.
It should be noted, however, that he correctly predicts that batteries should be disposed of only by authorized centers undoubtedly due to their hypothetical radioactive nature -- which is clearly wrong -- but I think we can give a quarter of a point there for even thinking about the ramifications of disposable batteries.
That's true, and I remember there was some talk in the astronomy community about disposing of nuclear waste in deep space or shooting it at the sun. Although, if we can recycle some or all aspects of batteries (the non-radioactive parts, heh) that would also help with conservation of raw materials.
'Dropping nuclear waste into the sun' is more expensive than most people think. It's a matter of delta-v. From here you can't just drop something down the Sun's gravity well and expect it to fall in. In terms of energy cost it's more like lifting it all the way up there, more or less.
It looks like we are ~20 years from an actual experimental fusion power plant (DEMO) although the ITER reactor currently being built in France (with the EU being the largest funder) should produce 500MW of thermal energy for nearly 500 seconds.
Digital teaching aids: yes, definitely. I'd say we're doing pretty well on that front.
There's DragonBox, which teaches basic algebra . There's 3D software (Blender etc. or just 3D stuff in a web browser), which, because of its interactivity, makes it much easier to understand complicated 3D shapes (and can help with visualisation when doing group-theoretic calculations).
And then there's all the stuff that we take for granted, e.g. highly optimised search algorithms for teaching material and papers, instant unit conversions and even fairly complicated calculations using Google and Wolfram Alpha, and so on.
"Part of the General Electric exhibit today consists of a school of the future in which such present realities as closed-circuit TV and programmed tapes aid the teaching process.."
Compared to some of the items above, it looks like technology has gone well into and even a little beyond merely 'aiding' the teaching process.
x EL panels
No, but they're to expensive for usage on every wall. Personally, I think they'll be pushed towards fringe applications by a technology Asmimov didn't predict. High efficiency LEDs.
x Smart glass
Yes, but again a cost question. There's this [http://money.cnn.com/video/technology/2012/01/10/t-ts-samsun...], by Samsung. I don't see why you couldn't replace your windows with such screens if you had the spare dough. Also, there's privacy glass, which is cheaper, but still sets you back 500USD/m².
x Fusion power plants.
Those might be a couple of years off.
x Moving sidewalks
Yep, only at chokepoints and long stretches of unidirectional people movement indoors.
x Moon colonies.
They're on the other side, hiding. Trust me on this one.
A lot of these points are arguable. I'm easily excitable, so I consider technological feasibility/existence as a check, but your view on it may be more somber (It has to be exactly as he predicted). I'm just amazed he got that much of it right.
On a side note, why couldn't the non-asimov prediction with blimp filled skies come true? They're like sky whales...and I really should get some sleep.
Do these inventions just have to be complete or in widespread use?
Smart glass is done and has been for a long time. See Transitions Lenses or Speedglas welding masks. I realize it's cost-prohibitive to scale, but there's also SAGE windows, which use liquid crystal to block light.
I'm not sure what qualifies as an EL panel, but LED panels have gotten crazy bright and cheap and are being used more and more.
I count the conveyors in airports as 'moving sidewalks'. :)
I agree Moon colonization was a fail, but to be fair we could colonize the moon, but why would we want to?
EL panels: those exist, you're probably staring at one right now, it's behind your LCD. LED lighting is also fairly common these days. It's certainly possible for exactly what is described to be installed in a house, it's just not particularly desired.
Adjustable transmissivity glass is a reality but not yet practical enough for it to be ubiquitous.
Radioactive batteries very much do exist, they are called RTGs, and they have given great benefit to spacecraft and other equipment. They power the Curiosity rover, for example. However, they are too impractical and too expensive to be used for ordinary household equipment. This would be true even without the radiation problems of RTGs, which are, of course, significant.
We should have moon colonies by now and ironically the Apollo program is probably the most at fault for that. In order to make it happen a lot of political capital was expended, creating a particular political situation which has become a permanent institution within NASA manned spaceflight (specifically, billions of federal dollars flowing into a few very specific congressional districts which has continued through Apollo and Shuttle programs and now SLS/Orion). If NASA had instead concentrated on a slower program which built up long-lived infrastructure and optimized toward lowering launch costs and increasing capabilities then we would easily have cities (or at least towns) in orbit and moonbases, and Mars bases.
> Adjustable transmissivity glass is a reality but not yet practical enough for it to be ubiquitous.
Asimov says windows "will be polarized to block out the harsh sunlight." That sure sounds to me like putting LCD tech in a window, sans backlight and Bayer filter. We don't use the tech architecturally, but we certainly mass-produce it at the sizes needed for use as window panes. And passive photochromic lenses are also commodity items. Either one is completely practical for integration into a window, there just isn't currently demand to do so.
That's not entirely true. Even after the end of the Cold War the manned spaceflight program in the US has received several billion dollars a year in funding. It's more than possible to operate a quite proficient manned exploration and colonization program with funding at that level. The problem is more that NASA and congress have been completely ineffectual at using resources effectively. The ISS was almost entirely built and launched after the end of the Cold War, and it's total cost was at least 50% greater than the entire Apollo program, for example.
I used to have corrective glasses that did what he described. I can't remember what the type of lens was called, and Google is being unhelpful. But walking in and out of shade was definitely a bit annoying because it kept repolarizing.
> ✗ Moving sidewalks (do airport conveyors count?)
I'd say so. Open question: how would we put benches on moving sidewalks?
Here in Sao Paulo there is a moving sidewalk connecting two major metro stations, it is really cool for most part, but sometimes shit happens, like when one asshole decide to stop at its exit, or when someone fall, or when it breaks.
Asimov's own biases shine through pretty clearly in the initial bit:
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.
He was, rather famously, an acrophobe who disliked heights and open spaces and never flew when he could help it, so apparently he'd prefer a future without windows and sunlight.
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. At the New York World's Fair of 2014, General Motors' "Futurama" may well display vistas of underground cities complete with light- forced vegetable gardens. The surface, G.M. will argue, will be given over to large-scale agriculture, grazing and parklands, with less space wasted on actual human occupancy.
This depiction of life pretty much exactly mirrors the completely walled-in life of The Caves of Steel, which many readers found dystopian, but for him was more of a utopia.
Maybe it's because of biases like these, but we tend to vastly underestimate the timespans in which cities can be radically remade. 50 years? Commercial buildings being built in 1964 would have been expected to last 50+ years. Much of Chicago's lakefront is buildings from the turn of the 20th century or earlier. A skyscraper taller than 47 floors has never been demolished peacefully 
The piece is less optimistic and cornucopian than I'd expected. The first part is pretty light, but it turns a shade dark, especially for. The prediction record includes a few failures but surprisingly more hits than I expected.
men will continue to withdraw from nature Yes and no. Our environments are more artificial, but we're not living in hermetically sealed enclosures.
Electroluminescent panels .... Ceilings and walls will glow softly. It's simply vastly less expensive and more flexible to have light fixtures than to change out your entire interior room skin when you want to change your lighting scheme. Though what's becoming possible with LED lighting is fairly distinctive. Most lamps are designe around traditional bulbs though.
Windows ... no more than an archaic touch. Asimov highly underestimates the desire of people to see the outdoors. We do have glasses with extensive coatings, though most are aimed at UV and thermal radiation. Again, the low-tech approach of blinds or curtains allows for more styling at lower cost than electronically dimmable windows, though these exist (for a price). Asimov fails to forsee photovoltaic cells integrated into window designs, another technology starting to emerge today. His future is apparently energy-abundant.
Suburban houses underground Again: costs, tradition, and views make this a very rare exception, though some high-efficiency homes are built partially below grade.
Gadgetry It turns out that the easiest way to automate meal preparation ... is to centralize the gadgetry at a food-preparation facility. We have TV dinners (which existed in 1964), as well as take-out and other options for food. Though microwaves can be convenient. I wonder how Asimov would have responded to the craze for restaurant-style kitchens in private homes.
Robots They're rather less common or good than Asimov supposed. As with cooking gadgets, it turns out that it's difficult to design something that can navigate a home (including stairs and uneven surfaces), perform tasks, usefully, and not cost a bundle. Especially when competing with low-cost maid services.
No electric cords Well, that was optimistic. Though the variety of cordless power tools now available is fairly impressive. I'm afraid, though, that my home is rather infested with current-feeding snakes of various descriptions.
Fusion power plants. The power plant of the future. And it always will be. Solar power Here I'd say we're exceeding Asimov slightly: we've got large plants, though not as many as I'd like to see, and distributed solar in the form of panels on houses and other extant structures is pretty commonplace, even in less favorable locations such as Germany. models of power stations in space alas, are all I suspect we'll ever see. Perhaps several hundred years out.
The world of 50 years hence will have shrunk further. We certainly do have a great deal more transportation, though our basic modes haven't changed, nor have top travel speeds, from what was available in Asimov's day. The biggest change is the proliferation of high-speed rail systems. Slower than jet aviation of 1964, but more prevalent, at least along covered routes. Which exclude the United States. The first such line had already been in operation for a decade, however, in 1964: Japan's Tōkaidō Line.
Hovercraft: other than military applications, not used to any significant extent. Hoverspeed, operator of the English Channel hovercraft ferries, converted fully to catamaran operations in 2000. Along with land hovercraft, the energy required for lift is excessive, directional control a challenge, and the overall effort not worthwhile.
vehicles with "Robot-brains" In extensive field trials. I'd say we're actually roughly where Asimov predicted we'd be in this regard, not bad.
moving sidewalks Expensive and prone to breakdowns when used outdoors, but heavily relied on in airports and some other regions of high pedestrian traffic. Though without the benches he supposes. As with other predictions, Asimov goes for flair over practicality: it's vastly more convenient to put benches on a wheeled (or tracked) vehicle than it is to move an entire roadbed. Trolley cars are effectively providing the service he describes, and had been for nearly 100 years when he wrote his piece.
Communications Yes, we've got A/V communications, but more comms has actually moved to text for a simple reason: it's asynchronous. And easily storeable and searchable. Asimov is also spot-on for satellites, though that's a fundamental technology whose basic concept is largely unchanged from Arthur C. Clarke's first proposals. Direct-dialing weather stations in remote locations is in fact something I've enjoyed, though generally via a Web browser.
Moon colonies Nope. That gravity toll is a real bitch, Ike.
laser beams Spot on here: communications are carried increasingly by light, not radio waves, though in fibers, not beamed through space or the air. Astronomical telemetry remains radio-based.
television wall screens Also spot on. Pity he didn't call for 3D to be a brief overhyped fad, or I'd have been truly impressed.
Population Well, he only fell short by half a billion, though his US estimate is high (actual is 313 million).
increasing penetration of desert and polar areas Somewhat, though mostly people are crowding into existing cities. Though the growth of cities such as Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas counts as desert growth to me.
Underwater housing Yes. But not in the way he'd intended. Our continental shelves are still largely habitation-free, unless one has redefined New Orleans and certain boroughs of New York City as belonging to the shelf.... And other than the Costa Concordia, bathyscaphe liners are few and far between.
Processed yeast and algae Vegemite and nori flakes aside, not so much. And I really don't see the cultured burger going very far.
Not all the world's population will enjoy the gadgety world Correct. That part of the population will make the gadgets.
They will have moved backward, relatively. That's rather stunningly prescient. Calls to mind the 99%.
Nor can technology continue to match population growth Part of the Zeitgeist. The first rumblings of limits were starting to echo about in the 1960s, though the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth wasn't published until 1972.
Undoubtedly, the world of A.D. 2014 will have agreed on the [lowering the birth rate]. Sadly, not.
lifted the life expectancy in some parts of the world to age 85. Yes. Japan most notably.
birth control by rational and humane methods It exists. Birth control pills were already available by the late 1950s, though formal approval didn't arrive until 1960. And of course, the Catholic Church, GOP, and Tea Party are entirely on board. Sigh.
automation Yes and no. Great strides in manufacturing (really, we've got to come up with a better word than "hand made" to describe, well, other than hand made stuff), though there's still a great deal of manual processes. In other areas, humans are cheaper, more reliable, more adaptable to harsh or adverse conditions, and more easily instructed, than robots. Though automation and labor costs and rates are presenting challenges. Machine tenders isn't a bad description for many of us, and Asimov's comments on teaching and the place of fundamentals of tech are pretty accurate.
And his comments on boredom may also be more accurate than many hear accept. We're seeing the world from a perspective of another 50 years of technological progress and divorce from direct physical labor -- labor which while it can be wearying, is also engaging. And there are certainly a wide range of psychological issues, particularly depression, present in our 2014.
> Robots They're rather less common or good than Asimov supposed. As with cooking gadgets, it turns out that it's difficult to design something that can navigate a home (including stairs and uneven surfaces), perform tasks, usefully, and not cost a bundle. Especially when competing with low-cost maid services.
He did say they'd be uncommon and not very good. What he didn't forsee is that they would not be humanoid robots.
Roombas are available, and can help clean your house. They aren't all that common, and aren't all that "good" by his metric of what a robot should be able to do, but they do exist, and people really do use them.
Furthermore, UAVs are increasingly common in the military. While some of them, like Predator drones, are remote controlled, some of them can operate fully autonomously for the vast majority of their flight.
And of course, industrial robots are so ubiquitous that they've faded into the background long ago.
So I would say that "uncommon and not very good" (according to his vision of humanoid robots that can replace most manual human tasks) is a fair assessment. He just figured that they would be clumsy humanoid robots, as opposed to more specialized robots that were fairly good at an individual task but can't do anything else.
Calling a Roomba a robot ... is somewhat on par with calling a blade of grass a tree. A Roomba randomly careers across a floor probabalistically providing sufficient coverage to fully vacuum or mop it.
Yes, we've got more intelligent robots, but they're a tad more expensive. Industrial manufacturing robots exist, but the reprogramming costs exceed the manufacture cost of the robots themselves. They make sense in very high-value, generally high-volume production. They're not particularly adaptive, though they can switch between different modes (programs) fairly well.
Flying through empty space is a reasonably simple problem. We've had ICBMs for ages. Navigating through complex terrain (ground-based robots, autonomous vehicles) is a markedly more complex domain space.
Most robots we've got at present are very, very highly specialized. Or incredibly stupid, though good enough for the task at hand.
Nor can technology continue to match population growth / Part of the Zeitgeist. The first rumblings of limits were starting to echo about in the 1960s, though the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth wasn't published until 1972.
We've gone way past the Club Of Rome's theoretical limits. Food supply isn't so much a matter of production or distribution anymore, but a matter of politics. I'd say technology is keeping up well with population; a quintessential example being third-world tribesmen owning cell phones.
Undoubtedly, the world of A.D. 2014 will have agreed on the [lowering the birth rate]. / Sadly, not.
Actually the world birth rate is tapering off, to the point that some countries face a population implosion. Japan is in dire risk of actually vanishing from sub-sustainable replacement rates. Russia is promoting reproduction as a national policy goal. It's not a matter of agreement on a goal, it's the human nature of highly developed societies toward insufficient procreation (luxurious living with easy contraception makes the inconveniences of parenthood undesirable and avoidable).
As shown, the observed historical data for 19702000 most closely matches the simulated results of the LtG "standard run" scenario for almost all the outputs reported; this scenario results in global collapse before the middle of this century. The comparison is well within uncertainty bounds of nearly all the data in terms of both magnitude and the trends over time. Given the complexity of numerous feedbacks between sectors incorporated in the LtG World3 model, it is instructive that the historical data compares so favorably with the model output.
The Limits to Growth publications received praise, but they have also been criticised, among other things with respect to representation of technology, the aggregated representation of resources and environmental factors, and the misinterpretation of estimated reserves. In that context, it is often claimed that history has proved those projections to be incorrect, which is specifically based on the popular believe that Limits to Growth predicted resource depletion and associated economic collapse by the end of the 20th century (Hall and Day, 2009). In reality, the `standard' scenario (without policy changes) in the publication showed global collapse in the middle of the 21st century. Almost four decades since the publication of Limits to Growth in 1972, Turner (2008) compared the historic trends with the original projections.
This comparison showed the `standard' scenario to be very close to the actual trends for many variables, such as total population levels, birth and death rates, industrial output, and per-capita food consumption. For more complicated indices, such as resource depletion and persistent pollution, the results were more difficult to check. Using data on energy resources and CO2 concentration for comparison, Turner concluded that, also for these variables, the Limits to Growth projections reflected past trends reasonable well. For instance, the report indicated an increase in global CO2 concentrations, from 320 ppm in 1970 to 380 ppm in 2000; in reality the concentration in 2000 was 369 ppm. In contrast, alternative scenarios presented in Limits to Growth showed emission projections that lie below the actually observed trend.
When major political parties and a major world religion continue to oppose family planning and birth control, with a population already well over carrying capacity, the battle cannot be said to be won.
The "demographic transition" has to date relied on standards of living, in absolute terms, which are not sustainable (or even attainable) on a global basis. It's a very short-term phenomenon in the history of humanity. It's been a huge benefit, but I'm very leery of depending upon it.
"Processed yeast and algae Vegemite and nori flakes aside, not so much. And I really don't see the cultured burger going very far."
Soy is a cheaper raw material. Not his fault. Given that, he turned out 100% correct.
"Undoubtedly, the world of A.D. 2014 will have agreed on the [lowering the birth rate]. Sadly, not."
images.google.com world birth rate graph, when he wrote this the world's total fertility rate is the average woman squirted out a hair under five kids, and its been a smooth line decline since then to a hair over two and a half kids now.
When you add some permanent long term economic decline to the mix, you could see total fertility rate dropping below the 2.1 or whatever it takes to maintain population in a stable culture. The current 2.5 might not be enough to maintain population in an unstable culture. Already numerous individual 1st world countries are below a 2 TFR aka their population is in permanent long term decline if not for 3rd world immigrants. Economists like to bake a population growth based increase in their estimates, makes them look better, so they hate that. Everyone else thinks its probably a good idea.
The answer has a lot to do with addressing our energy challenges, if you want to take biofuels into account.
Plants are roughly 1% effective at converting sunlight to stored hydrocarbons (mostly cellulose). Sometimes we can bump that up by a factor of 2-3. Photovoltaics are much more effecitve, about 20% in production, with theoretical maximums of 40%, which translates to even higher with multi-layer cells. But that just gets you electricity, not storage.
Algae are roughly 10x more productive than plants in converting sunlight to biomass. Which is pretty useful. However where a farm is a pretty lightly engineered environment (provide irrigation, even tillage is optional these days), if you're going to grow algae, you've got to provide a hell of a lot of services plants otherwise self-service: support, pest control, nutrient transport, and the like. Yes, your primary productivity goes up 10x but your capital investments are even higher. I've followed the field from a distance, and most pilot projects have been abandoned.
So instead of harvesting protein from algae and yeast, we get them from acres of soybeans. It's just cheaper. And the technology is too expensive.
Yes, growth rates have declined, but we're still dangerously over long-term sustainable levels. And unfortunately, it's poorer areas where kids are most prevalent. In advanced societies, children are a net cost, in poor ones, starting at an early age, they can help with household tasks and chores.
"Even so, mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014."
It is a striking finding of cross-cultural studies of suicide that many of the places with especially high suicide rates, and many of the cultural subgroups with high suicide rates among groups who live in the same place, are the advantaged rather than the disadvantaged. While people have to struggle to survive, they stay alive to continue the struggle. When people's basic needs are all met, they sometimes doubt the meaningfulness of living.
"Why Suicides Are More Common in Richer Neighborhoods"
If you have nothing to loose and a death wish, you go on a rampage. If you have a reputation to uphold postmortem, going that route seems to be out of question. One route would be death due to work exhaustion, which the Japanese actually have a word for: "Karoshi". The other, more direct, is suicide.
There's many ways in which a deathwish can manifest, they're not limited to suicide.
Or extracting wealth from the digitally accelerated, cataclysmic, climactic failure of the economic system of yore. Or the legal systems, fairly similarly. Or to global surveillance systems dangling carrots for citizens but storing all of their data: location, human communications, etc. forever.
"Even so, mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine."
Not complete underground cities, but there are plenty underground marijuana light-forced gardens out there... Even with panels that change colors (some growers use different wavelengths for vegetative and flowering stages). :-)
I think it's important to note here that Asimov was never a big proponent of the "science fiction author as Nostradamus" theory. He was always very clear that neither his nor any other writer's predictions should be given any more credibility than the average Joe off the street.
In fact, I'm pretty puzzled as to why this article was written at all.
> In fact, I'm pretty puzzled as to why this article was written at all.
He shifted away from fiction and into non-fiction (textbooks, educational books, and newspaper columns) in the early 60s. This probably falls into the "scientific education" niche in some form.
My understanding is that Asimov did not believe in science fiction as a clear-cut prophecy of the future but did enjoy talking about what effects modern-day science and achievements could have on the future and the society of the future in non-fiction. He very much enjoyed making science -- and knowledge in general -- more accessible to other people.
Intentional or not, he has certainly predicted technology that has only recently come into existence. They may seem obvious now, but I wonder how inevitable they seemed during the 50s and 60s? Take for instance the Multivac: it is essentially Wolfram Alpha, even down to the pro-tier pricing he mentions in one short story.
In fact, the animatronic 1964 GE pavillion show that Asimov is talking about can still be seen today at Disney World. It's called the Carousel of Progress, kind of tucked away behind the Buzz Lightyear ride in tomorrowland and sadly (but understandably) not as popular as it used to be.
I loved this "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. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica (shown in chill splendor as part of the '64 General Motors exhibit)."
>"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."
This actually makes me curious. Why don't we have photochromic windows? We use the technology in transition lenses.
A relatively cheap alternative is taking 2 polarized pieces of glass and making them rotate one on top of the other - that way the amount of light they let through is variable. The main drawback is that it requires circular windows with mechanical rotors.
What I don't think Mr. Asimov could have imagined is the rise of the Oligarchs, dominated primarily by the heads of the banking industry, though also by the petrochemical and a few other top-tier industries. These individuals have increasingly distorted the free-market system and corrupted the political systems to satisfy their own narrow ends. They are financial protectionists. And because of them a great deal of innovation that could have been has been stymied. I would argue that if it were not for their depressing effects on society, Mr. Asimov's predictions would now look rather underwhelming by comparison, as we would have achieved far more than he predicted. Alas, given our current state of affairs, I do not think it possible for society to advanced very far beyond were it currently stands. And in a matter of decades we are likely to start moving backwards rather then forwards. On that mark, with his concerns on population growth, I believe Mr. Asimov hit it squarely on the head.
Why are moving sidewalks so incredibly popular in old SF novels ?!?! The concept is silly. The constant energy use is a showstopper, and even if you assume thorium reactors would handle it, there's material fatigue.
Another early SF prediction which which is baffling today:
everything (houses, cars, highways) made of... plastic. Plastic being the material of the future. But perhaps it's not as naive, seeing as early plastic was really durable, some our plastic bowls are still in good shape after 20 years. LEGOs are very durable, too.
Hovercars - ordinary 2D cars are one of most common causes of mortal accidents today. Imagine the chaos with an extra dimension! Hoverbuses - perhaps, but cars ???
But the one that really cracks me up is by Strugatsky brothers: carbonated soured milk (Impossible according to one chemist).
"...there will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface. There will be aircraft, of course, but even ground travel will increasingly take to the air*a foot or two off the ground. Visitors to the 1964 fair can travel there in an "aquafoil," which lifts itself on four stilts and skims over the water with a minimum of friction. This is surely a stop-gap. By 2014 the four stilts will have been replaced by four jets of compressed air so that the vehicle will make no contact with either liquid or solid surfaces."
In 1900, The Ladies' Home Journal had a long list of "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Elfreth_Watkins with most of the predictions either spot-on or close enough (them being unable to conceive of the means to the end, but getting the gist of the prediction right).
<i>All 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").</i>
When a general-purpose robot (aka "something that looks like a human") is refined and improved for a particular task, it won't look like a robot anymore. Therefore, "robots" will never be good at anything, because once they're good, they're no longer robots. (e.g. dish washers, washing machine, coffee makers, laser cutters, CNC machines, etc.)
It assumes that the task is best served by non-humanoid forms.
While that might be true for a laser cutter or a washing machine, there are lots of tasks that in order to be "refined and improved" for them, it should absolutely look like a human.
An obvious example would be a sex-partner robot. Generally any kind of robot that serves humans and we want them to have better empathy towards it (e.g a robot to keep companion to the sick and the elderly). The same holds for robots that are to be used as spies, e.g to infiltrate some human community.
Robots that could be used to play competitive sports for spectators. Robots that do stunt-doubling of actors or perform themselves.
Also, if we want a robot to serve as a "personal assistant" (e.g a butler) the human form is very flexible (and it's flexibility and performance would be increased by the robot's extra capabilities, like more "muscle" power and speed, finer vision, etc).
Such a form will be able to cook, restock the fridge, massage our back, play tennis, take the dog for a walk, clean the house, play poker, help us move, throw out the garbage etc. If you can have something like that, why use a specialized machine for each (for some of those actions, a dedicated machine would provide a luck-luster experience anyway).
- At the New York World's Fair of 2014, General Motors' "Futurama" may well display vistas of underground cities complete with light- forced vegetable gardens.
- In fact, one popular exhibit at the 2014 World's Fair will be such a 3-D TV, built life-size, in which ballet performances will be seen.
- The 2014 World's Fair will have exhibits showing cities in the deep sea with bathyscaphe liners carrying men and supplies across and into the abyss.
- One of the more serious exhibits at the 2014 World's Fair, accordingly, will be a series of lectures, movies and documentary material at the World Population Control Center (adults only; special showings for teen-agers).