I don't think Asimov believed that "humanity would decide to distribute the wealth accrued by the automatons" at all. I think he believed (as I do) that automation reduces costs. Reduced cost is equivalent to increased wealth. If nobody has to work anymore because everything they need is close to free of charge, then what is the motivation to create or do anything? Hence a sense of pointlessness to life, etc.
Now obviously that is not the case in 2014, but the author's assumption that the reality is necessarily lost capital is unfounded. Any one industry that is displaced by automation examined in a tunnel will appear bleak, but in the long term, the consumers are likely better off because they become wealthier. I think that idea extrapolated outward to most every manufacturing industry is what Asimov was referring to.
I do not believe this will ever really be feasible because you still need lawyers, the government, police, teachers, etc. But I do believe that as time goes on more and more industries will become more efficient in production capability, rendering a large part of our society fairly useless in relation to productivity.
Sure, but what then happens to them? My guess is poverty and starvation, rather than lower costs for owners of means of production leading to giving means of production or products away for free. Why shouldn't this game of musical chairs keep going on until there are only a few dozen mansions and millions of golf courses and parks left? Or even machines optimizing humans away completely -- unless held on a tight leash, why shouldn't they? And if held on a tight leash, why would this not also extend to the disenfranchised masses, the then "useless eaters"? As much as I would like to believe it, everything else being the same I don't think automation and lower costs by themselves will necessarily lead to anything good.
Worker's rights weren't granted because they could be afforded, they had to be fought for. Same for segregation and other things. But these people had something to throw on the scales -- unnecessary workers will not have that. They will be at the mercy of others, and I do not see enough mercy to go around already, looking bleaker going forward. We already have elites that are pretty much above the law -- steal cell phones repeatedly, go to jail for a long time, start aggressive wars, get re-elected, be too big to fail, get bailed out. Once fooling people to get their approval is no longer required, I doubt the same classes will suddenly discover virtue.
The article says he got this wrong. I'm not so sure.
(To be fair, one can say bankers, lawyers, politicians and business execs are constantly engaging in creative work, as in creating new ways to circumvent any obstacles, including laws and regulations, to accumulate more wealth and influence ^_^)
I don't think that's what Asimov meant though, if you read the context of his prediction, I actually think he meant creative arts, since all "necessary" functions and jobs of the society would have been automated under his prediction.
Also, I think scientists definitely qualify as "creative workers", and will do so as long as there are unknowns in the universe (like how the brain works, what the universe is made of, stuff like that). For example, wouldn't you call Einstein's work "creative"?
(Though I share your ^_^)
I would be interested in similar pieces from 50 years ago, looking back on 1914's view of 1964. So much has changed since then, though, and it seems like more has changed since 1964 than changed from 1914 to 1964. In particular, the 60s happened, but even after that, the Internet seems to have effected a fairly massive and seemingly permanent cultural shift. It might be too early to tell, but even the fact that someone posted this commentary, we all read it instantly, and then now we're discussing it here only hours later seems worlds away from the climate of 1964.
Cultural commentary? If anything, it declined a lot. Once you had people like Normal Mailer, Tom Wolf and Hunter Thompson doing cultural commentary, and many more besides.
Now it's mostly puff pieces, and 90% of it is about who said what on some bs tv show (and twerking).
No, I really don't. Not to mention others -- heck, Hemingway himself was a reporter and cultural commentator too.
In the early 20th century, new manufacturing technologies triggered a burst of investment in capital-intensive production lines. With so much capital lying around, workers had secured a pretty good deal for themselves by 1964. But now those jobs have fled to Asia, and it sucks to be an unskilled American. Most new jobs are in the service sector, and they can disappear in a heartbeat.
Still, I'm not entirely pessimistic. Factory wages in China are rising...
USSR and all its satelite countries for sure (however hypocritially for those at the top), but also the US, who had a booming labor movement, increased work rights and salaries for decades since the "new deal", etc.
But even the most hardcore believers in capitalism thought that automatons (industrial robots and such) will bring a society of less work and increased leisure -- for the same kind of salaries or purchasing power as before.
If you watch Star Trek for example, it's like some kind of egalitarian future world. Same as what's happening in a lot of science fiction books, Asimov's included.
The Arab Spring would not have been possible if not for social media and the internet in general. It is a perfect example of machines helping the commoner. What then happens, when machines and software become powerful enough to automate even the more complex aspects of society?
It's not a matter of if, but when. We have to actually allow it to happen, but so far there has yet to be a society who hinders progress without crumbling in on itself. Are we to be so naive as to think we'll be the exception to the rule?
No, his predictions were quite accurate on the technological side, but for the societal side they were based on prevailing ideas of the day (which didn't necessarily apply later).
For example the "moon colony" would have been a very real possibility, if the US has kept the same determination of space exploration. It's not much harder than the ISS to setup something similar on the moon, just the budgets are not there.
As for his food prediction, we already have something similar ready to be commercially available, with Soylent. Not to mention that compared to his era's food (mostly home cooking, no HFCS, no prevailing fast food chains), today's food is 500% more processed and lab made.
Anyway, they are called "predictions". What did people expect? Genuine prophecy?