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Future Tech Today

Entry 1621, on 2014-01-23 at 21:29:08 (Rating 3, Skepticism)

In my previous blog entry I ridiculed the pathetic efforts at predicting the future from psychics. There is no real doubt about it, psychics have no special powers and this is shown from their terrible results as well as the experiments done on psychic phenomena which show no consistent positive results.

So no one can predict complex phenomena in the future except by guessing, mainly because of the consequences of chaos theory. But not everyone's guess is as good (or as bad) as everyone else's. Some people are quite good at it although there are many infamous examples of esteemed experts making a complete mess of predicting the future (read my blog entry "They Got It Wrong" from 2013-07-11 for examples).

I recently read an article which listed some predictions made 50 years ago by famous classic science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, about an imagined "World Fair 2014". So let's have a look at some of them...

He said "By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colours that will change at the touch of a push button". While panels aren't common we are certainly in the middle of a revolution in lighting technology and coloured lights which can be set from a smartphone are easily available. My favourite application of this is an iPhone app which sets the lighting colour to replicate conditions of different planets the user is exploring on the phone.

About robots (a favourite subject of his science fiction) he said: "Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence." That is very true. Specialised robots are common in manufacturing and robotic devices (automated vacuum cleaners for example) are beginning to improve but still need a bit of work before they become accepted in the average house.

Some technologies don't work out the way we think. For example: "The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long-lived batteries running on radioisotopes." He is right that cordless devices are quite common now, but battery technology is still a problem and radioisotopes do not appear to be a technology which will be widely accepted for this purpose.

Nuclear power isn't a complete loss though. He predicted that an "...experimental fusion-power plant or two will already exist in 2014." This is basically true. Fusion power is still in the experimental stage but inevitably it will be the main power source in the more distant future, and maybe other nuclear technologies, like thorium reactors, might be used first.

Here's my advice to anyone planning on predicting future tech: forget about flying cars! Asimov made this mistake with similar technology: "Jets of compressed air will also lift land vehicles off the highways, which, among other things, will minimize paving problems. Smooth earth or level lawns will do as well as pavements. Bridges will also be of less importance, since cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets". Yeah, the amount of energy required is a bit of a problem there and that type of vehicle is never likely to be common.

He did a lot better with predictions of self-driving cars though: "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". That technology already exists and is even legal in some states. It isn't yet perfected but it does seem that the prediction of "much effort" being put into it is absolutely right.

Regarding communications: "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." This technology is common and has been widely used for several years now.

Unfortunately another communications technology he mentions hasn't been necessary: "For that matter, you will be able to reach someone at the moon colonies". No doubt someone writing in the 1960s would be horrified to see how space exploration has been neglected in the 50 years since then. Of course, if there was a Moon colony I'm sure communications with it would be fairly easy.

Finally he makes some predictions regarding population growth (which were quite accurate), life expectancy (also accurate), birth control (accurate in most places), as well as education trends towards programming and proficiency in binary (programming not so much although any decent programmer will be good at binary, of course!)

So Asimov's predictions are a bit of a mixed bag but I would say he is about half right, which isn't bad for looking 50 years into the future. He did concentrate on technology rather than many of the mundane subjects the psychics often specialise in, I know, but even if you look at the psychics' one year tech predictions compared with Asimov's 50 year predictions it's obvious that using actual knowledge and logic beats psychic abilities every time!

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