The Wonders Of The Year 2014, As Told By Isaac Asimov

Apr 22, 2014
Originally published on April 22, 2014 6:38 pm



A moment now remember how the future looked 50 years ago today.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome to a journey into the future, a journey for everyone today, into the everywhere of tomorrow.


On this date in 1964, the New York World's Fair opened. It offered visions of a better future, much of it based on technology. A popular exhibit was this one: General Motors' "Futurama."


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let us explore together the future, a future not of dreams but of reality.

BLOCK: That summer of 1964, the New York Times sent scientist and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov to the fair. He wrote about what he saw and offered his own predictions for 2014.

CORNISH: By now, Asimov thought we would withdraw from nature. The whole idea buildings with windows would be outdated.

BLOCK: Instead, we'd have electro-luminescent panels for light. Ceilings and walls, Asimov wrote, will glow softly in colors that will change at the touch of a button.

CORNISH: A bit off there. But when it came to TV, he was pretty close. Wall screens, he said, would be in style. And he thought we'd have robots, but they wouldn't be very good.

BLOCK: In 1964, Asimov put a lot of faith in the future of computers. He believed machines would be able to translate Russian into English but didn't foresee a Google Translate for a multitude of tongues.


CORNISH: Asimov predicted large solar power stations in operation in a number of desert and semi-desert areas.

BLOCK: He was convinced that by now, our cars would be able to levitate. Easier to navigate on the moon colonies, of course. And GM thought so, too.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Lunar rovers float magically over powdered plains; range the crater's edge, their elastic train-like bodies conforming to every surface character of the moon.

BLOCK: Overall, we scored Asimov's predictions in his 1964 article as slightly more wrong than right. But some are hard to judge. For instance, an algae bar that features mock turkey and pseudo-steak. Not really.

CORNISH: But maybe not far off from Tofurkey? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.