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The accuracy of Asimov: 2019, as predicted in 1983

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In 1983, the renowned science-fiction writer was asked to predict what he thought 2019 would be like. How did he do?

Russian-born Isaac Asimov was one of the most celebrated science-fiction authors in the world, writing and editing over 500 books. Globally famous novels including ‘I, Robot’, ‘Nightfall’ and ‘Foundation’ were all penned by the prolific and successful forward thinker.

In December 1983, in anticipation of the year George Orwell chose as the setting for ‘1984’, the Toronto Star asked him to write what he thought the future might be like, ‘at the end of another generation’ – 2019. Orwell wasn’t too accurate with his dystopian novel, so how did Asimov, the creator of the three laws of robotics, fare?

He doesn’t begin his prophesising in an optimistic manner: “If the United States and the Soviet Union flail away at each other [with nuclear warfare] at any time between now and 2019, there is absolutely no use to discussing what life will be like in that year.” Bright and breezy. And, thankfully, wrong. On the assumption that nuclear war wouldn’t happen, what were his thoughts?

There were some scarily accurate hits and some far-out misses. Here are the best bits. 

1. This prediction is broad, so there was a wider net in which to get some of it correct. It is obvious that computerisation would continue to improve, even in the 1980s, and rather inevitable that it would enter our lives and homes, so it would be almost impossible to live without using technology, or seeing it used everywhere we go.

People are already living in ‘smart’ homes, with assistants (‘mobile computerised object’ or ‘robot’) like Alexa and Echo, to make our everyday activities easier and more dependent on tech and gadgets.

2. This is on point. Technology has forever disrupted the work environment, and there is always employment in the IT industry, which is huge and more commonplace than we realise. Asimov also correctly believed that ‘routine clerical and assembly-line jobs’ would be eliminated by robotics.

3. Asimov predicted that education would be forever changed by technology, and it would be a fundamental part of teaching and learning. However, he did also think that schooling in a traditional environment would become obsolete, and kids would undertake education at home on a computer. This is still a possibility for the future of all learning, but not now. We can learn at our own pace and receive qualifications using online institutions such as Open University, but this isn’t commonplace.

4. Although the rest of his space predictions were ridiculously far-fetched (you’ll see), this one is – technically – correct. We’ve had a presence in space for the past 18 years, at the International Space Station.

5. Asimov is not that wrong. Celebrity engineering entrepreneur Elon Musk is making waves in the topic of space travel and settlement – he wants to send humans to Mars, and he’s hoping we could get there as early as 2024. But we haven’t started settling on the Moon just yet. I’m not sure that’s even on the cards for us.

6. Asimov’s optimism knows no bounds, especially when it comes to space mining. This probably won’t happen for a good while, and there don’t seem to be any concepts floating about. Space programmes need better funding: high costs of space flight, unreliable identification of suitable asteroids and ore extraction are the problems to overcome. For now, terrestrial mining is the only way we can get our raw minerals. And those resources are running dry.

Nasa wants to send astronauts back to the Moon in about a decade, but it’ll take a while for us to set up homes there.

By 2023, SpaceX is expected to send Japanese billionaire Yukazu Maezawa and up to eight artists on an around-the-Moon trip using its Starship. The company is running ‘hop tests’ for the Starship (which will eventually be ‘Mars bound’) in 2019, to see if it can jump a few hundred kilometres.

7. Imagine that – a bit farfetched, but entirely plausible. Back in 2011, Popular Science published an article that said beaming power would be safe and simple – satellites with solar panels would gather the Sun’s energy 24-hours a day and then convert that energy into an infrared laser beam. The high-efficiency laser would transmit 80 per cent of the captured energy to ground-based receivers.

Talking to the BBC, Ralph Nansen from US-based advocacy group Solar High believes space-based solar power will become the ultimate energy source for the world and will replace almost everything. He reckons there are no doubts that, within the next 100 years, Earth will get most of its power from space.

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