Monday, 6 January 2014

Asimov's predictions of the world in 2014

His predictions, made in 1964, are here.

There are some very good ones: how about "Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing" or "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"? And "As for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set" is pretty much true outside my own, antiquated, lodgings.

On the other hand, the nuclear power, widespread cars that travel over water and moon colonies are all still to come.

One thing Asimov wrote is the sort of thing many people write nowadays: "The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders." This is the world foretold by Tyler Cowen (including the dating app that can feed you conversational ploys throughout dinner). But is it a good prediction?

My prediction is that people will just get less interested in the sorts of things that machines can do well - or at least less interested in machines doing them. Computers can now beat people at chess. So? We still play chess; we just don't put much store by being able to beat computers at it. Machines are very good at making things - and yet Etsy is a $1bn company. Would Asimov have predicted the rise of celebrity chefs (surely machines do it better?) or baristas (machines do do it better - "Nespresso machines can now be found in the kitchens of around 30% of the world's 2,400 Michelin-starred restaurants")? Or personal shoppers or dog walkers or pet psychologists or life coaches or all of the other little personal touch careers that people spend their time doing instead of tending machines?

Most people don't like tending machines, whether spinning jennies or IT systems. Most people like tending each other, and they'll probably carry on doing that. A handful of people created Facebook; they tend it still - and are well-paid for doing so; but most of us just use it for gossiping. That's progress.

No comments:

Post a Comment