Another genius of the last century, Yogi Berra, once quipped that “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” And that’s why we have to admire Isaac Asimov for getting so many things right, as this BBC article argues:
He foresaw the rise of computers, saying the complexity of society would make them “impossible to do without”, disrupting work and penetrating the home.
“To think that computers would take over the world was remarkably insightful at that time,” thinks Calum Chase, who writes both fiction and non-fiction books on the subject of artificial intelligence.
“Most bosses did not use computers in the 80s. It was their secretaries who had them and they would print out emails for the bosses to read. The internet was around but not many people knew about it.”
These days, Asimov’s predictions seem rather tame — well, OF COURSE computers are essential, not just in business, but in education, entertainment, and personal communications. But there was heated opposition to them when they first appeared.
Chase’s comments about the lowly status of computers in the ’80s bring back many memories. I worked for Jefferson-Pilot Corporation back then, a holding company for several life, health, and property insurance companies in Greensboro, North Carolina. My work with computers and a corporate-wide cost reduction program led to my transfer to the Organizational Development department, where we analyzed workflows, proposed more efficient and effective methods, and managed automation projects. That was one cool job.
I quickly learned that many of the managers we worked with wanted nothing to do with personal computers, which they viewed as glorified typewriters. In one of my projects, I mapped out a workflow process that eliminated the need for life insurance underwriters to dictate to a transcriptionist, who would then enter data into the mainframe (you know, a REAL computer). Instead, I proposed the underwriter directly enter the applicant and policy information into a local area network. The underwriting manager complained to my boss that I wanted to turn professional underwriters into secretaries.
After all, computers have a keyboard, and keyboards are for clerical workers!
Yes, times have changed. And Isaac Asimov saw a lot of what was coming. “Genius” is an over-used compliment these days, but I’d say he earned it.