Asimov’s 2019 predictions – fiction or fact?

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.

31 thoughts on “Asimov’s 2019 predictions – fiction or fact?”

  1. Some of us are early adopters, and others of us have to be dragged into the future-becoming-the-present while kicking and screaming and clinging to our clay tablets. I wish I could claim to be the former, alas.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Being older than dirt, I remember the issue well – and am proud to say I was the first to learn the new computer in our office, 5-inch [?] floppy disk and all. But my boss never did see its value. Alie remembers the first fax being tested in her office, but it did not seem so far out at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember hearing a story about the head of a private school explaining not all that long ago that they didn’t teach their students how to type because “they will all have secretaries.”

    I just read an Asimov short story (“Sally”) featuring self-driving cars available at the push of a button. One of the earliest models was a 2015. He didn’t just nail the tech and how it could (and likely will to a greater extent) be utilized, but he did pretty good with the timing too.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is very interesting. I feel like we have always had a computer in the house. I was a little kid when dad bought a calculator. I think it cost $300 and only did simple math. We were forbidden to use it for homework. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mike, you do well to highlight this article and I read it with fascination this morning. I was a huge fan of Asimov’s work and it I’m not surprised he got so much right with his predictions for the future. Haha…not the best reception for your plan to introduce computers to the work place … difficult to imagine now. My mother had the second or third generation of Apple at her work and was the only one who could operate it. It required actual programming to make much of it work … I remember my awe at being allowed to type on it and see it printed out!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Outstanding post. I remember my first computer. A TS1000 that I had to hook up to the home TV set. Whopping 1K of storage. And it had a modem! To bad that the ISP was a long distance call (I know – What’s that?)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. williamrablan,

      After I tried out my brother-in-law’s VIC, I had the fever! I bought a Commodore 64 and fell in love with programming, even though I had to re-enter the program every time I powered up.


  7. You know, until the internet came along, computers were just glorified typewriters and calculators. Connecting them together so users could share stuff — that’s what made them indispensable for just about everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.