From World’s Fair to Maker Faire: Isaac Asimov

From World’s Fair to Maker Faire: Isaac Asimov


Warning: this blog post is more thinky-thoughts than usual.

Earlier this year, the internet discovered a 50 year old list of predictions made by Isaac Asimov about life in 2014. Asimov wrote these predictions for the New York Times after he visited the 1964 World’s Fair in that August, and saw various corporate and governmental extrapolations of life in the undiscovered country, the future..

Asimov’s predictions were, for the most part, spot-on, even if his terminology wasn’t. He foresaw things like “semi-prepared” foods which can be kept in the freezer and reconstituted to eat: the modern-day phrase “Let’s nuke some Hot Pockets” proves that prediction true (though whether Hot Pockets are semi-prepared, or even food, is open to interpretation). He foresaw limited-use household cleaning robots that can perform some tasks but not others. The fact that a 2014 Roomba can clean the floor but refuses to make the bed proves that prediction true as well.

Asimov also imagined a turn away from nature to an underground existence, with entire subterranean suburban subdivisions replacing sprawling Levittowns. This was probably Asimov’s own claustrophilia talking — he himself loved small enclosed spaces, and couldn’t understand why people didn’t share his “rational” vision for saving space. He was also a man of his era: he imagined — as a good thing — road building factories crashing their way through the Amazon jungle, bringing technological enlightenment the backward regions of the Earth. Before he died in 1992, he was arguing against deforestation, as these factories would have caused.

And, back in 1964, that heady age in which anything seemed possible, Asimov said that people of 2014 would have full sound-and-vision communication with friends anywhere in the world, including those living in the moon colony. He was partially right; Skype and FaceTime we’ve got, but a moon colony — once the most obvious item in a list of predictions — was declared dead less than five years after Asimov wrote his article.

For his moon colony prediction and other non-starters (nuclear fission providing half of humanity’s energy needs, personal hovercars, gigantic solar plants covering the deserts, underwater houses on the continental shelf, a life of enforced leisure), some voices on the internet had fun pointing out Asimov’s “list of failures”.

I’d say that they’re our failures.

Many of the things Asimov got “wrong” are really failures of our society to reach our potential in those realms. The only reason we don’t have cheap renewable energy, a life of enforced leisure, and personal hovercars, is because we haven’t yet created it.

That’s what’s so wonderful about Maker Faire; here, on the site of the same World’s Fair that prompted Asimov to write his predictions of the future, people are developing their talents to create their own futures. Some may follow along Asimovian lines, but many more are intensely personal, and involve technologies –like civilian autonomous helicopters, mesh network communications, and extremely cheap computers — that Asimov could only have dreamed about.

Why type of future are you creating?

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Patrick is an editor at MAKE. He is the author of the books Environmental Monitoring with Arduino, Atmospheric Monitoring with Arduino, The Science of Battlestar Galactica, and This is What You Just Put In Your Mouth. He has sworn to defend mankind against the eventual rise of the killer bots.

View more articles by Patrick Di Justo


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