Predictions are a tricky thing

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As a young American in the 1960s, it was popular where I lived in Oregon to make New Year’s resolutions.  Prophesizing the future was an art form much less often ventured.  That wasn’t so for one Issac Asimov (1920-1992), an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University who wrote about 500 science fiction and non-fiction books.  Although not as well-known a prognosticator as the 16th century’s Nostradamas, he made some uncanny predictions in 1964 about 2014.  A few follow here:

“By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use.”  Some among us may not realize what electroluminescent panels are, but these thin, bright panels are used in retail displays, signs lighting and flat panel televisions. EL panels are set to take over back lit posters with 75 percent of energy savings when compared with a host of other light-source-based products that are energy deficient while more expensive and bulky.

“Gadgetry will continue to relieve humankind of tedious jobs.”  That’s so true today.  Just look around at all the handy convenience items we use.

“Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone.” Skype, Google Hangout, Face Time and more have made video-chatting commonplace.

“Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”  If you define “robot” as a computer that looks and acts like a human, then his guess is definitely accurate.  We don’t have robot servants or robot friends, but we do have robots that can dance and sing.  For example, scientists at MIT’s Nonlinear Lab have programmed a troupe of humanoid Nao robots to dance in synchrony to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  These machines, with bodies built by Aldebaran of France, go through a complicated routine together which is a thrill to watch.

Some close, but not exact Asimov predictions:

“Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare ‘automeals,’ heat water and covert it to coffee; toast bread; fry, poach and scramble eggs, grill bacon, etc.”  We have Keurigs and other instant coffee machines, so he was not too far off there.  However, we cannot just press a button and have breakfast ready.  Will someone please get with this modern devise ASAP!

“Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and a variety of colors will change them at the touch of a push button.” This could probably be true if we wanted it, since the technology exists.  However, glowing walls and ceilings are not that popular.

“The world population will be 6,500,000,000.”  Good guess, but it’s actually more like 7,100,000,000.

“Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders.  Schools will have to be oriented in this direction.”  Sure, computer science has become an important field of study, but we have hardly become “a race of machine tenders.”  Of course, many of us are never far from a machine by way of smartphones and tablets that some, it’s surmised, use even while sleeping.

Incorrect predictions:

“The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long-lived batteries running on radioisotopes.” We still use electric cords, but at least we can use surge protectors to keep them from meltdown.

“All the high school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology, will become proficient in binary arithmetic, and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary Fortran.”  This’d be good if true.  Unfortunately, coding classes remain uncommon in high schools as just 1.4 percent of high school  advanced placement students took the computer science exam in 2012.  Learning how to program is an inevitable requirement for successful students of the future. Learning to code is all the rage these days but not where it should matter most, that is, in U.S. schools, that continue to lag far behind their global counterparts.

In conclusion, we can all play Asimov and make predictions for 2064.  What in the realm of science and humanity do you forecast in 50 years?  There are a number of items on drawing boards like frictionless Hyperloop tunnels, conceptualized in Elon Musk’s futuristic pneumatic tube, that will take passengers in a capsule underground between New York and Los Angeles  in 30 to 45 minutes while tourist flights from Earth to the moon and back will occur in a day’s time.

Otherwise, the planet will count twice the population now with a number exceeding 15 billion: No habitable space will be without pushy crowds, a walk on the beach at Seaside and Lincoln City will require a year-in-advance reservation, and Keizer will experience traffic gridlock 24/7.  All earthlings will envy those who lived in Oregon and Washington in the 1900s, unisex restrooms will prevail just like at home, and John Kitzhaber, finally, will no longer be Oregon’s governor and democracy will reign again.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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