Isaac Asimov Visions
Back in the 1940s, science fiction was fringe and boyish! Hence, thinking of and forecasting the long-term technological future was nonsense in the context of a world when tomorrow’s technology was pretty much the same typology as yesterday’s.
But one man brought the idea of incredible futures as a serious subject into the public mindset -- yes, A G. Wells and George Orwell had already made their indelible classic mark.
But Isaac Asimov, was different! He based his work not merely on wild imagination and classical science; but fervent mix of revolutionary emerging science and contradictory rational inquiry.
In 1964, at the World’s Fair in New York, Asimov was asked to predict technological life in 2014. While many of them never saw the light of day, Asimov, who died in 1992 at the age of 72, made some stunningly accurate predictions. Here’s 10:
· Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone.
· Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.
· Satellites hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica.
· Computers, much miniaturized, will serve as the brains of robots.
· Flat Screen TV wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set.
· By 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works.
· Ordinary agriculture will keep up with great difficulty and there will be 'farms' turning to the more efficient micro-organisms. Processed soya, yeast and algae products will be available in a variety of flavours.....’mock-turkey’ and ‘pseudo-steak’. It won’t be bad at all but there will be considerable psychological resistance to such an innovation.
· An experimental fusion-power plant or two will already exist.
· Self-driving cars. Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with Robot brains.
· In 2014, there is every likelihood that the world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000. Not all the world’s population will enjoy the gadgetry world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today will be deprived and although they may be better off, materially, than today, they will be further behind.
Wow! And all this imagined back at the beginning of 1964. To the point, Asimov predicted the rise of a powerful Robot industry back in the days when owning a TV, Holidays abroad, or go to University, was exclusively for the well heeled. He forecast, that Robotics would advance and scale faster and faster.
To be clear, Asimov did not invent the words ‘Robot,’ or indeed ‘Robotics.’ What he did, was clarify their meaning and relevance. He put the concept of Robot and Robotics in a rational light and context that impacts on individual humans and wider society in large scale ways.
But the real lessons and questions we need to ask that stem from the great Asimov’s work in predicting the future of Robotic, lie in the famous ‘Three Laws of Robotics.’ A ‘Zeroth’ law was later added (Law zero below).
· Law One: A robot may not injure a human (or humanity), or, through inaction, allow a human (or humanity) to come to harm.
· Law Two: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with a higher order law.
· Law Three: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with a higher order law.
· Law Zero: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate a higher order law.
It seems to me that Asimov – when he put the first three laws together back in the 1940s – saw Robots as mechanical machines that might evolve to a point where they become ‘automaton machines that automate work freely under their own control and power,’ that aid mankind and therefore would need a set of laws to govern their actions when living amongst and serving humans.
However, there is much contention about the laws today. Some say they are floored, and even completely wrong for both Robots and us humans. Because Robots might evolve not just higher skills and capabilities, but their own will, with their our values, goals and expectations, which might go against human values, goals, and expectations.