When science fiction prodigy Isaac Asimov visited the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, he wrote an editorial afterwards for the New York Times outlining his vision of the world in 2014. As we enter that new year, it turns out Asimov got a surprising amount of things right (or not surprising, as he is one of the most respected sci-fi authors of all time). It turns out he was also wrong about one very important thing: the amount of free time we all have.
What he got right
Robots. It’s a good bet that the author of I, Robot (and the person who coined the term robotics) would know about automatons. Asimov predicted that robots would be clunky and geared towards housework and other menial tasks—not unlike the plucky little Roomba who might be cleaning your floor (or DJing your party) right now.
3D Movies. He also predicted that we’d be watching 3D movies about robots. There was a time when 3D movies were kind of a joke, but then technology and interest finally caught up—just in time for 2014. Any trip to your local megaplex will confirm that Mr. Asimov absolutely nailed this one.
Gadgets. “Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs,” Asimov predicted broadly, before specifically mentioning several ways kitchen gadgets might have your breakfast ready for you. We still may be a bit off from a hands-off omelet, but phones and tablets have taken many tedious jobs and turned them into automated tasks that we no longer have to think about.
What he got wrong
Boredom. One of the things Asimov predicted is that we’d all “suffer badly from the disease of boredom,” largely as a result of the gadgets designed to make our lives easier. In fact, he closes his prediction with the enigmatic statement: “the most somber speculation I can make about 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word…. Will have become work!”
If you’re wondering where that enforced leisure is, it’s probably the same place as the flying cars and fusion reactors Asimov also predicted. While gadgets are making our lives easier and our work more productive, most Americans report that we’re working longer hours than ever before.
Meeting Asimov in the middle
Here’s our prediction, resolution, and mission statement for 2014: let’s use our technology and gadgets to improve our work lives, but to get our free time back. We’re not encouraging boredom. Our phones, tablets, corporate social networks, and data and analytics tools should help us improve our work—so in turn we can unplug and improve our time off to spend it with our families, friends, and ourselves.
There’s the Microsoft for Work 2014 New Year’s Resolution. Here’s to a great year.