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12 Predictions Isaac Asimov Made About 2014 in 1964

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When sci-fi author Isaac Asimov sojourned to the New York World's Fair in 1964 — according to his writings, he "enjoyed it hugely" — he regretted the Fair's lack of foresight. So, thoughts turned to the future, Asimov penned a New York Times essay he titled "Visit to the World's Fair of 2014," a glimpse 50 years ahead into the future of human history. 

1. The human race would be incurably bored

In what Asimov declared his "most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014," the writer believed society would fall into a sense of enforced leisure: "Mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine."

2. Appliances would no longer have electric cords

Instead, previously-plugged in gadgets would be powered by "long-lived batteries running on isotopes." A probably expensive proposition in today's 2014, except, according to Asimov, the batteries would be cheap by-products of...

3. Fission-power plants that would energize most of the world

By 2014, Asimov surmised that fission-power plants would be "supplying well over half the power needs of humanity." But Asimov also predicted that fission-power technology would already be on the way out in favor of...

4. At least two experimental fusion-power plants 

Scientists would also have constructed models of "power stations in space, collecting sunlight by means of huge parabolic focusing devices and radiating the energy thus collected to earth." Solar energy would be just as big a deal on Earth, too: enormous solar power stations in a number of semi-desert regions (including Arizona and Kazakhstan) would be fully operational.

5. Cars would fly — sort of

Roads and bridges would be rendered all but obsolete: "Jets of compressed air will also lift land vehicles off the highways, which, among other things, will minimize paving problems...cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets, though local ordinances will discourage the practice."

6. There would be robots

But they'd lack in quantity and quality: "Robots will be neither common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence." Asimov predicted one Jetsons-ish advancement in robotics with his idea for a General Electric "robot housemaid...large, clumsy, slow-moving but capable of general picking-up, arranging, cleaning, and manipulation of various appliances." Another of Asimov's predictions picked up on by The Jetsons was...

7. Moving sidewalks, raised above traffic

Which Asimov determined would only be be functional for "short-range travel." The writer also envisioned that "compressed air tubes will carry goods and materials over local stretches, and the switching devices that will place specific shipments in specific destinations will be one of the city's marvels."

8. Humans would have colonized the moon

And Earth-bound citizens would be able to communicate with lunar friends by sending conversations through "modulated laser beams, which are easy to manipulate in space." Asimov freely admitted that "conversations with the moon will be a trifle uncomfortable," accounting for the 2.5 seconds it would take for a question or answer to reach the other end of the conversation — that's how long it would take the light to make the trip.

9. Some of us might start taking up residence underwater

An attractive option for "those who like water sports," Asimov foresaw 2014 as a banner year for the beginning of the colonization of the continental shelves beneath the oceans' depths. He pictured the 2014 World's Fair as boasting exhibits showing "cities in the deep sea with bathyscaphe liners."

10. The area from Boston to Washington, D.C. would become one big city

Due to the region encompassing Boston to the nation's capital being the most crowded area of its size on earth, the region would band together to form one metropolis of more than 40 million residents. That's chump change compared to Asimov's guesses of the world's population (6 and a half billion) and the population of the United States (350 million). As of January 1, 2014, the U.S.A.'s actual population was 319 million, and Asimov's prediction was a bit short of the world's 7.1 billion citizens

11. Life expectancy would hit 85 years old in some parts of the world

Which is one of the reasons Asimov concerned himself so much with the possible problems of overpopulation. Why would most humans live to such a ripe old age? Asimov chalked it up to "the increasing use of mechanical devices to replace failing hearts and kidneys, and repair stiffening arteries and breaking nerves."

12. The world would be seriously automated

Asimov imagined that "the world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders." To fit the need, all high school curricula of the future would make "binary arithmetic" and "formula translation" mandatory. 

[via Smithsonian]

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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