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Isaac Asimov Tells us the Beautiful history of the Internet, From the Past


In an interview with Bill Moyers in 1988, the centaur of science fiction anticipated the educational possibilities of the World Wide Web and reminded us users of what a marvel we have.

An undeniable titan of literary science fiction, Isaac Asimov was also an acute observer of scientific machinery to the extent that his predictions showed an oracular virtue. In 1988 the TV presenter Bill Moyers interviewed the writer for World of Ideas, which led to one of the best conferences on the possibilities of the Internet that we have to hand, especially now that, above all, the Internet actually exists.

It is recommendable to listen to his talk as if we were doing so in the past, when there were no private connections to the web or personal computers, and then realize that all that he predicts is now here and is a marvelous tool that we should use more in an educational, personalized and eccentric way than for social distractions.

Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries, where anyone can ask any question and be given answers and reference material in something you are interested in knowing from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else, that is what you are interested in.

You can do it in your own room, at your own speed, in your own direction and on your own time. Then everyone will enjoy learning.

Nowadays, what we call learning is forced on you. And everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed, in class. And everyone is different, for some it goes too fast, for some it’s too slow. But give them a chance, in addition to school (I don’t say we abolish school), to follow up their own bent from the start.

When Bill Moyers intervenes and he asks a question that is so of that time: “What about the argument that says computers dehumanize learning?”, Asimov immediately turns the question around:

As a matter of fact it’s just the reverse, it seems to me that it is through this machine that for the first time we will be able to have a one-to-one relationship between information source and information consumer.

Asimov maintains that the computers of the future are a way of allowing us all to have a one-on-one tutor in the way in which we can access all the knowledge accumulated by humans. All of those digital libraries that await us with their innumerable gems that we often take for granted. He also highlights the way in which one discipline can lead to another, and another, because they are all fundamentally connected, hyperlinked, we could say. In short and without drowning the interview in commentary, Asimov reminds us of the marvel that we have before us and the possibilities of rhythm, time and direction that we have to hand.

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