Foundation - Isaac Asimov
February 3, 2021 | 3 min
This was my first Asimov book and my first Sci-fi book at all. I expected a book about how the future, about how technology will change the way we live, etc. But it was very different, not in a bad way.
I soon realized that one of the powerful things about Sci-fi is that the author can talk about historical facts in a new light. e.g: Asimov talks about the fall of empires without talking directly about anything that existed (like the Roman Empire), this means that we as the reader can have new views about it, untaited by our previous conceptions.
Tech is portrayed in the book basically like the 1950's, but more powerful. The informational era never reached that universe, a universe were there's an empire that controls a whole Galaxy. Despite this, they have public phones with video, people deliver messages by phone, by letters, by tv, or by just going into one's room and talking to them. That public phone with video calling capabilities made me chuckle.
I believe that Asimov didn't think that our relationship with technology would change the way it did, but he foresaw something very interesting. In the books, there's an organization (The Foundation) that is trying to eventually dominate the whole galaxy. There's a point in the story that they are the most technologically advanced society in their region and they use that power to control their neighbours and they make them rely on their technology without teaching them how it works. This strategy worked really well for them. I can't help but link that to our relationship with Computers and the Internet. This whole mobile/social media transformation came in a fast wave, most people are imersed in it, but it came so fast that they couldn't learn about how it works, and this is scary. It's scary because whomever controls the tech has an disproportionate amout of control agains who uses it.
The main point of the book is about the fall of Empires, and this is a thing that I think a lot about. As a Programmer and Computer Engineering student I often think about the many different systems that are the backbone of our computing technology and how very few people know how to build them. It's not common anymore to design new computer architectures, to design new operating systems and new programming paradigms. This means that with time, people will care less and less about how to build those systems and will only care how to use them. This happened in the Foundation's universe (it was one of the causes of their downfall) and I fear this will happen to us too. This is why I think it is still very important to learn, teach and build (maybe just as an exercise) the fundamentals of our computing infrastructure, despite most people only needing to know how to operate them.
As my grandpa always says:
"Every single company will one day fail."
Sometimes he sounds like Hari Seldom, I hope he's wrong about this one. Well, my goal is to to help avoid or postpone this (maybe inevitable) fall, by injecting new inovations in the systems that are the backbone of our world.