The Future of TV by Isaac Asimov

The Future of TV by Isaac Asimov




Isaac Asimov

(written in 1975)


            As long as there are no more channels than now exist, as long as the distribution of television is limited to the few commercial stations, the future of television will consist largely of embroidery on present technology.

            If civilization survives, however, the time will come when the earth will be surrounded by communications satellites more versatile and capable than now exist.  They will be interconnected by laser beams of light, with wavelengths less than a millionth as long as those of radio waves, and therefore with over a million times more room for channels.

            In the age of laser-connected communications satellites, and of optical fiber transmitting laser light on Earth, it will be possible for each person to have his own TV channel, as he now has his own telephone number.  Each person will be able to take advantage of closed-circuit television as he or she now takes advantage of a closed telephone conversation. 

            You will, for instance, be able to subscribe to a news service which will allow you to tune the equivalent of a newspaper onto your screen, adjusting it for the sports, financial, or the comic page, or whatever you choose, and you will be able to make a facsimile of any item you want for more permanent reference.  (The saving on paper will be enormous, since no one wants to copy an entire newspaper.)

            You will be able to do your own shopping by television, since you will be able to not only “dial for advertising” so to speak, but you will be able to view the shelves of a supermarket, or the items in a department store, and either order on the basis of that, or at least narrow matters down so that your actual trip will be shorter and more effectively concentrated.

            You will still be able to listen to the commercial stations, of course, and enough people will do so to keep them in business, but you will also be able to lease cassettes on any subject that might be of interest to you, from chess instruction to old movies (or pornography?) , and run them at your convenience. 

            For that matter, you could hook your personal wavelength into a computerized, centralized world library, which could transmit to you any book, periodical, or document that you want to read or copy.  (Working out the royalty problem will be difficult.)

            In combination with complex computers, the television screen will become a teaching machine and the prime educational process of the future.  Each child will be taught at his own speed according to his own curiosities. 

            Since closed circuit viewing will be holographic (that is three-dimensional), television could be used by supervisors to check and control machinery, factories, and automated offices; to receive and transmit documents; and to hold conferences without leaving home.  In short, information will be transferred directly, instead of by way of paper or people.  A great deal of the shuffling of matter back and forth will be transformed into a whizzing of laser beams at the speed of light, with incredible gains in convenience and conservation of energy. 


[This article was written in 1975 for The TV Book; a Photo History of Television edited by Judy Fireman, published 1977 by the Workman Publishing Company in New York, NY.  ISBN 0-89480-001-9.  Page 38.]

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