The Foundation Of The Future: Isaac Asimov, Steve Jobs, and What’s Next

by Randy Murray on August 22, 2011

I hope you’ll allow me this momentary hyperbolic flight.

Isaac Asimov wrote a very interesting series of novels called “The Foundation.” In them, his character, Hari Seldon, developed a science called psychohistory, with which he was able to accurately predict the large scale course of human events. It’s a great series, and was added to by some other popular science fiction writers over the years.

This idea, that one man could both predict and influence human events, is both fascinating and incredible.

And yet we have our own Hari Seldon. It’s Steve Jobs.

Take a moment an look at the technology on your desktop or in your hand. No matter what manufacturer you bought it from, it was touched by Steve Jobs. The man is no messiah, no guru, and yet his insight, taste, and drive has changed more than just products. It has created wealth, shaped professions, and influenced nations. He’s changed how we work, play, entertain ourselves, and to a surprising degree, how we perceive the world.

I imagine that somewhere in the halls of Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino that there’s a secret locked boardroom. The walls are covered with whiteboards. Written on them, if you could somehow get in, you’d find notes and flow charts that were first created in 1996, when Jobs returned to Apple. The vision it expresses marched forward twenty years from its own creation. It’s been updated and expanded over the past few years, but it predicts remarkably well where we are today. It plotted out how to transform the “beleaguered” Mac into the most successful and and profitable computer platform on the market. The plan stepped through the introduction of a personal digital music playing device, the revolution of the recording industry, and the eventual and inevitable creation of handheld and portable communications and computing devices. It foresaw and planned for the elimination of physically-based music media sales, then of movies and television, and now of software.

And this vision now stretches another twenty years into the future.

Companies would spend untold millions for a peek into that room. It’s the future of not just Apple, not just the technology industry, but of how people will live and work. It’s both thrilling and frightening.

I’ve imagined standing in this room and following the flow back in time. It’s easy to do when you take all of the current products and look back each step, all the way back to the candy-colored iMacs. I imagine that if I could get into that room I’d be able to touch the next three iPhones and iPads. They’re sitting there, just ready for final tweaks before being released, once a year, without fail. And the walls include the plans for not just the next revolutionary product category, but the next ten.

And someday soon, when Apple creates its new “mother ship” headquarters, a circular building with 2.8 million square feet of space,there will be another, bigger room, somewhere deep in the bowels of the behemoth. Very few will ever see it, or know it exists. This one will plot out the path for Apple for fifty, maybe one hundred years, maybe for millennia.

Someday, hopefully many years from now, Jobs will move on. But it won’t be the end of an era. No, it will only be another point on that white board, anticipated, planned for, even desired. It’s not the end point. What comes after, what comes next, will surely be amazing.

The The Foundation Of The Future: Isaac Asimov, Steve Jobs, and What’s Next by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason M August 22, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Love this post. Love or hate Apple, Windows 7 would look totally different and probably would not be called Windows 7 if it weren’t for macs. Smart phones would not be smart phones as we know them today.


Jesse August 24, 2011 at 3:21 am

I finished reading Second Foundation just today. Your part about the locked boardroom was an amusing and accurate comparison to the room in which the Second Foundationers have laid, and built upon, their plans.

With much wander around with who would replace Steve Jobs when that time comes considering the Foundation series makes it almost clear who will. Not just who will be the first post-Jobs but every one after that.


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