Canadian Forest Service Publications

Asimov's psychohistory: Vision of the future or present reality? 1996. Thomson, A.J. AI Applications 10(3): 1-8.

Year: 1996

Issued by: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 4720

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Mark record


The science fiction writer Isaac Asimov based his Foundation trilogy on the development of the science of psychohistory in the far distant future. Psychohistory permitted prediction of wars, revolution, religious development, and the emergence and fall of a wide range of social, cultural, and economic groupings. Psychohistory used a statistical approach to predict the responses of very large numbers of people to social and economic stimuli, and was unsuitable for small groups or individuals. However, the futurist Alvin Toffler suggests that former large groupings of people are splintering into countless small, temporary, single-issue groupings. In addition, Toffler suggests that a knowledge-based approach, rather than statistical analysis, is the route to understanding changing social and economic conditions.

Natural resource issues can lead to social and cultural disruption, resulting ultimately in environmental and Malthusian refugees, eco-theologians, ecoterrorism, and environmental warfare. The writings of Asimov and Toffler are contrasted to suggested that with AI techniques, especially knowledge-based systems, many of the features described for psychohistory in dealing with economic, social, and ethical issues are available - or at least are feasible - today. In addition, these AI techniques permit consideration of small groups or individuals as well as large groups.