In a 1964 essay for the New York Times, science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov made some remarkably prescient predictions about what the world in 2014 would look like. They included a falling global birth rate, 3D movies, and the observation that “robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.” We don’t live on the moon yet, but Asimov nailed it on how we “will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity.”
It’s worth re-reading Asimov’s essay now, as the end of the year inspires forecasts and Tarot readings of all kinds. While it’s hard to say for sure what will happen, it’s fairly certain some things will not. Below, a select list of the most outlandish predictions for 2014. If these things happen, I’ll eat my hat.
Prediction: GM Will Buy Tesla Motors
Who made it: Yra Harris, global macro trader, Praxis Trading.
It’s true, the electric Volt hasn’t sparked torrid sales for General Motors (GM), and why reinvent the electric wheel when Tesla’s sexy Model S is already so successful? This “way out prediction” overlooks Tesla Motors’s (TSLA) market cap of $19 billion—a price that’s almost certainly too expensive for GM—and the fact that Elon Musk has shown no intention of selling. (Tesla declined to comment.)
Prediction: United Airlines Will File for Bankruptcy
Where it started: Flyertalk.com, a site for airline junkies and mileage collectors.
United (UAL)has struggled mightily since its 2011 merger with Continental—it financially lags nearly all its industry peers—and it may have to spend deeply to lure customers back, a key to competing with Delta (DAL) and American (AAL). This fantastic idea grows more outlandish when you consider that United has a cash pile near $7 billion, a global network, and a deep, veteran executive bench with a credible business plan. United needs better execution, not a court date.
Prediction: Everyone Will Have a Personal Siri
Who made it: Howard Lau, chief executive officer, Attensity.
This is the year we all get a personal digital agent, an online assistant that can filter trash offers from stuff that may actually interest us, says Howard Lau, CEO of Attensity, a social analytics firm in Silicon Valley. Our agent will also guard our privacy and “will prevent others from gathering information on you that you do not wish,” he wrote. None of this technology is crazy science fiction. But unless he’s talking about GMail (GOOG) filters, we’re going to have to wait more than 12 months.
Prediction: Goldman Sachs Goes Private
Who made it: Harris, from Praxis (again).
According to the Chicago trader, the “great vampire squid” is sick of all those pesky regulators decimating its core activities, especially the profitable proprietary trading business. Goldman Sachs (GS) prospered as a private firm for decades. And Harris sees a big bond issue in Goldman’s future to fund the go-private move. Someone makes this call almost every year, but it’s nutty for several reasons, from management and regulator opposition, to the enormous cost, to the simple fact that Goldman uses the money it derives from the public market to fund much of what it does.
Prediction: World War I’s 100th Anniversary Makes Europe a Travel Hotspot
Who made it: Analysts at Cheapflights.com.
World War I started in 1914, ushering in an era of mechanized warfare that remains with us. Horrible, important, and historic—but a tourism driver? It’s not clear that the anniversary will bring hordes of tourists to Europe to commemorate the 10 million soldiers killed in the war, along with the many millions more civilians who died from disease, famine, and injury. It’s not likely: Europe high-season traffic isn’t terribly choppy and—given how far removed most Americans are from World War I (the last remaining vet died in 2012 at 110)—2014 is likely to offer more of the same.
Beware the Four Blood Moons
Who made it: Pastor John Hagee of the Cornerstone Church, San Antonio, Tex.
Hagee says that four total lunar eclipses between April 2014 and October 2015 herald a significant change in human history, with each eclipse coinciding with Jewish high holy days. NASA does in fact predict four eclipses during that time frame, although the agency is silent on what this portends for humanity. Hagee’s prediction stems from the Old Testament’s Book of Joel, where “the great and terrible day of the Lord” is preceded by the sun turning dark and the moon becoming the color of blood. “I believe that [God] has been sending signals to planet earth, and we just haven’t been picking them up,” he said in a recent sermon. So keep an eye on the moon.