Brexit, Asimov and “The Evitable Conflict”

Isaac Asimov

On Thursday, Britain voted to leave the European Union, a decision that sent shockwaves through the worldwide economic market – an escape nicknamed “Brexit” by political commentators.

By this public referendum, the country renounced the centralized common marketplace of the EU in favor of increased economic and political autonomy. This foreseeably comes at the expense of the British pound’s short-term valuation against foreign currencies, as investors eschew the country’s uncertain financial future in favor of more secure denominations.

In 1950, American science writer Isaac Asimov penned The Evitable Conflict, a short story that serves as climax for his famous I, Robot collection.

In the future envisioned by Asimov, the world of the mid-21st century has been divided into four governing regions composing a single, globalized state. Each region contains an artificial intelligence called a Machine, to which economic data is given and policy recommendations are returned. In exchange for this increased centralization and outsourcing of political decision-making, humanity has seen an unprecedented degree of peace and prosperity, with war, famine and large-scale conflicts permanently eliminated.

In the story, Asimov presents a future in which issues once seen as inevitable become avoidable through economic co-operation.

However, it is not a future consciously chosen by the human race. In effect, the world had no choice. As the Machines became more and more complex, they began to create an illusion of autonomy to preserve what they calculated as the course preserving the greatest good for all of humanity. It may be the path humanity would have chosen anyway, hints Asimov, but the particular implementation was never really up for consideration.

In The Evitable Conflict, the Machines are fictional stand-ins for modern political structures and economic policies. Now, the fate of nations is beholden to the whims of democratic collectives and stock market trends, largely uncontrollable global forces arising as the true masters of human destiny.

If Asimov proves correct, Brexit is either a fluke or temporary set-back in the world’s inevitable path toward increasing economic and political centralization, the ultimate fate of a technologically advanced society growing closer and closer together with every coming day.

If Asimov is wrong, then individual people may have much broader control over what becomes of their lives than some social scientists might suggest. Brexit may stand as the clearest evidence in the error of Asimovian-style thinking and the perceived inevitability of continued trends in global centralization.

Only time will tell what comes next. Britain may leave, but uncertainty remains.

The Evitable Conflict” and other short stories are available in Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot,” for sale in paperback, audio and digital download here.