The life story of Richard Anthony Hartnett, born October 21, 1965, and the changes he wrought on society, told as a retrospective biography on the centennial of his birth.

Hartnett’s youth and childhood were unpromising. At the age of 15, after the Americans and Soviets jointly established the first lunar colony, signalling the end of the Cold War, he despaired of there ever being anything interesting for him to do. Later, however, Hartnett stumbled across a micro-computer at Columbia University, one of the first to use pseudo-cells as switching devices. When told by the technician in charge that it does “what we tell it to,” Hartnett was spurred into wondering what really tells us what to do. This lead to an intensive study of the brain and the ability to analyze brain-waves by computer and truly understand for the first time why people behave as they do.

Hartnett’s further studies involved using light to diagnose and even treat mental problems (with light sculpture a side invention). After a visit to the moon, he stole an idea from some science fiction writer named R.A. Heinlein and invented an indoor gymnasium to fly on the Moon. He became a science fiction writer and eventually turned his mind to the problem of flying to the stars.

This is hardly a story. It’s more an essay told in story form looking at our present and our possibilities as Asimov would like to see them. It is actually fairly typical of his humanistic optimism: enlightenment would prevail. Peace and harmony would be our inheritance. Dangerous inventions would have the potential for abuse but that potential need never be realized. Looking at the real history of the last third of a century there are some accurate points: I'm writing this on a desktop "microcomputer", after all, and the Cold War ended peacefully. But I can hardly say that humanity itself has changed in any truly positive fashion.

Asimov’s vision of humanity’s potential is, however, better expressed elsewhere in literature that’s more interesting to read. This is hardly offensively bad, but it is dull and has as its main value its rarity.

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