Stories tagged the future

Jul
11
2012

What does the future hold in store, Arthur?
What does the future hold in store, Arthur?Courtesy Mamyjomarash
Oh, hey there, Buzzketeers! Do you know what day it is today? That's right: it's Wednesday! It's also July 11, and twenty-nine years ago today, one JGordon burst screaming from his mother's thoracic cavity, covered in gore and bits of sternum. He would go on to grow a beard, to grow taller and weaker than any other member of his family, and to learn about childbirth from the movie Alien. And also to use the Internet.

Who could have predicted any of that? Sure, my mother and father consulted the stars, the entrails of guinea pigs, and their massive probability crunching computer (which runs on star dust and rodent entrails, coincidentally), and they predicted some things correctly. Their son would never have a tail. Their son would have an older brother. Their son would likely be male, if he wasn't female. Their son would accidentally staple a Kleenex to his finger in 7th grade. But how could they have guessed the rest? Could anyone have?

Yes! Sit back and let your mind-holes be cracked wide open by black and white footage of Arthur C. Clarke taking a break from writing about ape frenzies to tell us about how things would be. Now that we can compare "would be" with "are be," it's pretty uncanny.

Here A-Clarke essentially predicts LOLCats:

And here Wart tells us how much we will like Facebook:

And here ACC shows us how much we will be into nehru collars in a couple years:

(I guess he also has some things to say about private spaceflight, nanotech materials, and other stuff.)

Man oh man! If only Sir Arthur was around today to tell me what the next 29 years have in store! Super strong robotic arms, maybe?

May
04
2012

Do you want my advice, guys?: You should go get some asteroids.
Do you want my advice, guys?: You should go get some asteroids.Courtesy Blue Marble
It isn’t good to confuse great-grandparents. For one, they’re often dead, and confusing them involves meddling in forces that are best be left alone. Or, in the case that they aren’t dead, they’ve had a busy life parenting, grand-parenting, and great-grand-parenting, and they deserve a little more from you than a bunch of confusing jibber-jabber about meteorites, or whatever you just said.

So if your great-grandparents are still alive (not dead), please do them a favor, and just make something up as you pretend to read the rest of this post out loud to them. Their side of the 20th century probably did not equip them for this sort of thing:

Asteroid mining! After thousands of years of scratching through the dirt, wearing our finger bones to stumps in near-futile attempts to uncover the shiniest bits of gravel, humanity will finally ascend to the stars, and scratch through the dirt of asteroids in the noble effort to find the shiniest astro-gravel. And it will make us richer than our wildest dreams!

Or it will make the billionaires behind the project as rich as their everyday dreams.

Here’s the story: a bunch of billionaires and their spunky sidekick, James Cameron (who is a film director, and worth only about 700 million dollars—practically destitute), looked out over their Earth and wept, because there was nowhere left to conquer. It was maybe the worst Unicorn Polo Sunday ever. But then James Cameron, lying on his back after slipping on a banana peel (that’s sort of his role in the group), looked up at the sky and said, “Hey, gang! I have an idea! Maybe there’s more up there for us!”

Well, the members of the Billionaires’ Club would like to say that they took lil’ Jim’s suggestion there and then, but, frankly, they had heard a lot of nonsense out of his pinched little mouth over the years, and they had long ago learned to tune him out. (Xenomorph this, Titanic that, look at my submarine, what about another killer robot, what has my ex wife done that’s so special?—they had heard it all before.)

But at some point Cameron’s seemingly childish remark filtered its way through the buzz of billionaire preoccupations (stocking up on mansion wax, plans to swim Scrooge McDuck style through gold coins, and which would be the best ocean to buy) and lodged itself in the billionaires’ minds, where it incubated, hatched, and chewed its way deeper into their brain tissue.

And thus Planetary Resources was born. With a group of billionaires behind it (including Larry Page, CEO of Google, power of earth; Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, power of fire; Charles Simonyi, Microsoft guy, power of water; and Ross Perot Junior, son of diminutive former presidential candidate, power of heart) and James Cameron as an advisor (because he has made at least two movies about space, and has been in a submarine), Planetary Resources plans to scan thousands of near-Earth asteroids for precious metals and water, and then send robotic probes to pull the asteroids into a convenient location, and then smash them up for their goods.

Why? For a few reasons. Partly because it’s awesome, and you need to be super rich to do it, and they’re exactly that rich. But also because lots of these asteroids are full of precious, useful metals—billions and billions of dollars worth in even small asteroids. And asteroids with lots of ice in them could basically be turned into gas stations for spaceships. Water is pretty easily split into hydrogen and oxygen, which we can use for rocket fuel, and having fuel waiting in space is way, way, way cheaper than bringing it there from Earth. So making fuel available in space could potentially lower the cost of exploring our solar system quite a bit.

The plan is to launch a fleet of (relatively) cheap asteroid-scanning telescopes some time in the next two or three years to identify near-Earth objects that both contain enough valuable materials, and are near enough to Earth (the hope being that they would be as easy or easier to reach than the moon). In the next decade, or somewhere in that neighborhood anyway, larger spacecraft would be launched that could capture the asteroids. Harvested materials could then be processed in space, or sent back to the planet. All operations would be unmanned, as having human pilots or minors would make everything significantly more expensive and risky.

In the week or so since the Planetary Resources made their announcement, it seems like most of the professional reactions I’ve read have treated the plan pretty seriously—while it requires a large investment, it’s not unrealistic.

I have to admit, it’s kind of an exciting plan. And it will keep the billionaires occupied for a little bit, which is good. Because we all know what happens when a billionaire gets bored.

(It didn’t make sense to me either. You think your great-grandparents are going to get it?)

Kennedy saw it.
Kennedy saw it.Courtesy US White House
A concept for a plane that could make the trip from New York City to London in 90 minutes (a trip that ranks somewhere between going to the grocery store and going to the bathroom for me, in terms of frequency) was just unveiled at the Paris Air Show. It uses standard jet engines, along with rockets and ramjets. Also, it will use jet fuel made from algae. Pretty sweet.

Unfortunately, while it only takes an hour and a half to cross the Atlantic, it will take 40 years to arrive in reality. If it ever does. We'll probably all be riding pegasuses (or octopi) at that point anyway, so supersonic jets will seem lame.

Yeah, that's the future looking back at you
Yeah, that's the future looking back at youCourtesy GeminoidDK
Uh oh. The future is trying to break down our doors again, and it's using its favorite tool.

No, not lasers—robots! Filthy robots. Robots, who steal our jobs and our women (or our men, whichever makes you angrier). Robots, who get more advanced with each passing year, until one day, as sure as the sunrise, they will go Skynet all over us. They will take everything that was ours. They will take our jobs, our mortgages, our more demanding pets, our horticultural chores, and humans will be relegated to a million lifetimes of lying on beaches and surviving off the food that robots cook but cannot eat. The end of history. As the man said, "That's it, man! Game over, man, game over!"

We humans have a few years left as the top dogs, but certainly not many. As you can see in the video below, robots have already advanced to the point where they can do many of the things babies can—smile, blink, twitch, look stupid—and at least one thing babies can't do: grow beards.

Game over, man, game over.

Nov
24
2010

Gaze into the crystal ball to see what your future holds...: That's right, it holds a whole bunch of JGordon. Deal with it.
Gaze into the crystal ball to see what your future holds...: That's right, it holds a whole bunch of JGordon. Deal with it.Courtesy mararie
So…

So, Buzzketeers, you’ve been keeping something from me.

I thought we had something. I thought that we had a solid relationship built on trust, like… like a really nice but not fancy bungalow built on bedrock that doesn’t lie to you, or withhold information. Yeah, sure, I sometimes mislead you, or pass on scientifically suspect material, but that’s different. That’s for my own entertainment.

And don’t act like you don’t know what I’m going to say. That’s the whole thing, isn’t it?

Yeah, I heard. I heard that y’all can predict the future. And you didn’t tell me. Me, JGordon.

When were you going to mention that the secret’s out, and that a Cornell University scientist had demonstrated a small but statistically significant propensity for people (you) to predict the future? Were you going to wait until after the holidays, so as not to spoil the “surprise” of my gifts to you? Whatever. I got you all cashmere scarves. I thought you’d really like them. Surprise.

I hear that you were shown a list of words, and were able to recall mostly words from the list that would later be randomly selected by a computer. That’s super neat. Thanks for telling me about it.

I hear, too, that you were able to correctly able to predict 53 percent of the time when a curtained computer screen would have a sexy image on it. Cool. Maybe if you spent less time looking at sexy pictures, our relationship wouldn’t be going the way it clearly is.

3% above a 50-50 chance may not seem like much, but we both know it’s significant. Nearly as significant as the fact that you never mentioned it to me.

Do you know how that feels? I’ll show you how it feels:

1: Tomorrow, most of you American Buzzketeers will eat turkey.

2: Tomorrow, one of you will be eaten by a turkey, or turkeys.

3: Prince Philip will say something of questionable taste at his grandson’s wedding, probably to a woman or a foreign dignitary.

4. Your dad has a secret family in another state.

How do you like them apples? It’s not very fun, is it?

In any case, while the study stood up to the careful peer review of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it’s probably all statistical wheeling and dealing, and I’d like to think that we can get over this.

I trust you’d tell me if you knew we wouldn’t.

Nov
08
2010

That's actually a tear: The potato just received some horrible news. But it illustrates how full of fluid potatoes are.
That's actually a tear: The potato just received some horrible news. But it illustrates how full of fluid potatoes are.Courtesy ZooFari
Here’s my impression of the future:

“Um, hey. How was lunch? Italian dunkers, eh? Nice. Gotta love the dunkers. Ate those right up, I see. Pretty good sauce too, huh? Got some extra sauce there, actually. Were you going to… can I have that sauce? Yeah? Oh, it’s SO good.”

Yeah, that’s the future for you. Man, is he hungry. Stuff you wouldn’t touch, the future will pound back like Captain Haddock with a bottle of Loch Lomond (before that fiasco in San Theodoros).

But the future is smart, because it realizes that Italian dunker sauce is in short supply, and it’ll take perfectly good extra sauce wherever it can get it.

Are you following the metaphor still? Were you thrown by Captaion Haddock?

Here’s what I’m saying: in the next few decades, we’re going to be super hungry for energy, food, and water, because there will be about 9 billion of us on the planet. So, in addition to coming up with new ways to produce of all of these things, we’re going to have to look for areas where they’re being wasted right now, like all those puddles of Italian Dunker sauce being shoveled into the cafeteria trash bins.

Example: drinking potato chip water.

Potatoes, as it happens, are about 75% water. When we turn them into potato chips, we get rid of all that water—we bake it, dry it, and fry it away. Considering how much we love dried potato products, that’s a lot of water wasted.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop eating potato chips. (NEVER!) Instead, some factories have been installing equipment to reclaim water that would otherwise be vented out of potato processing facilities as steam. One of the factories where the technology is being tried may be able to recapture as much as 3,000 liters of water an hour (about 790 gallons an hour). This water, already clean and pure, can be reused in the factory, or even sent back into the municipal water system.

Although the article doesn’t mention it, I’d be willing to bet that there’s another product being recaptured with the water: energy. Steam, after all, is just water with a whole bunch of heat energy in it. With the right equipment, heat can be extracted from steam, and reused for anything from cooking to powering heating and cooling equipment.

Do you see now? The future, with its peanut butter covered fingers and greasy South Park t-shirt isn’t quite the loser you think it is. It’s using all that Italian Dunker sauce, in ways that you never imagined possible.

Feb
02
2010

Very much like this
Very much like thisCourtesy Jeff Henshaw
Chill out, everybody. I can tell you’re all stressed out about the future, and why it’s not here, and where the flying cars are, and the laser-powered washing machines, and the genetically engineered dog-faced cats, and all that other stuff we were basically promised.

You feel like you’ve been cheated. I can see it on your faces.

Well don’t worry. The future is here, and it’s called Japan. Check it out: a machine that recycles regular old office paper into brand new toilet paper! Finally! A solution to our office paper surplus/toilet paper shortage, and a great new reason to be absolutely horrified of staples!

The new machine, called “White Goat” (because, duh, like a goat, it will eat almost anything, and it excretes something you want to rub on your orifices), will turn 40 sheets of office paper into one roll of toilet paper in about 30 minutes, at a cost of about 11 cents a roll. I’m not sure if this cost includes only the paper, or also the electricity and water the machine needs. That’s sort of important.

White goat costs somewhat more than a real goat (about $100,000), and will likely be much more difficult to eat when it has outlived its usefulness. Still, it seems like a clever in-house recycling thing, and it makes me wonder what sort of similar, and perhaps more practical, devices could be made for organizations with lots of a particular kind of waste.

Here’s the White Goat in action:

Aug
19
2009

See, when I look at magazines (often), I get all frustrated that, like, the stupid things won't just read themselves at me. Like how the TV reads itself at me.

I am a busy sort of guy, and I don't have time to interpret symbols into words and words into mental images. Let's cut out the middleman, I say. That's exactly why I was so thrilled to see this announcement on the internet for an announcement in a magazine. While the first announcement had to be read the old fashioned way, wasting valuable minutes and brainpower, the latter announcement, the magazine one, will actually be in video format. It will announce CBS's fall schedule, and it will announce how delicious Pepsi is and how you should buy it. (With money, and soon.)

The magazine video uses a 2.7 mm thick LCD screen with a tiny rechargeable battery. The screen has a 320 x 240 resolution, and the chip it's on can hold about 40 minutes of video.

I was kind of thinking that the wave of the future, as far as video-zines go (my term, so hands off), would employ OLED technology, seeing has OLED screens can be super thin and flexible. But OLED displays are still way expensive, and while CBS no doubt wants to impress the New York and LA subscribers to Entertainment Weekly with their extravagance, they don't want to impress them with that much extravagance. Not for Jenna Elfman.

Um... very briefly, I believe that LCD screens work by altering the shape of a layer of film in front of a light to change the color of light that passes through that film. When the film has lots of little cells, the cells can be altered individually to make the tiny dots that form a video image. OLED screens, on the other hand, are sort of like screens made up of thousands of the little LED lights you find all over the place, except the LEDs on the screen are very very small—they're actually made of organic compounds printed on the screen, and they're activated (made to emit light) by having electricity flow to specific spots on that screen. More or less. So, once again, add lots of these little bits of light up, and you have an image. And hopefully someday some brave and proud network will put OLEDs in a magazine, to make it easier for us to learn about season 14 of two and a half men. (At that point it will be 2.5 men because Charlie Sheen will be dead, and his character will be computer animated. A half man, if you will. Or maybe the kid will cross dress every other episode.)

Jun
30
2009

Robots are stealing our jobs: Even when our job is to eat bugs.
Robots are stealing our jobs: Even when our job is to eat bugs.Courtesy manbartlett
Yeah, hooray, robots can walk. I’ve been walking for, like, most of my life. A robot can make sad faces. Whatever. That’s practically my specialty. A robot can simulate excruciating pain and horror. So? Nuts to “simulate”—I live it.

Great. It’s all great. Robots are programmed and built to do all sorts of inane stuff, and people love it. But I’ve been able to do this stuff forever, and nobody’s giving me high-fives and kisses. Cool, a robot can remember your name. I can usually so that. A robot can remember your credit card number. I can for sure do that. Give me a chance people, and you’ll see how much better than a robot I am.

But no. Robot development rumbles onward, and, once again, robots are taking a brave new step where I’ve stepped years ago: they fuel themselves by eating bugs.

Some artsy science people in London have designed self-sustaining robotic furniture. The robots digest organic matter (bugs) in “microbial fuel cells,” creating enough power to run a clock (I can do that) or light up lamp (I could probably do that), and eat more bugs (done). Microbial fuel cells, by the way, are sort of like batteries that run on decomposing matter. Chemicals in the fuel cell (I think) pretty much steal the electrons being produced by bacteria as they break down organic fuel. I can’t do this, but, then again, no one is asking me to. MFCs seem like pretty interesting technology, actually. More about them here, if you’re interested.

The designers have made working models of a fly-attracting lamp that works like a pitcher plant to capture its victims, a wall-mounted clock with a sticky conveyor belt, and a table that attracts mice onto its surface and into a trap door, where (I guess) they are digested to death. (I can’t help it… it’s like the Pit of Carkoon! Argh. I’m always going to be this way.)

It’s all pretty neat, although the small mammal attracting and digesting table might be a little much. That one seems like a case of somebody getting a little too arty or a little too sciencey for their own good. I mean, I could lure and eat a mouse, and hold your food for you, but would you want me to?

Feb
10
2009

Not Annie: I tried this on my own eyes, bu they were too gross.
Not Annie: I tried this on my own eyes, bu they were too gross.Courtesy tryingmyhardest
Oh, my goodness. What did I just write?

What I meant was “TVs on contacts, popped directly into eyes.” Except that I would never write “popped” and “eyes” in the same sentence.

Anyway, it’s looking like the future is still a bright place to live. Especially if the TVs stuck to your eyeballs are malfunctioning. See, Ian Pearson, a British “futurologist” (that means that he’s a guy who thinks about living in the future, even though he actually lives in Britain), has gotten some press lately regarding his prediction that we’ll have contact lens TVs/computer monitors within the next ten years. Displays integrated into contact lenses would superimpose images over what we see of the real world (or, as I like to call it, the “real” world), and, potentially, could be powered by our own body heat.

The technology such products would be based on already exists, according to Pearson. It’s just a matter of shrinking it down to size, and sticking it on your eyes. Contact lenses with non-functioning circuits and lights have already been tested on rabbits, which, after 20 minutes of exposure, had no particular complaints.

While the lens TVs might add a slight tint to your eyes, other people (or, as I like to call them, other “people”) would not be able tell what you were watching. So, while everybody might assume that the guy with the glowy eyes is stumbling around watching something very naughty indeed, I’d actually be watching the video of my sixth grade play, Annie. The joke is on you! (Although I suppose it depends where I have to insert the VHS tape—the joke might also be on me.)

Pearson also declared that we all could also have “digital tattoos” in the near future. Aside from letting the world know what you thought was cool the day you got the tattoo, this digital ink could potentially “pick up on the emotions portrayed by actors in TV shows and create impulses allowing us to feel the same emotions.”

I’m really into this digital tattoo thing, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, I have always really wanted to feel what it looks like Will Smith feels like (I’m guessing “sassy” but it’s hard to say at this point.) Also, I’ve found that my favorite emotions are the ones I feel in my skin. Emotions like “humiliation,” and “second degree burn”. Yeah, those are about two of my favorite emotions (so naturally “Home Alone” will be viewed frequently), and I think I’m not the only one. This one is going to take off. Zoom!

Now, it turns out that this report on the future was commissioned by the British electronics retailer Comet. I don’t think that this fact should affect our reception of the predictions in any way (Comet, after all, probably just wants to know what they’ll be selling in a couple years, so it’s in their interest to have an honest report), but I am a little sore that Pearson is getting paid for this sort of thing, and I’m not. Come on, now! I’m always coming up with great ideas for the future.

Instant cat whiskers

Instant cat whiskers… for girls!

TVs on bullets

The last meal you’ll ever eat (trademarked)

Playstation 5

TVs on teeth

Laser-powered lasers

Better spaceships

Hinged money (for folding)

TVs on money (regular money, not the hinged kind)

Non-functional t-800 model robots

Electronic smile cream

The technology exists, people, it’s just a matter of time and engineering. So where’s my freaking check, Comet?