The future’s alright

Tom James @ 01-09-2009

futureThe role of science fiction vis a vis the future and predictions thereof has always been a target of lighthearted mockery. However Centauri Dreams articulates, with the help of futurist Peter Garretson, what science fiction can offer, even if predictions aren’t always on the mark:

Many forays into fictional futures, then, can give us alternative ways to make a new concept real. We can try on those futures by reading stories that make them come alive, seeing what effects these changes would have on society. And we can do more. By placing futuristic concepts in a tangible, fictional context, we can encourage their growth and dissemination.

Science fiction explores how human beings respond to change and disruption, and as such helps us explore ourselves. It can also offer pictures of how the world could be, so as to encourage us to actualise these images and build a better future.

[from Centauri Dreams][image from doug8888 on flickr]


Revealed: Pentagon predicts wars of the future

Tom James @ 11-03-2009

viperfull_2The proud journos at TPMMuckraker have managed to acquire the titles of various Pentagon Office of Net Assessment reports through a Freedom of Information request. Here’s what’s been on their minds:

The Great Siberian War Of 2030

The Revival Of Chinese Nationalism: Challenges To American Ideals

The Future Of Undersea Warfare

Chinese And Russian Asymmetrical Strategies For Space Dominance (2010-2030)

That last one is relevant to the recent news of a military (but possibly not weapons-carrying, what with the Outer Space Treaty [thanks commenter Kian]) Chinese space station.

The whole list is here.

As the actual content of the reports is still classified we can amuse ourselves by wondering what Biometaphor For The Body Politic [March 2006] refers to. It sounds like a description of someone explaining the Facts of Life with handpuppets.

[via Danger Room][image also from Danger Room]


Emergent technology for 2008

Tomas Martin @ 09-01-2008

Cars like the Tesla Roadster will be run on electric batteriesGlen Hiemstra of Futurist.com has a video on his home page called ‘Outlook 2008′ in which he discusses his five big stories for the coming year, plus a wild card. He talks about oil prices, the economy and the political changes (or non changes with the presidential elections so close to the end of the year) of 2008. Two more technological comments caught my eye.

He mentioned both Solar and Nano technologies as big movers in the coming year. In particular he highlighted NanoSolar, whose thin-film solar cells have just started reaching commercial grade at potentially cheaper prices than coal. The other company on his watch list was Altairnano, which uses ceramic nanomaterials to create long-living batteries that should see the market in a number of forms in 2008, including in electric cars such as the pictured Tesla Roadster.

His most interesting comment was in the ‘population’ section, talking about young entrepreneurs:

“The leading edge of the digital native generation is now 18-25 or so. The first generation to grow up in the personal computing and internet age is now at work. The venture capital world increasingly focuses on this generation, the very young creatives, for the breakthrough ideas. Thus 2008 marks a change-over to the next generation for innovation leadership.”

It will be interesting to see if these predictions come true. Other turn of the year predictions include a pessimistic James Kunstler and an optimistic 50-year prediction by Climate Progress.

[via Futurist.com, image by Jurvetson]


TED talks continue with Hod Lipson’s intelligent robots

Tomas Martin @ 17-10-2007

Jane Goodall at TED 2003Ever since finding a superb Spore video by Will Wright on TED.com, I’ve been keeping an eye on the website for new videos which are released on a regular basis. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and is an annual conference in which respected thinkers from all aspects of the world come to give fascinating speeches about their pet subjects. Only recently has the website started giving access to these speeches to anyone who didn’t attend the conference.

As well as Will Wright’s speech (and if you haven’t watched at least one presentation about the forthcoming groundbreaking game, you should), there’s a recent video by bioengineer Hod Lipson about his work on small robots which can learn and self-replicate. The website and video player is cleverly designed with an ingenious overlay on the bottom of the video telling you about the subsections of the talk, how long they go on for and what the subtopics are. Other enjoyable talks include speakers like Al Gore on global warming, Carolyn Porco on flying to Saturn with Cassini, James Kunstler’s engaging criticism of the tragedy of suburbia and Aubrey de Grey’s controversial belief that we can defeat ageing. That’s barely scratching the surface – I could spend weeks watching nothing but TED talks and not get bored. Have a browse and find the ones that engage you.