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  • richardmitnick 3:31 pm on July 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Futurism, The future of Fusion energy   

    From Futurism: “MIT Scientist Asserts That We Will Have Fusion Energy by 2030” 

    futurism-bloc

    Futurism

    MIT Scientist Asserts That We Will Have Fusion Energy by 2030

    Earl Marmar, MIT’s Alcator C-Mod tokamak fusion project, said that we could potentially have nuclear fusion powering electric grids by the 2030s — that is, if we continue to pursue research aggressively.

    Fusion on the Horizon

    In the continuous pursuit of a truly renewable and clean energy source, nothing compares to nuclear fusion. Although scientists have already found ways to harness the energy from the reaction that powers stars, it hasn’t been an easy feat. Despite the advances in research pertaining to nuclear fusion, there still isn’t a stable — not to mention cost-efficient — way to power the electric grid with it.

    According to the head of MIT’s Alcator C-Mod tokamak fusion project Earl Marmar, we may not have to wait long. Speaking to Inverse, Marmar said that we could potentially have nuclear fusion powering electric grids by the 2030s — that is, if we’re dedicated to continued research. “I think fusion energy on the grid by 2030 is certainly within reach by this point,” Marmar said. “2030 is probably aggressive, but I don’t think it’s wildly out of range.” This would be a timetable similar to what a Canadian collective is currently working towards.

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    Alcator C-Mod tokamak, no longer active.

    The physics of nuclear fusion is actually something we understand pretty well at this point and it isn’t too hard to explain. At the most basic level, it’s the reverse of nuclear fission. In other words, instead of splitting atoms to release energy in fission, nuclear fusion combines small hydrogen atoms into a plasma that produces energy. In fact, that plasma produces several times more energy than what fission produces. This can’t just happen anywhere, though: it requires an environment with temperatures over 30 million degrees Celsius.

    Tinkering with Technology

    MIT’s tokamak reactor — named for its donut-shaped chamber — is no longer active. But, its more than 20 years of experience in fusion technology has left us with enough data to figure out how to sustain fusion reaction. That’s what we still don’t understand about using fusion: not knowing how to sustain is the only thing holding us back, according to Marmar. “So we know that fusion works; we know that the nuclear physics works. There are no questions from the nuclear physics,” he explained. “There are questions left on the technology side.”

    There have been solutions proposed to to stabilize nuclear fusion, many of which are currently in the works. Marmar mentioned two of them in his interview: Tokamak Energy in the U.K. opted to decrease the size of the donut hole in their reactor to harness more plasma.

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    Tokamak Energy aims to accelerate the development of fusion energy by combining two emerging technologies – spherical tokamaks and high-temperature superconductors. No image credit.

    The other effort comes from MIT where researchers have been working on increasing the strength of the magnetic field that sustains the plasma. An international effort funded by 35 countries is also working on ITER, the world’s largest fusion experiment.

    ITER Tokamak ITER Tokamak in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, which is in southern France

    For Marmar, the pressure exists even outside the reactors. “We need to get going, because the need for fusion energy is very urgent, specifically in view of climate change,” he told Inverse. He thinks there’s still room to push nuclear fusion further — and if we don’t at least try, it could delay progress by another decade. Marmar does concede that even if there’s committed research, the 2030s still could be a fairly aggressive timeline to adhere to. Of course, a little pressure and healthy competition to meet a deadline might be just the motivation that’s needed.

    [Nothing here on Wendlestein 7-X stellarator

    Wendelstgein 7-X stellarator, built in Greifswald, Germany

    Strange lack of coverage.]

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 5:20 pm on March 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Futurism, Quantum computers use quantum bits (or qubits), , Rigetti Computing   

    From Futurism: “This Startup Plans to Revolutionize Quantum Computing Technology Faster Than Ever” 

    futurism-bloc

    Futurism

    3.30.17
    Dom Galeon

    Investor Interest

    Since Rigetti Computing launched three years ago, the Berekely and Fremont-based startup has attracted a host of investors — including private American venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz (also known as A16Z). As of this week, Rigetting Computing has raised a total of $64 million after successfully hosting a Series A and Series B round of funding.

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    The startup is attracting investors primarily because it promises to revolutionize quantum computing technology: “Rigetti has assembled an impressive team of scientists and engineers building the combination of hardware and software that has the potential to finally unlock quantum computing for computational chemistry, machine learning and much more,” Vijay Pande, a general partner at A16Z, said when the fundraising was announced.

    Quantum Problem Solving

    Quantum computers are expected to change computing forever in large part due to their speed and processing power. Instead of processing information the way existing systems do — relying on bits of 0s and 1s operating on miniature transistors — quantum computers use quantum bits (or qubits) that can both be a 0 or a 1 at the same time. This is thanks to a quantum phenomenon called superposition. In existing versions of quantum computers, this has been achieved using individual photons.

    “Quantum computing will enable people to tackle a whole new set of problems that were previously unsolvable,” said Chad Rigetti, the startup’s founder and CEO. “This is the next generation of advanced computing technology. The potential to make a positive impact on humanity is enormous.” This translates to computing system that are capable of handling problems deemed too difficult for today’s computers. Such applications could be found everywhere from advanced medical research to even improved encryption and cybersecurity.

    How is Rigetti Computing planning to revolutionize the technology? For starters, they’re building a quantum computing platform for artificial intelligence and computational chemistry. This can help overcome the logistical challenges that currently plague quantum computer development. They also have an API for quantum computing in the cloud, called Forest, that’s recently opened up private beta testing.

    Rigetti expects it will be at least two more years before their technology can be applied to real world problems. But for interested investors, investing in such a technological game-changer sooner rather than later makes good business sense.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:47 am on March 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Futurism, , NASA Plans To Turn The Largest Object in Our Solar System into a Telescope,   

    From Futurism: “NASA Plans To Turn The Largest Object in Our Solar System into a Telescope” 

    futurism-bloc

    Futurism

    3.19.17
    Chelsea Gohd

    A Solar Scope

    Each day we get closer to exploring farther reaches of our solar system and universe. We have come incredibly far and seem to make progress with each day. However, our ability to survey the outer corners of the cosmos is limited by our current telescopic technology. Now, modern telescopes are nothing to scoff at. As the iconic Hubble Telescope is phased out, the James Webb Space Telescope will continue to capture the beauty of outer space. But scientists have figured out a way to push the boundaries of telescopic technology even further: by turning the Sun (yes, that sun) into a telescope.


    Gravitational Lensing NASA/ESA


    Gravitational microlensing, S. Liebes, Physical Review B, 133 (1964): 835

    To use the sun as some sort of massive magnifying glass, scientists have deferred to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. According to the theory, large objects (like the Sun) bend the space around them, and so anything traveling in that space (even light) bends as well. In a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, if light is bent around an object in a particular way, it can magnify the space (quite literally, space) behind it.

    Scientists have previously used gravitational lensing to help telescopes to be more effective, but now, researchers aim to use this distribution of matter as a “telescope.” This new approach certainly has its pros and cons. In order to harness this lensing, the necessary instruments would need to approach pretty close to the sun, in order to reach a target 550 AU away. While humans and probes have traveled much closer to the sun than this, and plan to do so in the future, this difficult journey would take a long time and the equipment would have to be somehow “placed” into the middle of space.

    However, if this is pulled off, it would be a massive leap forward in imaging technology. We could finally get a closer, clearer look at Trappist-1, and would be that much closer to discovering life outside of Earth.

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    A target pixel file representing light levels captured by the Kepler space telescope. Image Credit: NASA Ames/G. Barentsen

    James Webb

    As mentioned previously, this “sun scope” is not the only highly advanced space-imaging technology that’s surfacing. The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in October of 2018, will hopefully continue and advance the incredible work of the Hubble Telescope.


    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    In fact, this telescope is so powerful that Lee Feinberg, an engineer and James Webb Space Telescope Optical Telescope Element Manager at Goddard, was quoted as saying. “The Webb telescope is the most dynamically complicated article of space hardware that we’ve ever tested.”

    The technology that we use to capture the incredible images of space is improving every day. Modern telescopes will continue to advance, becoming more powerful, more precise, and more detailed. So, while the idea of a sun-based telescope is incredible and could yield unprecedented images and information, even if it doesn’t pan out, we will most certainly continue to find improved ways to look at the Universe.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:31 pm on February 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Futurism, , Triangulene   

    From Futurism: “Scientists Have Finally Created a Molecule That Was 70 Years in the Making” 

    futurism-bloc

    Futurism

    2.16.17
    Neil C. Bhavsar

    Creating the Impossible

    Move over graphene, it’s 2017 and we have a new carbon structure to rave about: Triangulene. It’s one atom thick, six carbon hexagons in size, and in the shape of – you guessed it – a triangle.

    1

    Development of the molecule has eluded chemists for a period of nearly seventy years. It was first predicted mathematically in the 1950s by Czech scientist, Eric Clar. He noted that the molecule would be unstable electronically due to two unpaired electrons in the six benzene structure. Since then, the mysterious molecule has ushered generations of scientists in a pursuit for the unstable molecule – all resulting in failure due to the oxidizing properties of two lone electron pairs.

    Now, IBM researchers in Zurich, Switzerland seem to have done the impossible: they created the molecule. While most scientists build molecules from the ground up, Leo Gross and his team decided to take the opposite approach. They worked with a larger precursor model and removed two hydrogens substituents from the molecule to conjure up the apparition molecule that is triangulene.

    On top of this, they were able to successfully image the structure with a scanning probe microscope and note the molecule’s unexpected stability in the presence of copper. Their published work is available at Nature Nanotechnology.

    This new material is already proving to be impressive. The two unpaired electrons of the triangulene molecules were discovered to have aligned spins, granting the molecule magnetic properties. Meaning triangulene has a lot of potential in electronics, specifically by allowing us to encode and process information by manipulating the electron spin – a field known as spintronics.

    The IBM researchers still have a lot to learn about triangulene. Moving forward, other teams will attempt to verify whether the researchers actually created the triangle-shaped molecule or not. Until then, the technique the team developed could be used for making other elusive structures. Although, it still isn’t ideal, as it is a slow and expensive process. Even so, this could push us closer to the age of quantum computers.

    References: ScienceAlert – Latest, Nature

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:17 am on February 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Futurism, ,   

    From Science Alert: “Surprise! LIGO Can Also Make Gravitational Waves” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

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    FUTURISM

    11 FEB 2017
    DOM GALEON

    1
    NASA

    We can produce gravitational waves now.

    It’s been almost a year now since the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the greatest scientific discovery of 2016.

    LIGO bloc new
    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation
    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation
    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA
    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Though the first gravitational waves were actually detected in September 2015, it was only after additional detections were made in June 2016 that LIGO scientists finally confirmed that the elusive waves exist, solidifying Albert Einstein’s major prediction in his theory of relativity.

    Now, the most sensitive detector of spacetime ripples in the world turns out to also be the best producer of gravitational waves.

    “When we optimise LIGO for detection, we also optimise it for emission [of gravitational waves],” said physicist Belinda Pang from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena according to a report in Science.

    Pang was speaking at a meeting of the American Physical Society last week, representing her team of physicists.

    Gravitational waves are ripples that are produced when massive objects warp spacetime.

    They essentially stretch out space, and according to Einstein, they can be produced by certain swirling configurations of mass. Using uber-sensitive twin detectors in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, LIGO is able to detect this stretching of space.

    Once they realised they could detect gravitational waves, the physicists posited that the sensitivity of their detectors would enable them to efficiently generate these ripples, too.

    “The fundamental thing about a detector is that it couples to gravitational waves,” said Fan Zhang, a physicist at Beijing Normal University.

    “When you have coupling, it’s going to go both ways.”

    The LIGO team tested their idea using a quantum mathematical model and found that they were right: their detectors did generate tiny, optimally efficient spacetime ripples.

    Quantum mechanics says that small objects, such as electrons, can be in two places at once, and some physicists think that it’s possible to coax macroscopic objects into a similar state of quantum motion.

    According to Pang, LIGO and these waves could be just the things to make it happen.

    Though that delicate state couldn’t be sustained for very long periods, any amount of time could give us added insight into quantum mechanics.

    We could measure how long it takes for decoherence to occur and see what role gravity might play in the existence of quantum states between macroscopic objects.

    “It’s an interesting idea, but experimentally it’s very challenging,” explained Caltech physicist Yiqui Ma, one of Pang’s colleagues.

    “It’s unbelievably difficult, but if you want to do it, what we’re saying is that LIGO is the best place to do it.”

    Any added insight into quantum activity could not only help us build better quantum computers, it could completely revolutionise our understanding of the physical universe.

    LIGO is already in the process of receiving upgrades that will help it detect even fainter gravitational waves, and eventually, the plan is to build the Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (eLISA), a gravitational wave observatory in space.

    ESA/LISA Pathfinder
    ESA/LISA Pathfinder

    ESA/eLISA
    ESA/eLISA

    Within the next decade, not only could LIGO be regularly detecting gravitational waves, it could also be finding ever more advanced ways to create them and furthering our understanding of the quantum world in unimaginable ways.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:35 pm on December 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Futurism, ,   

    From Technion via Futurism: “Scientists Have Created a Totally New Type of Laser With Light and Water Waves” 

    Technion bloc

    Technion

    1

    Futurism

    12.6.16
    Dom Galeon

    In Brief

    Using a device smaller than the width of a human hair, scientists have produced laser radiation through the interaction of light and water waves, a first in the field of laser tech.
    This new type of laser could be used on tiny ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technologies, enabling researchers to more effectively study microscopic cells and test different drug therapies.

    Of Waves and Lightwaves

    There’s a new kid in town with respect to laser technology. Researchers at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology have developed laser emissions through the interaction of light and water waves, combining two areas of study previously thought unrelated.

    Typically, lasers are produced by exciting electrons in atoms using energy from an outside source. This excitement causes the electrons to emit radiation as laser light. The Technion team, led by Tal Carmon, discovered that wave oscillations in a liquid device can produce laser radiation as well, according to the study published in Nature Photonics.

    This possibility had never been explored previously, Carmon told Phys.org, primarily due to enormous differences in frequencies between water waves on a liquid’s surface and light wave oscillations. The former have a low frequency of approximately 1,000 oscillations per second, while the latter have a higher frequency of around 1014 oscillations per second.

    The researchers built a device that used an optical fiber to deliver light into a small droplet of octane and water. It compensated for the otherwise low efficiency between light waves and water waves, allowing the two types to pass through each other approximately 1 million times within the droplet. The energy generated by this interaction leaves the droplet as the laser emission.

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    Credits: The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

    Greater Control

    This interaction between light and fluid happens on a scale smaller than the width of a human hair. Additionally, water is a million times softer than typical materials used in existing laser technology. Accordingly, the Technion researchers say the droplet deformation caused by this very small pressure from the the light is a million times greater than what’s seen in current optomechanical devices, so this laser tech would be easier to control.

    Because they would work on such a small scale and be easier to control, this new type of laser could open up a wealth of possibilities for tiny sensors that use a combination of light waves, water waves, and sound waves. They could be used on tiny ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technologies, enabling researchers to more effectively study microscopic cells and test different drug therapies that could lead to better healthcare down the road. Indeed, these tiny lasers could have big implications in the world of technology.

    See the full article here .

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    Technion Campus

    A science and technology research university, among the world’s top ten,
    dedicated to the creation of knowledge and the development of human capital and leadership,
    for the advancement of the State of Israel and all humanity.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:02 am on September 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Futurism,   

    From Nautilus: “Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot” 

    Nautilus

    Nautilus

    September 10, 2015
    Tom Vanderbilt

    Temp 1
    Illustration by Robin Davey

    In early 1999, during the halftime of a University of Washington basketball game, a time capsule from 1927 was opened. Among the contents of this portal to the past were some yellowing newspapers, a Mercury dime, a student handbook, and a building permit. The crowd promptly erupted into boos. One student declared the items “dumb.”

    Such disappointment in time capsules seems to run endemic, suggests William E. Jarvis in his book Time Capsules: A Cultural History. A headline from The Onion, he notes, sums it up: “Newly unearthed time capsule just full of useless old crap.” Time capsules, after all, exude a kind of pathos: They show us that the future was not quite as advanced as we thought it would be, nor did it come as quickly. The past, meanwhile, turns out to not be as radically distinct as we thought.

    In his book Predicting the Future, Nicholas Rescher writes that “we incline to view the future through a telescope, as it were, thereby magnifying and bringing nearer what we can manage to see.” So too do we view the past through the other end of the telescope, making things look farther away than they actually were, or losing sight of some things altogether.

    These observations apply neatly to technology. We don’t have the personal flying cars we predicted we would. Coal, notes the historian David Edgerton in his book The Shock of the Old, was a bigger source of power at the dawn of the 21st century than in sooty 1900; steam was more significant in 1900 than 1800.

    But when it comes to culture we tend to believe not that the future will be very different than the present day, but that it will be roughly the same. Try to imagine yourself at some future date. Where do you imagine you will be living? What will you be wearing? What music will you love?

    Chances are, that person resembles you now. As the psychologist George Lowenstein and colleagues have argued, in a phenomenon they termed “projection bias,”1 people “tend to exaggerate the degree to which their future tastes will resemble their current tastes.”

    In one experimental example, people were asked how much they would pay to see their favorite band now perform in 10 years; others were asked how much they would pay now to see their favorite band from 10 years ago. “Participants,” the authors reported, “substantially overpaid for a future opportunity to indulge a current preference.” They called it the “end of history illusion”; people believed they had reached some “watershed moment” in which they had become their authentic self.2 Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay, “The End of History?” made a similar argument for Western liberal democracy as a kind of endpoint of societal evolution.

    This over- and under-predicting is embedded into how we conceive of the future. “Futurology is almost always wrong,” the historian Judith Flanders suggested to me, “because it rarely takes into account behavioral changes.” And, she says, we look at the wrong things: “Transport to work, rather than the shape of work; technology itself, rather than how our behavior is changed by the very changes that technology brings.” It turns out that predicting who we will be is harder than predicting what we will be able to do.

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    Old School: Although Amazon is experimenting with hi-tech delivery options like drones, many of its “same-day” products continue to be delivered by bicycle. Gibson Pictures

    Like the hungry person who orders more food at dinner than they will ultimately want—to use an example from Lowenstein and colleagues—forecasters have a tendency to take something that is (in the language of behavioral economics) salient today, and assume that it will play an outsized role in the future. And what is most salient today? It is that which is novel, “disruptive,” and easily fathomed: new technology.

    As the theorist Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in Antifragile, “we notice what varies and changes more than what plays a larger role but doesn’t change. We rely more on water than on cell phones, but because water does not change and cell phones do, we are prone to thinking that cell phones play a larger role than they do.”

    The result is that we begin to wonder how life was possible before some technology came along. But as the economist Robert Fogel famously noted, if the railroad had not been invented, we would have done almost as well, in terms of economic output, with ships and canals.3 Or we assume that modern technology was wonderfully preordained instead of, as it often is, an accident. Instagram began life as a Yelp-style app called Burbn, with photos an afterthought (photos on your phone, is that a thing?). Texting, meanwhile, started out as a diagnostic channel for short test messages—because who would prefer fumbling through tiny alphanumeric buttons to simply talking?1

    Transportation seems to be a particular poster child of fevered futurist speculation, bearing a disproportionate load of this deferred wish fulfillment (perhaps because we simply find daily travel painful, reminding us of its shared root with the word “travail”). The lament for the perpetually forestalled flying car focuses around childlike wishes (why can’t I have this now?), and ignores massive externalities like aerial traffic jams, and fatality rates likely to be higher than terrestrial driving.

    The “self-driving car,” it is promised, will radically reshape the way we live, forgetting that, throughout history, humans have largely endeavored to keep their daily travel time within a stable bound.4 “Travelators,” or moving walkways, were supposed to transform urban mobility; nowadays, when they actually work, they move (standing) people in airports at a slower-than-walking speed. In considering the future of transportation, it is worth keeping in mind that, today, we mostly move around thanks to old technology. As Amazon experiments with aerial drone delivery, its “same day” products are being moved through New York City thanks to that 19th-century killer app: the bicycle.

    Edgerton notes that the “innovation-centric” worldview—those sexy devices that “changed the world”—runs not merely to the future, but also the past. “The horse,” he writes, “made a greater contribution to Nazi conquest than the V2.” We noticed what was invented more than what was actually used.

    In the same way that our focus on recent innovations causes people to overemphasize their importance, to see them as hastening a radically transformed future—like Google Glass was supposed to—the backward look is distorted so that technologies are rendered prematurely obsolete. The prescience of near-future speculations, like Bladerunner, comes less from uncannily predicting future technologies (it shows computer identification of voices, but Bell Labs was working on spectrographic analysis of human voices in the 1940s5) than in anticipating that new and old will be jarringly intermingled. Films that depict uniformly futuristic worlds are subtly unconvincing—much like historical period films in which cars on the street are all perfect specimens (because those are the only ones that have survived). Dirt and ruin are as much a part of the future as they are the past.

    People in the innovation-obsessed present tend to overstate the impact of technology not only in the future, but also the present. We tend to imagine we are living in a world that could scarcely have been imagined a few decades ago. It is not uncommon to read assertions like: “Someone would have been unable at the beginning of the 20th century to even dream of what transportation would look like a half a century later.”6 And yet zeppelins were flying in 1900; a year before, in New York City, the first pedestrian had already been killed by an automobile. Was the notion of air travel, or the thought that the car was going to change life on the street, really so beyond envisioning—or is it merely the chauvinism of the present, peering with faint condescension at our hopelessly primitive predecessors?

    “When we think of information technology we forget about postal systems, the telegraph, the telephone, radio, and television,” writes Edgerton. “When we celebrate on-line shopping, the mail order catalogue goes missing.” To read, for instance, that the film The Net boldly anticipated online pizza delivery decades ahead of its arrival7 ignores the question of how much of an advance it is: Using an electronic communication medium to order a real-time, customizable pizza has been going on since the 1960s. And when I took a subway to a café to write this article and electronically transmit it to a distant editor, I was doing something I could have done in New York City in the 1920s, using that same subway, the Roosevelt Brothers coffee shop, and the telegram, albeit less efficiently. (Whether all that efficiency has helped me personally, or just made me work more for declining wages, is an open question). We expect more change than actually happens in the future because we imagine our lives have changed more than they actually have.

    In her book The Making of Home, Judith Flanders describes an offhand reference by the diarist Samuel Pepys, in 1662, to something called a “spitting sheet.” She speculates this was a sheet affixed to a wall near a spittoon to protect wall coverings from an errant spitter. It is an example of what she calls “invisible furniture.” We all know what a spittoon is. And yet, as they scarcely register in literature and are rarely depicted in art, it is easy to overlook just how commonplace the act of spitting was, even in polite society.

    Flanders notes that the United States actually used to regulate where spitting was allowed on trains, stations, and on platforms. A 1917 conference of boards of health, held in Washington, D.C., mandates that “an adequate supply of cuspidors shall be provided” in train cars. Today, both the word “cuspidor” (meaning spittoon) and the object have virtually vanished (though Supreme Court Justices still get one). Its disappearance is not because some technology went obsolete. It is because our behavior has changed.

    While the technological past and future appear to be more different than they actually are, these cultural differences in time seem surprising. Working as historical consultant on the video game Assassin’s Creed, Flanders had to constantly remind writers to cut the word “cheers” from the script, because, she told me, “people didn’t use that word until the 20th century.” The writers wanted to know what they did say. “They had huge trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that mostly people didn’t say anything. Giving some form of salutation before you drink is so normal to them, it’s actually hard to accept that for centuries people didn’t feel the need.”

    The historian Lawrence Samuel has called social progress the “Achilles heel” of futurism.8 He argues that people forget the injunction of the historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee: Ideas, not technology, have driven the biggest historical changes. When technology changes people, it is often not in the ways one might expect: Mobile technology, for example, did not augur the “death of distance,” but actually strengthened the power of urbanism. The washing machine freed women from labor, and, as the social psychologists Nina Hansen and Tom Postmes note, could have sparked a revolution in gender roles and relations. But, “instead of fueling feminism,” they write, “technology adoption (at least in the first instance) enabled the emergence of the new role of housewife: middle-class women did not take advantage of the freed-up time … to rebel against structures or even to capitalize on their independence.” Instead, the authors argue, the women simply assumed the jobs once held by their servants.

    Take away the object from the historical view, and you lose sight of the historical behavior. Projecting the future often presents a similar problem: The object is foregrounded, while the behavioral impact is occluded. The “Jetsons idea” of jetpacking and meals in a pill missed what actually has changed: The notion of a stable career, or the social ritual of lunch.

    One futurist noted that a 1960s film of the “office of the future” made on-par technological predictions (fax machines and the like), but had a glaring omission: The office had no women.9 Self-driving car images of the 1950s showed families playing board games as their tail-finned cars whisked down the highways. Now, 70 years later, we suspect the automated car will simply allow for the expansion of productive time, and hence working hours. The self-driving car has, in a sense, always been a given. But modern culture hasn’t.

    Why is cultural change so hard to predict? For one, we have long tended to forget that it does change. Status quo bias reigns. “Until recently, culture explained why things stayed the same, not why they changed,” notes the sociologist Kieran Healy. “Understood as a monolithic block of passively internalized norms transmitted by socialization and canonized by tradition, culture was normally seen as inhibiting individuals.”10

    And when culture does change, the precipitating events can be surprisingly random and small. As the writer Charles Duhigg describes in The Power of Habit, one of the landmark events in the evolution of gay rights in the U.S. was a change, by the Library of Congress, from classifying books about the gay movement as “Abnormal Sexual Relations, Including Sexual Crimes,” to “Homosexuality, Lesbianism—Gay Liberation, Homophile Movement.” This seemingly minor change, much touted by activists, helped pave the way for other, larger changes (a year later, the American Psychiatric Association stopped defining homosexuality as a mental illness). He quotes an organizational psychologist: “Small wins do not combine in a neat, serial form, with each step being a demonstrable step closer to some predetermined goal.”

    We might say the same about the future.

    References

    1. Lowenstein, G., O’Donoghue, T., & Rabin, M. Projection bias in predicting future utility. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 118, 1209- 1248 (2003).

    2. Quoidbach, J., Gilbert, D.T., & Wilson, T.D. The end of history illusion. Science 339, 96-98 (2013).

    3. Fogel, R.W. Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore (1964).

    4. Marchetti, C. Anthropological invariants in travel behavior. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 47, 75-88 (1994).

    5. Solan, L.M. & Tiersma, P.M. Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice The University of Chicago Press (2010).

    6. Rodrigue, J.P. The Geography of Transport Systems Routledge, London (2013).

    7. Crugnale, J. How cyberthriller ‘The Net’ predicted the future of the Web. The Kernal (2015).

    8. Samuel, L.R. Future: A Recent History University of Texas Press, Austin, TX (2009).

    9. Eveleth, R. Why aren’t there more women futurists? The Atlantic (2015).

    10. Healy, K. Social change: mechanisms and metaphors. Working Papers (1998).

    See the full article here .

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