January 16th, 2014 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Art & Society, Science & Tech | Comments Off

The Quantified Self is Here and It’s Going Mainstream

quantified self

In case you missed it, Glen was recently interviewed by James Temple at Re/code. The result is an exciting article called Robots, Regenerative Medicine and More: Futurists Gaze Into 2014. In it, Glen mentions the coming year seeing the true mainstreaming of the ‘quantified self.’ He also talks about other things you want to know about, so be sure to read Re/code right now!

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December 31st, 2013 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Art & Society, Environment & Energy, Innovation, Science & Tech | 1 Comment

To 2014 and Beyond

Happy New Year to all our Futurist.com visitors and fans.

Looking ahead, here are some thoughts to add to the endless lists of 2014 anticipations – if you like these things see Mark Anderson’s top ten for 2014, or Thomas Fry’s 33 for 2030, or David Brin’s speculations on the year ahead. Brin is an exception but most of these kinds of articles are lists of technologies and anticipated developments. I know these lists ‘sell papers’ as we used to say, and provide a certain kind of infotainment. But I don’t take them too seriously except as brain teasers. Check them out if you want.

Me? I expect the big stories of 2014 will include…

…a shift in politics to debating how and how much to increase Social Security in the United States. This meme broke through in 2013, and moved the Overton Window over by a surprising margin, away from “how to cut Social Security” and at least to ‘how to maintain it.” This shift in the political winds cannot come too soon as we face an impending retirement crisis and looming wave of elder poverty.

…a dawning realization that fracking, however successful in the next decade or two at tapping previously hard to get oil and gas, has not fundamentally changed the longer term (21st Century) energy picture in which conventional (and thus cheaper) oil has peaked, and thus we face a mostly more expensive future in energy. Cheap gas is the exception but the energy picture still demands that civilization prepare for the fossil fuel phase out to come. Negotiating this passage will literally determine whether modern civilization is maintained.

…a continuation in the downward curve in solar energy cost per watt generated, meaning that it becomes more likely that solar will become a dominant supplier of electricity sooner than later. The electrification of the transportation fleet will gain momentum in 2014.

…space exploration and exploitation will proceed more aggressively in 2014. The success of China on the moon, and the amazing drive of SpaceX and other private companies in space will make the next half-decade a likely dawn of the next era in space, the era that leads to truly occupying space.

…it is hard to know when or if a weather event will tip the balance of public concern toward a crash effort to mitigate, slow down, and prepare for global warming. The latest, and most dire, predictions suggest that this had better happen soon.

Photo Credit: Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Mother Jones

Photo Credit: Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Mother Jones

…finally, a global struggle with and about the deep issues of privacy versus security, continued drift to richer and poorer society, and the future of employment and work, will likely heighten in 2014. There is a reason, which is more than artistic or admiration of the actors, that the Hunger Games series has already placed its first two films in the top 20 grossing films of all time and is a world-wide phenomenon. There is a hunger for change that is rumbling. The fact that life imitates art in way that reeks of parody but is all too real just adds to the pressure. (In this case activists hanging a banner to protest a proposed pipeline were charged under an absurd terrorism statute – thus precisely proving the point of the banner.)

2014 will be a year of great opportunity and great challenges – not all that different than 2013 or, I suspect, 2015.

Let’s have a great year!

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December 6th, 2013 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Space | 1 Comment

The Future of Space Tourism and Commercial Transportation – Part Two

By Mary Ann Keeling

Space Tourism By The Numbers
To put things into perspective, a typical airplane will fly at a height of three miles above Earth’s surface. High-altitude jets fly around 13 miles above the surface. Now, multiply that figure by several times and you’re in suborbital space, about 65 miles above the surface. You’ll be able to go more than three times further than that, even, on the Space X Dragon which travels in orbital space over 200 miles above the Earth’s surface. For a suborbital space flight, passengers will be in the zero gravity zone for roughly 1 to 5 minutes, depending on the type of spacecraft they’re in. On-orbit trips can last up to a couple of weeks.

XCor, Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace and Booster Space are the primary companies competing to take consumers into suborbital space. Companies like Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Bigelow Aerospace are going further than that into what is known as on-orbit space. Space X is taking it to the next level with their Dragon spaceship, which will make them the first commercial company to dock at the International Space Station. The Dragon will take you to on-orbital space, and will allow passengers to spend up to 12 days in space.

Fun Facts about Space Tourism
The very first person to travel to space as a tourist was a billionaire from California named Dennis Tito. When CNN asked him about the experience, he said “I spent 60 years on Earth and eight days in space, and from my viewpoint it was two separate lives.”

There’s a non-profit called the Mars One Foundation that has a goal of sending humans to live on Mars. Nearly 100,000 people have signed up to hopefully be chosen for this voyage, even without any guarantees that the technology will exist to get them back home. That astonishing amount of interest for a one-way ticket to Mars shows how fascinated people are with what’s out there. The reason it’s hard to get back to Earth is simply because of the amount of fuel required to get to Mars and the amount that it weights, they aren’t able to carry enough to get back home. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered before Mars One becomes a reality, but they’re making fast strides.

A Frequent Flyer Program That Gets You Further
When you think of frequent flyer programs, you probably think of earning a few points here and there and maybe one day having enough to get a discounted plane ticket to visit the in-laws, or something else as equally unexciting. Velocity is taking that to the next level. Thanks to the Velocity frequent flyer program, Velocity is offering the prize of a lifetime, by giving one lucky traveler the chance to win a suborbital space flight on Virgin Galactic worth $250,000. The lucky winner will have a chance to do what so few people have done, to float out there in space, looking down at the pale blue dot known as Earth.

In Other Futuristic News…
Suborbital space travel for consumers is already a reality; it’s just a matter of rolling it out the final stages. Obviously, not everything that is predicted comes true and not everything that is invented ends up being practical. For example, supersonic transport looked very promising at first. Being able to travel faster than the speed of sound means you can get from one coast to the other in much, much less time. However, it wasn’t practical, it was too noisy, and it never ended up changing commercial travel the way people had anticipated.

The DaVinci Institute has some pretty interesting predictions for the future of traveling on earth. They predict that by 2015, gas powered vehicles will start to decline in favor of hybrid and electric cars. By 2020, they’re anticipating “glow in the dark” highways, which will drastically change night driving. By 2030? We’ll start to see the first flying cars. That might seem kind of out-there to imagine right now, but who thought we would be sending tourists into space?

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*Mary Ann Keeling is a writer and a blogger from Brisbane who likes to share her passion for the future through her writing.

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December 5th, 2013 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Space | Comments Off

The Future of Space Tourism and Commercial Transportation – Part One

By Mary Ann Keeling

At one point or another, just about everybody has dreamed of traveling to space. Can you imagine yourself floating out there, weightless, and looking down at planet Earth, which is now just a small blue dot in the distance? Many astronauts have come back to Earth after being in space and described how the experience of seeing Earth from space is absolutely life changing, how it puts everything into perspective, and is very humbling. Everything that used to seem like a big deal on planet Earth, small conflicts and drama, late fees on your phone bill, someone cutting you off in traffic – none of it seems as significant when you’ve seen the world from afar. This dream is getting closer and closer to reality as each day passes, and space tourism is just around the corner. Soon, you won’t have to be a celebrity or an astronaut to get the chance to travel to space; it’s going to be available to the general public.

Space Tours with Virgin Galactic
It’s been nearly a decade since Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004. They aren’t offering commercial flights just yet, but their vessel SpaceShipTwo is planned to take its inaugural voyage at the end of 2013, so it’s likely that actual space tourism isn’t that far out of reach. The latest news on space tourism is that Richard Branson himself will be taking part on the first flight into space, and really putting his mouth where his money is. This huge show of confidence in the technology and their ability to get to space is demonstrating great leadership and will undoubtedly help to ease some of the concerns that people have about space travel. Imagine being on the very first commercial flight into space? In case you’re wondering what the price tag is going to be, at least initially, to fly to space with Virgin Galactic you’re looking at a cool $250,000. Also aboard early flights will be TV and film star Ashton Kutcher, and actress Kate Winslet (who, and this is true, once saved Richard Brandon’s mother from a house fire!). To top off all this star-power (pun intended), the first flight of Virgin Galactic is going to be broadcast on NBC, which is a television network that has been struggling in recent years to bring original and interesting programming – but you can’t do much better than televising the first commercial space launch!

Other Ways To Get To Space
Virgin Galactic isn’t the only company interested in getting people into space, even though they’re the most talked-about and the closest to making this a reality. If you read the $250,000 price tag and felt your dreams slowly being crushed – there are other options! There’s a program named World View by a company called Paragon (They make equipment for the International Space Station) which aims to take a slightly different approach to getting people into space, namely using a high-tech version of the hot air balloon. You may have also heard of Paragon’s plan to send people to the planet Mars by 2018 which has been heavily discussed in the media. 2018 sounds like a very ambitious goal, but that’s how you get things done when it comes to space travel – ambition!

You may recall when Felix Baumgartner parachuted from space for Redbull, this stunt used a similar balloon system to the one that that Paragon is hoping to use as part of their World View program. They’ve still got a lot of hurdles to jump through and regularity steps to take, so hot air balloon trips to space are further out than the Virgin Galactic option, but they’re expected to be a little bit less costly coming in at around $75,000 for a trip.

If both of those options are a little too pricey, there’s a way that you can win your entry into space, too. All you need is a little luck!

NY Times Branson Space TravelInfographic source:
Richard Branson’s Space Race

*Mary Ann Keeling is a writer and a blogger from Brisbane who likes to share her passion for the future through her writing.

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November 27th, 2013 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Art & Society, Media | Comments Off

Can “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” change the future?

Donald Sutherland as President Snow in a scene from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." (Lionsgate/Murray Close)

Donald Sutherland as President Snow in a scene from “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” (Lionsgate/Murray Close)

Can a movie series help spark a social revolution? There is reason for hope.

We had a sold-out show for the 3rd film in our Futurist.com science fiction series, this time for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, hosted by The Big Picture, Seattle. We had a great time, with lively discussion following the film on its opening weekend. Excellent movie, great audience.

When the original Hunger Games film came out in 2012, I had not been a reader of the Suzanne Collins series, and was therefore fascinated that this strange sounding story about a game to the death involving children and young people would be so popular, with more than 50 million copies sold. The original Hunger Games quickly became the biggest film of that year and the 14th all-time grossing film ever. Catching Fire just set the record for a film opening in November, and has opened globally more than twice as big as the original. We’ll see where it ends up.

So I read the trilogy, and like most people was absorbed into the world that Collins paints – a United States destroyed by apparent civil war, a new country of Panem in its place, a tiny percentage of the population ruling from its super advanced, super rich Capital, controlling the lives of those who toil away in poverty in 12 districts to provide the goods and services that the elite demand. 74 years before, a 13th district had led a rebellion against the ruling capital, only to be put down and wiped out. In penance each year a young girl and boy from each district is “reaped” to participate in The Hunger Games, where they fight to the death for the televised entertainment of the Capital and as a way to terrorize the Districts and keep them compliant. When Katniss Everdeen, played by Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, volunteers to take her young sister’s place in the games, thus begins the story arc of Katniss’ evolution from a young woman trying to keep her family alive to reluctant symbol of and finally a leader of a revolution. With compelling characters, wild settings, a touch of powerful futuristic technology, and deep conflict it is story telling at its best.

Having read the trilogy I purchased the Blu Ray of the original Hunger Games, and found myself quite moved by the story.

Then I watched the “extra features” including an interview with Donald Sutherland, who plays the diabolical president of Panem. I sat up when he said, in that interview, that he believes this film series (it will be four movies before it is complete) will be the most important movie series of the early 21st Century. Why? Because it is a powerful allegory of our time, taking our 1% and 99% division of rich and poor, along with the excesses of the militaristic surveillance state to absurd allegorical heights and holding them there for us to see. And then suggesting that one person of courage, joined with others, can make all the difference.

More specifically, Sutherland hopes that the movie series will help inspire a generation of youth to rise up. He put it this way in a recent interview with The Guardian.

Donald Sutherland wants to stir revolt. A real revolt. A youth-led uprising against injustice that will … usher in a kinder, better way. “I hope that they will take action because it’s getting drastic in this country.” Drone strikes. Corporate tax dodging. Racism. The Keystone oil pipeline. Denying food stamps to “starving Americans”. It’s all going to pot. “It’s not right. It’s not right.”

Millennials need awakening from slumber. “You know the young people of this society have not moved in the last 30 years.” With the exception of Occupy, a minority movement, passivity reigns. “They have been consumed with telephones.” The voice hardens. “Tweeting.”…

…today’s young are too fretful about finding jobs to change society, he laments. “I just think they’re not organized. It’s not something that’s happening in the universities, which is normally the breeding ground for that kind of activity.” Does he despair of the young? The famous drooping, pale blue eyes widen. “No, no, no. Otherwise there would be no point making this film. I have great hope and faith in them…

The Hunger Games, Sutherland suggests, is a coded commentary on inequality, power and hope. “It just puts things out in the light and lets you have a look at it. And if you take from it what I hope you will take from it, it will make you think a little more pungently about the political environment you live in and not be complacent.”

But the message is multi-generational and one that the people watching Catching Fire with us this week seemed to take to heart, even as they enjoyed heart-stopping action. In the discussion following Catching Fire, Science Fiction writer Brenda Cooper asked “Are we, in fact, the Capital?” It may be easy to identify with Katniss and to imagine yourself as a heroic member of the revolution, but what if we, in our comfort and complacency, are nearer to citizens of the Capital, turning a blind eye to suffering and oppression so long as enough affluence flows our way. An audience member commented on the comparison of the televised Hunger Games to our own “Terror-tainment” as he called it. The networks fill time with images of disaster and even horror, which the public eats up so long as it involves watching others in a struggle of life and death. We read about killing drone strikes and hear about the hatred they can engender in an entire village, and then we turn away. We hear about the surveillance state and hope we are not doing anything suspicious and leave it at that.

Noam Chomsky recently called us a “Terrified Country,” and that echoes a scene in Catching Fire, where the head game maker advises the president to televise the romantic engagement of the two hunger games winners, then beatings, then televise the wedding, then executions, and so on. All to keep the districts in uncertainty and fear and in that fear to keep them docile and producing goods and services.

Andrew Slack in the LA Times raises similar issues, when he asks whether the message of the movies can get lost in the marketing tie-ins. He pulls no punches when he writes,

At its core, “The Hunger Games” is about economic inequality. In the books, the country of Panem is a future version of the United States, after nuclear disaster wipes out most of the population. In Panem, the fraction of people living in the Capitol controls almost all of the wealth. In 12 outlying Districts, people work long hours in Capitol-approved industries at dangerous jobs with low pay. Starvation is a daily reality.

If the books are supposed to function as a cautionary tale against the real class divide in the U.S., we need not look far for evidence. The future of Panem is upon us: More than 20 million Americans can’t find full-time jobs, 22% of children live in poverty and middle-class wages have been largely stagnant since 1974. Meanwhile, corporate profits are at an all-time high.

If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, the same can be said of systemic economic inequality. The pull of the American dream is still so strong that many believe the only reasonable explanation for poverty is that it’s poor people’s fault. We don’t blame the system — and in Panem, you don’t blame the Capitol.

Thus, the rhetoric of austerity does not touch the 1% who own 40% of our economy. Instead, the rest of us fight over which crucial (for us) but hardly costly program to cut: food stamps, health insurance, unemployment benefits, Head Start, domestic violence counseling, even education.

But there is hope for change. As I have often said, the astonishing concentration of wealth and power now under way cannot continue forever, because anything that gets so far out of balance eventually must fall over. Such as been the historical pattern. The question is whether this falling will involve revolution or simple political change. Probably the answer will be both.

Chomsky notes the brief but powerful impact that Occupy had, in his November 23, 2013 Salon interview that

It’s actually striking that there are Occupy offshoots all over the world. I’ve talked at Occupy movements in Sydney, Australia, and England, all over. Everywhere you go there’s something. And they link with other things that are happening, like the Indignados in Spain; the student actions in Chile, which are pretty remarkable; things in Greece, which are enormous; and even movements in the peripheral parts of Europe trying to struggle against the brutal austerity regimes, which are worse than here and which are just strangling the economies and destroying the European social contract. We look progressive in comparison with Europe.

Can movies wake us up, can movies wake up a generation? Actually I think they can help and I suspect that The HUnger Games and Katniss Everdeen will light a spark in the real world as well as on screen.

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