February 27th, 2014 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Art & Society, Business & Economy, Innovation, Media, Science & Tech | Comments Off

Google Search’s Amit Singhal – Constructing the Conversational Computer

The Galactic Public Archives are videos that feature past and present visionaries on their explorations of the future and how it could be embraced with optimism.

Introduction to Amit Singhal (at Google) from Galactic Public Archives on Vimeo.

Meet Amit Singhal. During Amit Singhal’s 13 years at Google, the company has been evolving the iconic search bar into a voice-controlled search engine that allows for a more natural, conversational search – à la Star Trek’s LCARS computer. They aren’t there yet. If you ask Google – using voice – who Bill Clinton is, and then ask who his (using the pronoun instead of his name) daughter is – Google can tell you. You can even follow that up by asking what her job is, and again, Google understands. If however, you follow up your question about Bill Clinton with, “Who was the next president?” Google is stumped. Its ability to hold context means that it can only hold a conversation as long as you stick within some narrow parameters. Clearly search has not reached Her status – as envisioned by Spike Jonze. Most people are not in danger of mistaking Google for a love interest. Still, the system’s current competence is quite a feat considering it happens to be ‘conversing’ and interfacing with millions of people at once.

Amit Singhal, however, believes that the current situation is just a stepping-stone, and that natural, ‘frictionless’ conversation with a computer is an attainable goal.

We interviewed Amit Singhal at Google HQ in 2013. He’s a personable guy with a positive outlook on the future, as well as a staunch belief that information science & search can allow humanity to be, essentially, more human.

Amit Singhal (at Google): Constructing the Conversational Computer from Galactic Public Archives on Vimeo.

During our conversation Amit said that the challenge is finding the missing “intelligent connections” that humans can make and computers can’t – the missing links between today’s search and a true conversational machine. Amit and his team are working on algorithms to allow computers to build those connections.

These videos, and others in the Galactic Public Archives are compiled from our conversations with inventors, scientists, visionaries and thinkers who have compelling visions of the future, in conjunction with 2030, an upcoming film about the future. Discover more GPA videos at Vimeo.com/GalacticPublicArchives.

*Guest Author: Ellen Boss at The Galactic Public Archives




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February 27th, 2014 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Art & Society, Education, Innovation | 1 Comment

Future Day March 1, 2014 – Join In

Two years ago a movement was born – to declare March 1 each year as “Future Day.” We here at Futurist.com are primarily interested in helping people create, choose, shape their preferred future. The Future Day concept is a perfect opportunity to focus on that. A variety of celebrations and activities are planed literally around the world on just the second year of this effort. We will be dropping by a Seattle activity. Our Futurist.com colleague Ramez Naam will be joining a Future Day event in Turkey. Check the events out and see if there is something going on your area!

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January 17th, 2014 | By Contributing Writer | Posted in Art & Society, Innovation | Comments Off

The Future of Pregnancy

pregnancy pic

Image source: iamnotthebabysitter.com

By Guest Author Alex Pejak

Pregnancy and the process of childbirth have come a long way in the past century or so, and huge advancements are happening more and more frequently that make pregnancy safer for the mother and the baby. In the mid-1800s, the mortality rate of women during childbirth was greater than 1 in 10, even at some of the world’s top hospitals at the time. With modern medicine and hospitals, that number is closer to 1 in 10,000 now. The entire process of pregnancy and giving birth will undoubtedly get even safer as technology and medicine advance further, and pregnancy is also going to change and evolve in other ways besides just safety.

Let’s take a look at the future (and present) of pregnancy, including such topics as choosing the sex of your baby, prescreening for diseases, and fertilization techniques that allow couples to have babies though they wouldn’t have been able to in the past for numerous reasons.

Current Achievements in Pregnancy

You don’t have to look far into the future to find some very interesting advancements that have taken place when it comes to pregnancy. Before we start to look at what’s coming up on the horizon, let’s discuss what’s currently taking place with PGD.

PGD stands for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, also known as embryo screening, which is a process that has been practiced since the 1990s. You can think of this as a type of filtering process in which a three-day-old embryo has its six cells tested to see if it contains any genetic markers that would indicate the potential for disease. Only the embryos that have tested negative for signs of disease would be implanted into the womb of the mother. As such, the likelihood of the baby being born with disease is reduced. This process has been improving, and it opens the doors to all sorts of other options for selective reproduction in which parents could choose other traits for their children as well, such as gender, height, and a lot more.

Let’s not forget the 3/4d ultrasound, which gives us a much clearer image of the baby. It wasn’t that long ago that there weren’t any ultra sound photos at all, but the level of detail we can see today is very impressive.

What’s In Store In The Future for Pregnancy?

Undoubtedly, pregnancy is going to become even safer as time passes. Even though it’s become much safer than it was, becoming pregnant remains the single most dangerous thing a woman can do, statistically. According to ABC News, approximately 1000 women die each day giving birth, mostly due to bleeding or infections.  Safety isn’t the only thing that’s going to change as the future draws nearer, however, so let’s take a look at advancements when it comes to being able to “design” your baby, artificial wombs and more.

Designer Babies

In this day and age it’s possible to customize everything from a cellphone case, to a t-shirt, to a home. What’s next, designer babies? Yes, quite possibly, but it doesn’t quite work how many people might imagine. It’s not a matter of filling out a checklist that says “I want a male baby that grows up to be six feet tall, with blonde hair, a lean body type, and a fondness for mathematics and science.” That’s just not how genetics work, however if you recall the process of “filtering” embryos to select the ones that are disease free, the process of choosing other traits could work similarly.

We aren’t there yet, scientifically, and it poses a lot of moral questions as well. Some argue this is creating even more of a barrier between the haves and the have-nots, where wealthy people will be able to selectively design “premium” babies that have all sorts of advantages, essentially rigging the genetic lottery in their favor. In general, people are a lot more comfortable with screening for diseases than screening for blonde hair or pretty eyes.

In some countries, a similar process can be used to help ensure that the mother gives birth to whichever gender she chooses for her child. Many people from Australia and around the world will travel to California, where this in vitro fertilization process costs roughly $30,000, but the price tag doesn’t matter for parents who are desperate to choose the gender of their baby. It’s worth nothing that there are no guarantees that this process will work.

Easier To Get Pregnant

Many couples still struggle with fertility. They’re not concerned with pre-screening for diseases or choosing exactly how they want their baby to look, their major concern is simply to bring new life into this world. When one partner suffers from infertility, it can cause a major strain on even the healthiest of relationships. Here’s what Alan Trounson has said on the topic, “I think it will be possible that we’ll be able to extend the fertile period for women by producing germ cells from iPS technology, or by a variant of nuclear transfer, so somatic cells [which make up most of the body's cells] become germ cells and are refreshed genetically.”

This will make the fertilization process easier for some couples who are struggling with it, but as with most things when it comes to changing how nature intended pregnancy to work, there are moral concerns. On the topic of morality and ethics, Mr. Trounson says, “Ethics keeps moving. What was once seen as dangerous goes on to be seen as within the confines of acceptable risk. Probably the major development in the field will come from something we’ve never thought about.”

The End of Infertility – Artificial Wombs, Eggs and Sperm

As we blaze trails medically and scientifically in the 21st century, parenthood and raising their own children is becoming a possibility for couples who previously wouldn’t have had the opportunity. Homosexual couples, for example, currently have to find a woman who is willing to carry their child for them, however the idea of artificial wombs is making a huge splash. As you can imagine, similar to most of the things we’ve discussed thus far, this is a controversial topic. However, when you bear in mind the fact that pregnancy is the most common cause of death amongst women, and the fact that an artificial womb offers a solution for women with fertility difficulties, it’s likely only a matter of time until this concept is widely accepted in society.

Final Thoughts on the Future of Pregnancy

Nobody has a crystal ball and we can’t predict the future, but as the human race moves forward, there’s no doubt that the way women get pregnant and the ways that they are able to deliver their babies are going to continue to evolve and change. One hundred years ago, who would have predicted what the face of pregnancy would look like today? Now fast forward another 100 years, who knows what’s in store?

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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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