Archive for the 'Futurism' Category

2013 Predictions Revisited!

So last New Year’s, I made a bunch of predictions about what would happen during 2013. Let’s take a look and see how well I did:

   1) North Korean aggression will spark a Second Korean War. The war will quickly turn nuclear and end badly for North Korea.

Well, unless there’s been some secret war that’s been going on, I think this one didn’t turn out to be true. I suppose that’s a good thing.

Score: 0/1

   2) A star will go supernova and will be brighter than Sirius in the night sky.

Nope. I’m sure a star went supernova somewhere (in fact, given the sheer number of stars in the universe, about 2,500 went supernova while reading this sentence), but no visible supernovae are to be seen.

Score: 0/2

   3) There will be a massive earthquake in Europe.

A cursory search reveals that the most massive earthquake that occurred in Europe was a 6.4-magnitude quake in Greece on October 12th. Since that is relatively massive, I’m going to take that as a hit.

Score: 1/3

   4) The iPhone 6 (or 5S, whatever they call it) will be released and be a flop.

The iPhone 5S (as well as the lower-market 5C) was indeed released in 2013, but it seemed to sell as well as its predecessors, and got generally positive reviews.

Score: 1/4

   5) Astronomers will measure the existence of molecular oxygen in the atmosphere of an Earth-sized extrasolar planet, thus showing that it contains life.

This would have been massive news if it had occurred, so it’s obvious that this is a miss. Several extrasolar planets did have their atmospheric compositions measure, however, detecting such things as water vapor, but these were massive Jupiter-sized planets or larger.

On a slightly more serious note, I think this method is the most likely way that we’ll initially discover extraterrestrial life. All it takes is pointing it at the right star and doing the difficult work of picking out the planet’s light from the star’s. I honestly think that by 2020, we’ll probably know for relative certainty that there is extraterrestrial life, and that it exists on a given extrasolar planet.

Score: 1/5

   6) There will be a near-miss from an asteroid that will swing by Earth and come less than 10,000 km to the surface. It will not be discovered until after it has passed.

I couldn’t find an asteroid that specifically came within 10,000 km, of course that doesn’t mean one didn’t happen. There was, obviously, a relatively large one that did hit us on February 15th, in Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia, causing some 1,000 injuries to people on the ground. It wouldn’t really count as a “near-miss”, but when you think about it, doesn’t a “near-miss” imply it didn’t miss…:) I’m going to count it, literally in this case, as a hit.

Score: 2/6

And now on to the celebrity deaths:

   1) Sylvia Browne

BOOM! Sylvia Browne died November 20th. This was the one I wanted the most. It may seem awful to wish that someone would die, then be happy when they actually do, but Sylvia Browne was probably one of the worst human beings to have ever lived. She would emotionally manipulate grieving people to line her pockets with cash, and didn’t give a crap about it. She would unhesitatingly tell parents of missing children that they were dead, subjected to horrible fates like being sold into sex-slavery in Asia, or even that they were still alive when they turned out to be dead the whole time. She totally knew what she was doing, knew she was ruining people’s lives, and all she could say was, “Screw ’em. Anybody who believes this stuff oughtta be taken.

Funnily enough, she predicted she would die at age 88. She was only 77 when she died.

Score: 3/7

   2) Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI

Well, Joseph Ratzinger is still with us on this Earth, but he did resign as pope, and is now styled as Pope Emeritus. Therefore, the pope did “die” in some sort of way…

Score: 4/8

   3) One of the Kardashians

I’m sure if you trace the family line back far enough, you could find a relative of the family that passed away, but nobody really notable died. I was mainly thinking of someone who would otherwise make the cover of People magazine.

Final Score: 4/9

So a 44% hit rate. I suppose if you were to relax the criteria, for example counting some Kardashian relative, or saying supernova did happen out there somewhere, I could claim a higher score. To really prove that any of the predictions made were false would basically involve proving a negative, which is pretty much impossible.

That’s the crucial thing in all this. To claim something is true, you need to have evidence to back it up. If you don’t have any, then there’s no reason to believe the claim in the first place.

Coming soon, predictions for 2014!

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2013 Predictions

Every year, around New Year’s, numerous alleged psychics will come up with predictions for the next year. They are almost universally either fantastical things that never happen, completely ridiculous pseudoscientific things (to the point where the prediction itself has no meaning), or relatively high-probably things that later seem specific.

So I decided why not come out with a fun list of predictions myself? I’m just as “psychic” as these other people claim to be (i.e. not at all) so if they can do it, I can do it too. Now, I’m not making these anywhere as strong as other predictions I’ve made. These are just for fun and to show how anyone can claim to be psychic with only very flimsy evidence behind it. Anyway, here they are:

1) North Korean aggression will spark a Second Korean War. The war will quickly turn nuclear and end badly for North Korea.

2) A star will go supernova and will be brighter than Sirius in the night sky.

3) There will be a massive earthquake in Europe.

4) The iPhone 6 (or 5S, whatever they call it) will be released and be a flop.

5) Astronomers will measure the existence of molecular oxygen in the atmosphere of an Earth-sized extrasolar planet, thus showing that it contains life.

6) There will be a near-miss from an asteroid that will swing by Earth and come less than 10,000 km to the surface. It will not be discovered until after it has passed.

Celebrity Deaths:

1) Sylvia Brown (please, please, please)

2) Joey Ratz, aka, Pope Benedict XVI

3) One of the Kardashians

Ok, so there it all is. Furthermore I will do something that no alleged psychic has ever done: after January 1, 2014 I will systematically go through and determine which of my predictions, if any, I got right.

Revision: Cell Phones in 2025

I was thinking about my post where I predicted how cell phones would evolve to by 2030. While some of it may seem out there, other parts are pretty much already here. Voice command is becoming very common, as are touch screens. They’re even developing flexible electronics and computer screens.

So really, I think my prediction was a bit too conservative. Here’s what I think now. If you’ll notice, I’m also moving the timeline up a few years just because I think it can likely happen by then.

My prediction is this: new cell phones will, by and large, disappear by 2025. Yes, I think that a technology like Google’s Project Glass will completely supplant cell phones. There will probably still be cell phones around, of course, but they’ll be older models, maybe also cheap pre-paid ones. But the new, high-end cell phones won’t actually be hand-held devices like today (and they very likely won’t be called “cell phones”). The common status symbol of the past 25 years or so will be relegated to history.

Here’s how they’ll work. You’ll have your headset, or whatever it’ll be called, and you’ll be able to interact with it via voice command. But there’s another way in which you’ll also control it: by pressing buttons projected onto a surface. How? Well, take a look at this video:

The technology already exists. In fact, you probably won’t even have to actually project it, enabling everyone around you to see it. The projection itself will probably be completely within the headset and only you will be able to see it. The headset will be able to see what you’re pressing and where and will be able to match it to the appropriate virtual control. To the bystander, it’ll seem as if you’re pressing a blank wall. Right now this is technology that, while possible, really doesn’t have a practical application. Headsets give it an application. No other control system (keyboards, touchscreens, mice, etc) will be as useful as this for headsets. And really, it’s not very different from using a touchscreen, so I think adoption won’t be much of a problem.

Another interesting improvement will be the elimination of “talking-to-yourself-syndrome”. We’ve all seen people on Bluetooth who are using their phone. It’s jarring but we’ve sort of gotten used to it. The advantage of being on you head, though, is that you can run a ine down the neck and detect movement. Thus, simply mouthing words (with your mouth closed, too, so others can’t even tell you’re talking), the headset will be able to understand you. Seem strange? Well, again, it’s already existing technology:

It’s a bit limited now, but given a decade of R&D and about 1000-fold increase in processing power between now and then, it will likely be as reliable as talking to someone in real-time. And again, while this may be a somewhat pointless and obtrusive technology now (“you mean I’ve got to put that collar on to use it?”) if you’ve already got something on your head it’s not as big of a step (and it will almost certainly be a lot smaller, less obtrusive, and more discreet).

The cell phones of 2025 will not be anything like the cell phones of today. They will be light-weight, unobtrusive headsets that will be able to do all the things cell phones do today: make calls, send texts (dictated), surf the internet, download new apps, etc. And it will bring us one step closer to fully immersive virtual reality. Personal headsets can be the enabling technology where true, interactive, public virtual reality will begin, once they’re adopted.

Project Glass

Last July, I described how we could go from today’s technology to fully-immersive virtual reality in only two steps. Well, it now seems that step two is well on the way, having apparently skipped over step one.

Google has announced that they are working on, essentially, augmented reality glasses. Of course, technology like this has been worked on for decades with little to show for it. But this seems, possibly, different. This this time, it is a large high-tech company with a track record of producing practical and highly profitable technological innovations. If anyone has a shot to making these glasses widely available it’s them.

Second, take a look at this video:

Absolutely everything that is shown is what smart phones do today: listening to music, taking pictures, making phone/video calls, getting weather, looking up info online,  texting…it’s like wearing an iPhone on your head.

Furthermore, and something I stressed in my former post, it is very lightweight, and not cumbersome at all to use, like a real pair of glasses. This is essential. If it was a giant bulky headset, no one would want to buy it, no matter what it did. Plus, when not using it, you can still see where you’re going. You don’t even have to take it off.

Now, what needs to happen is for someone to make a virtual reality app. Something like Second Life that you can stream through the glasses. True it won’t be fully immersive, and you might need to have some sort of controller hooked into the glasses (note to Google: be sure to include USB or microSD slots), but it is a first step. From there you can build onto it to eventually create fully immersive virtual reality.

Anyway, based on all this, I predict two possible outcomes: 1) Google will introduce these within a few years (2014-15 frame) and make billions, or 2) This will flop by Apple will come out with their own version a little later (2014-17 frame)  and make billions (maybe they can call it the iEye ;)) Either way, the next wave of personal technology is rapidly approaching.

Two Technological Steps Away from Virtual Space

In thinking about how we might get from today’s technology to the technology I’ve envisioned in the future, it’s often useful to work backwards; envisioning how to step back from high technology to lower technology.

For virtual space, it seems that we might accomplish the transition from today with only two “stepping stone” technologies. So, what exactly is virtual space? Simply a fully immersive, artificially created simulation of the world. You can interact with it just as you do the real world. You can see, hear, smell, feel, taste, etc, everything in the simulation just like you would in real life and, above all, have abilities that are impossible in the real world (flight, teleportation, instant creation of anything, etc.) So what would one step back from that be? Maybe a less-immersive type of virtual space.

Like say, portable, light-weight virtual reality glasses. These glasses simply give visual and auditory feedback, like playing a video game, but operated completely through audio and tactile command (with something like a virtual keyboard, which the glasses create, much like what can be done today). These glasses will be used to surf the internet, play games, make video and audio phone call, perhaps even be used to travel though a primitive version of virtual space. They could also be used as a real-world HUD (Heads-Up Display), which can overlay important information about real-world things, appearing on the things themselves (for example, lets say you’re at a restaurant and you don’t know what to get. You might use the glasses to go online, look for reviews of specific dishes, which the glasses will then point out by apparently projecting some sort of highlighting feature on the physical menu in front of you. I say “apparently” because the “projection” is entirely contained between the glasses and your eyes meaning only you can see it).

So how might we get to this technology? Well, I can see it growing directly out of cell phones. Basically, imagine something like this, but as an add-on to cell phones, like Bluetooth. Instead of looking at your screen, the information is relayed by Bluetooth, or similar technology, to these glasses that you are wearing. But you still have the phone and everything on you.

So that would be only two steps: electronic glasses connected to cell phones, electronic glasses without cell phones. The final transition comes at the end. It’s likely that real virtual space won’t come about until people start uploading. The demand just won’t be high enough to encourage a large percent of the population to undergo major surgery just to have the latest high-tech gadget (also, what do you do when the next model comes out a year later? Go through surgery again?). But if you’re uploaded, the transition from one set of virtual space hardware to the next becomes much simpler. Being uploaded means that your mind and your brain will already be easily accessible in the future.

So, what do we need to start on this path? Well the electronic glasses would be a considerable piece of technology in their own right. In order for there to be wide demand of these, they would have to be very similar to existing glasses of today. They would need to be just as light-weight and allow just as much visibility out of them, and be just as easy to take on and take off. They would also have to be very cheap, possibly no more that $100-$200 in today’s money. That might take some time, but we do have a few decades for this to be developed. Maybe in fifteen to twenty years, we’ll all have glasses like these.

Black Hole Power Generator Equations

For those interested here are the equations for the black hole generator. The three main pieces of information we are interested is the black hole’s mass M (in kilograms), the power output P (in Watts), and the time it will take to evaporate (basically, the safety margin) T (in seconds). If you know one, it is possible to obtain the other two:

P = 3.563 x 10^32 / M^2 = 6.838 x 10^21 / T ^ (2/3)

T = 8.407 x 10^-17 * M^3 = 5.654 x 10^32  /  P ^ (3/2)

M = 2.283 x 10^5 * T ^ (1/3) = 1.888 x 10^16 / P ^ (1/2)

Rechecking the numbers it appears I actually made errors in calculating the black hole’s parameters in the previous post, so I went back and corrected them.

Black Hole Power Generator

For the past few days I’ve been kicking around the idea of using a black hole as a power generator. It seems counter-intuitive: a black hole absorbs all matter, right? How would one use it to create power? The answer lies in the fact that all black holes emit what is called Hawking Radiation.

In 1974, Steven Hawking showed that black holes have temperature due to quantum effects, and anything with a temperature above absolute zero will create black-body radiation. This radiation obviously has energy, which comes from the mass of the black hole itself (the details aren’t particularly important, only the big picture). Essentially, black holes will slowly evaporate and thus shrink. Even stranger, as they get smaller, black holes will emit more and more radiation until they have no more mass left and completely disappear.

So, what if we were to construct a black hole and harness this energy as it is emitted? We capture it (more on this in a bit), build, say, power cells around it, use it as a power plant? Now obviously, it would be bad to let the black hole evaporate completely as the power output increases enormously as it shrinks. In a practical sense, the black hole “goes critical” and explodes. So…what if we continually feed it with matter to keep it at a relatively “tame” level? Say we have our black hole, and we’ve tuned it to produce, say, 10 TeraWatts of power, enough to power the Earth. It’s mass would be (if my math skillz haven’t failed me) about 1.9 million 6 million tons and be about one ten-millionth of a billionth two millionths of a billionth (2 x 10^-15) of a centimeter in diameter. 10 TeraWatts means it will lose roughly 0.11 gram per second in radiation and every year it will lose about 3500 kg in mass. If we continually input matter at that same rate, the black hole will remain stable and continually output 10 TeraWatts.

The reason this is so intriguing is because the conversion rate is (theoretically) 100% efficient. We put a kilogram of matter into the black hole, we’ll get (eventually) a kilogram of mass-energy back out, and the black hole will be exactly the same as when we began. Compare this to fusion where the efficiency is only around 0.7%. That’s a huge difference! Even better, any matter at all will work, not just hydrogen and helium. Elements that are past iron on the periodic table are useless for fusion, but work just fine with black hole generator.

Creating such a black hole is left as an exercise to the reader, but here’s how you hold it. Well you actually don’t have to “hold” it. If you’re building this power generator in space, you can just let the black hole freely orbit the Sun or the Earth and construct your power collectors around it, but it wouldn’t be very mobile. If you actually wanted to take it with you, you could initially feed the black hole with some amount of electrically-charged matter. If a black hole swallows an electron, the black hole itself will then have a negative charge. You can use this fact to electrostatically levitate the black hole, like how if you stack two magnets on a stick with the same poles pointing towards each other, one will stay hovering above the other in mid-air.  Neat huh? One just needs to continually input charged particles to keep the charge on it.

Even the threat of the black hole “going critical” is literally very remote. If left to physics alone our hypothetical 6-million-ton black hole won’t actually explode for over 18,000 568,000 years.

Anyway, looking around the web, it seems as though someone has already written a paper on this. I suppose I’ll take it as a good sign that my own musings are paper-worthy material (though in their paper they use the black hole to power a space ship), just the rigor is lacking.