Tag Archives: futurism

‘Who Cares about Your Jetpack?’ On the Lack of Women Futurists

When we think about futurism, more often than not it’s robots and hoverboards that spring into our minds. Writing for the Atlantic, Rose Eveleth wonders if our limited vision of the future is a result of white, male geeks dominating the field. What questions would futurism ask were it to become more inclusive?

There are all sorts of firms and companies working to build robotic servants. Chrome butlers, chefs, and housekeepers. But the fantasy of having an indentured servant is a peculiar one to some. “That whole idea of creating robots that are in service to us has always bothered me,” says Nnedi Okorafor, a science fiction author. “I’ve always sided with the robots. That whole idea of creating these creatures that are human-like and then have them be in servitude to us, that is not my fantasy and I find it highly problematic that it would be anyone’s.”

Or take longevity, for example. The idea that people could, or even should, push to lengthen lifespans as far as possible is popular. The life-extension movement, with Aubrey de Gray as one (very bearded) spokesman, has raised millions of dollars to investigate how to extend the lifespan of humans. But this is arguably only an ideal future if you’re in as a comfortable position as his. “Living forever only works if you’re a rich vampire from an Anne Rice novel, which is to say that you have compound interest,” jokes [futurist Madeline] Ashby.

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Is This the Future? What Dinner With a Disney MagicBand Is Like

Disney has spent a billion dollars developing, testing and implementing their new MagicBands, which connect wearers to a vast and unseen system of sensors throughout Disney World. The deceptively simple looking little rubber wristbands are engineered to remove  all of the “friction” from the theme park experience: you can swipe onto rides, avoid long lines, and even purchase a soda, all with a flick of the wrist. Is this the future of invisible technology? And what does it feel like to experience it in action?

Writing for Wired, Cliff Kuang investigated the genesis of the MagicBand, along with the implications of Disney’s billion dollar bet on the technology. In the excerpt below, Kuang describes dinner at Disney World, MagicBand style:

If you’re wearing your Disney MagicBand and you’ve made a reservation, a host will greet you at the drawbridge and already know your name—Welcome Mr. Tanner! She’ll be followed by another smiling person—Sit anywhere you like! Neither will mention that, by some mysterious power, your food will find you.

“It’s like magic!” a woman says to her family as they sit. “How do they find our table?” The dining hall, inspired by Beauty and the Beast, features Baroque details but feels like a large, orderly cafeteria. The couple’s young son flits around the table. After a few minutes, he settles into his chair without actually sitting down, as kids often do. Soon, their food arrives exactly as promised, delivered by a smiling young man pushing an ornately carved serving cart that resembles a display case at an old museum.

It’s surprising how the woman’s sensible question immediately fades, unanswered, in the rising aroma of French onion soup and roast beef sandwiches. This is by design. The family entered a matrix of technology the moment it crossed the moat, one geared toward anticipating their whims without offering the slightest clue how.

How do they find our table? The answer is around their wrists.

Their MagicBands, tech-studded wristbands available to every visitor to the Magic Kingdom, feature a long-range radio that can transmit more than 40 feet in every direction. The hostess, on her modified iPhone, received a signal when the family was just a few paces away. Tanner family inbound! The kitchen also queued up: Two French onion soups, two roast beef sandwiches! When they sat down, a radio receiver in the table picked up the signals from their MagicBands and triangulated their location using another receiver in the ceiling. The server—as in waitperson, not computer array—knew what they ordered before they even approached the restaurant and knew where they were sitting.

 

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The History of the Future: a Reading List

Below is a guest reading list from Daniel A. Gross, journalist-in-residence at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He also writes and produces radio about the lives of stuff and the stuff of life.

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Journalism has been called the first draft of history. Here are 5 technology stories that belong in the second draft. Like a lot of technology journalism, they’re each focused on an emerging future, which at times makes them a bit breathless with excitement. But unlike most technology journalism, these stories have only gotten better with age. They’re sprinkled with uncanny predictions and unexpected depth about the devices we’ve come to take for granted. Read more…