Science March

They came out. They came out in their lab coats. They came out in their rain ponchos. They came out in their Starfleet uniforms. They came out in their Ms. Frizzle and Captain Planet outfits. Even The Doctor came out. They came out with signs, and slogans, and science-jokes. Yes they did, despite the rain and the heat and the cold. Scientists and science-supporters alike all came out for this past weekend’s Science March. In similiar fashion to the Woman’s March, April 22nd’s March for Science took place, not just in Washington DC, but across the nation and across the world. Over 15,000 marched in Washington; 12,000 in Los Angeles; 20,000 in New York, 40,000 in Chicago, and even 2,000 in Oklahoma City. Over 600 marches took place on Saturday, not just in the United States but also in cities like London, Sydney, Auckland, and more. 10,000 people marched in Philadelphia, which included a few members of the NYRD staff.

The Science March was not a condemnation of anyone or anything -not even the Orangeman-in-Chief. No, it was about supporting science and science-based reasoning. It was, as the organizers put it, “political, but not partisan.” However, we also must acknowledge that these marches are in response to many of the policies of Donald Trump and his top law makers in the Senate and Congress. Scott Pruit, the EPA chief, is a known climate-denier. The Donald is threatening to cut science spending by more than 10% in his budget proposal. Climate change is continuously questioned by the GOP. And all of these are cases of lawmakers not understanding or downright denying real and verifiable facts. These reasons, and more, are why we need events like the Science March.

Scientists are not always known for their politics. In fact, when the Science March was first conceived there was an argument over whether it was a worthwhile idea. Many people hesitate to politicize science anymore than it already has been, but the truth is that if scientists are not part of the policy conversation, than they have no notable impact in the decisions being made. The Science March is a march of necessity, made in hopes of making a better and more rational future. However, Saturday’s demonstrations were only the beginning. Now the real work must commence.

Take a look at the gallery below to see some of Saturday’s marchers and the causes that rallied them on a rainy weekend morning in the city of brotherly love. Don’t forget to share and do your part to support science-based policy.

automation

The machines are growing. They are getting smarter, and they are coming… for your jobs. We have experienced scares in automation before, but now we are finding ourselves faced with a future of smart phones, smart cars, smart everything. Don’t be fooled. Skynet is going to take over, but it’s not going to enslave humanity so much as make it obsolete, at least in the workplace. Before you know it, you could find yourself terminated, and unlike any movie featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, this means less of “joining the human resistance,” and more of “joining the human unemployment line.”

A New Virus for McAfee
According to Andrew McAfee in his book The Second Machine Age, we find ourselves in the midst of a machine revolution. This is not the type that takes control of our nuclear launch codes and sends oddly quixotic bipedal robots to attack us. No, this revolution has to do with the automation of our lives. If Google cars can replace taxi drivers, and software can replace computer coders, than we are heading toward a world where the machines will no longer need us. We’ll be like an old operating system on an iPhone, obsolete and full of bad choices. Robots, automation, and software are getting to the point where they can do our jobs better, faster, more accurate, and -more importantly- cheaper, and the best example of this lies with self-driving cars.

They are already real and they already work, well sort of. Some estimates say that there will be about 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020. For many that means being able to watch Harry Potter while driving. However, for truck drivers, bus drivers, cab drivers, construction equipment operators, garbage truck drivers, and many more like them, this automation means unemployment. This group will possess an entire skill set that is no longer required in the economy. Consider that conservative estimates put current transportation jobs as employing a little over 3.5 million people in the US, but this new technology could cost as many as 10 million people their jobs. For instance, the auto-parts industry employs almost 1 million people, many who will be downsized. This new trend also have the potential to drop the number of cars on the road from 245 million to just 2.4 million vehicles. So, the auto-insurance industry, the rental car industry, the used car dealers, even the parking lot industry, are all going to take hits. That is a lot of people out of work, and its just the tip of the iceberg.

Blue collar, white collar, professional, and even creative jobs are all at risk. There is software that can take care of payroll, budgeting, advertising, and even human resource problems. There are computers that can answer the phone, sound human, and be responsive enough to solve people’s problems. Computer programs can even write stories, news articles, and compose music. Computers are even being given the capability to write and improve computer code, including their own -which admittedly seems by Cyberdyne to us. However, it also means that even the jobs that create computers which threaten your job, could themselves be threatened by automation downsizing. As for doctors and lawyers, they have an app for that. With the advent of wearable biometric technology -such as FitBits- you are no longer going to need to have regular physician check-ups. Your phone will be able to tell you everything from your cholesterol to your blood type. It will warn you of an impending heart attack or diagnose that sniffle you woke up with. You may still have to see an actual specialized doctor for serious issues, but general practitioners will eventually become a thing of the past. Similarly, there will still be lawyers, but all the grunt work of law will be done by computers, not interns or pre-law students, or even Charlie who has failed to make partner for thirty years. Less lawyers, less doctors, less teachers, less policeman, janitors, grocery store clerks… Hasta La Vista.

Resistance is Futile and Unnecessary
Conservative estimates put unemployment rates in this new economy at 20%, but it could run as high as 75% in the long term. So what do we do? How do we fix this automation annihilation?… Maybe we do nothing. Anything we try to do to bolster a human driven economy over automation is only going to delay the inevitable and perpetuate the dangerous idea that humans have no purpose in life but to work. After all, why the hell do we work forty or fifty years at jobs we barely tolerate? What do we get out of it? Satisfaction? Maybe if you’re one of the lucky ones. Even worse, we condition ourselves to believe that it is our employment that makes us useful or fulfilled. We make work to make jobs to make more work to make even more jobs. How many people often retire and have no idea what to do with themselves? It is because they have been conditioned to think that they need to work and they have never experienced a world where that was never true. Jobs are -in essence- prison walls. “First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”

Back in our hunter-gather days, estimates put an average day’s work anywhere between four and six hours. -Of course 25-30% of hunter-gathers also died by homicide, but that’s a whole other issue- The point is that we have to ask ourselves if the purpose of human life is to sit behind a desk, earn a wage, pay into a pension, and wait for death once you retire? Twenty years ago, futurist believed that we would only be working about a 25 hour work week, because we would have things like 24-hour access to our messages, devices that would let us work from anywhere, and computers that could take a lot of the necessary grunt work out of our lives… Well, they were right about everything, except the length of our work week. Even with our automation it stayed at 40-hours, not because of necessity, but because of fear and tradition. It is arguable that our current 40-hour work week does more harm than good, yet we cling to it, because of fear: fear of poverty, fear of the unknown, but also fear of uselessness. So maybe a robot uprising is not the worst thing that can happen to a lot of people. After all, there will be plenty of work to do in the human resistance… or you’ll just be dead, but to many that might be more preferable to being obsolete. Because without work, what would be do?

Answer: The Impossible
As automation improves there will be economical difficulties. Our products will become cheaper, faster, and more disposable. Yet, that doesn’t mean all the problems will be solved. If we find ourselves in a world  with 75% unemployment, welfare is going to skyrocket and possibly collapse. With this new world, our economical thinking will have to be adjusted, and maybe it is time to revisit an idea that Nixon himself once suggested. A Guaranteed Minimum Income would give everyone over the age of 18 or 21 a small base annual income and take the place of Social Security, Welfare, and Unemployment. In 2006, conservative intellectual, Charles Murray, suggested eliminating all welfare transfer programs and substituting an annual $10,000 cash grant to everyone 21 years and older. The Alaska Permanent Fund does just that. It’s not communism, as people can make additional money on top of a minimum income, but it is a small cushion to help people, especially those who have been terminated by a toaster.

We do not mean to get too preachy here, but it must be said that maybe it is time we start basing our society, our lives, and our purpose on this planet a o more than mere acquisition of wealth and material. That is an instinct within us that stems from days when resources were scarce and each winter was a struggle. The US is a society of abundance -not for everybody but certainly the majority- and that is only going to grow as technologies like 3D printers, automation, and robot overlords give us what we want for pennies instead of dollars. Maybe it is time to find new meaning in life, especially in the United States. Maybe it is time to look toward the acquisition of knowledge, the creation of creativity, or the ability to help others as the driving forces behind society. We’ve talked a lot about Terminator, but maybe to get answers we really need to look to Star Trek.

Boldly Not Going to Work
The Federation, is a society built not upon commerce or greed but upon discovery and the maximum potential of humanity. They are not driven by the need for objects or money, because why would they be? They don’t need or want anything. You want ice cream? Boom… replicator makes you ice cream. You want to go to the beach? Boom… teleporter. You want the latest fashion? Download them and replicate them… Boom… The only thing left to them to get excited about or hungry for is discovery and creation. Art, music, poetry, and science are the driving factors of the Federation… And the occasional Borg invasion. Some utopian Earth of automation is not going to happen in the next fifty years, but does that mean it is not a worthwhile goal. It may seem overly optimistic, but when you think of the future, wouldn’t you rather shoot for the optimism of the Federation over the ruin of Skynet?

Either way, we need to prepare for what is coming, because like a bad sequel starring Jai Courtney the automated economy is going to keep coming up again and again in the near future. It’ll be back…

Venus

We do an awful lot of talking about Mars, and sometimes it seems like we forget about Earth’s closest neighbor, Venus. That needs to change, because it is just as interesting as the Red Planet. They call Venus the Morning Star, because it can still be seen with the rising morning sun. Oddly, enough the Morning Star in Latin is Lucifer, and some Christian traditions have linked the word with the Devil. Maybe that is appropriate, as Venus’ surface it is comprised of sulfuric acid clouds, and temperatures that can reach 462 degrees Celsius or 864 degrees Fahrenheit. So basically it’s hell, but recent studies have found that the planet may not have always been like that. In fact, in the ancient past it may been something better suited for a goddess of love than the representation of evil incarnate. Either way, maybe its time we get a closer look.

Venus de Melting Pot
Venus takes 224 days to orbit the Sun. On average the planet is 40 million kilometers or 25 million miles away from Earth, making its closest approach every 584 days. Compare that to Mars, which when at its closest to Earth is still 54.6 million kilometers or 33.9 million miles away from us. The planet Venus is also roughly the same size as ours, about 12,104 kilometers or 7,521 miles in diameter, which is 0.95 times that of the Earth. It’s mass is also 0.81 times that of our home. Both planets seem to be relatively young -cosmological speaking- but our closest neighbor rotates slower than Earth and in the opposite direction as we do. It takes about 117 Earth days for the planet to complete one rotation.

However, what most people talk about when they talk about Venus is its thick greenhouse atmosphere. The planet has several kilometers of deep layers of clouds, mostly comprised of sulfuric acid. It contains about 0.1 to 0.4 percent water vapor, and 60 parts per million free oxygen. The atmosphere is made up of mostly carbon dioxide, and according to findings by two Russian Venera probes lightning is extremely common. Massive electrical strikes happen about 10 times per second in the Venusian atmosphere. The surface -if you can reach it- is mostly of rolling hills and active volcanoes. The highest peak is 11 kilometers or 6.8 miles, and is located in the Maxwell Mountains. It is also worth noting that these mountains -named after astronomer James Clerk Maxwell- are the only features of the planet named after a man. The majority of features on the planet are named after women, as per the rules set down by the International Astronomical Union. Most scientists believe that the Venus has tectonic plates, like those on Earth, and the core of the planet is iron surrounded by a molten rock mantle. However, unlike Earth Venus doesn’t have a magnetosphere, which means it is more exposed to cosmic radiation and solar activity.

Venus not Venice
However, our neighbor wasn’t always the hellish landscape of heat, volcanoes, and death that it is today. A recent report suggests that for 2 billions years of its early history Venus may have been a heck of a lot like Earth. Shallow oceans, puffy white clouds, and possibly even sufficiently temperate climates to create life. The trace amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere always hinted that the planet could have once had oceans, but most scientists believed that Venus was too close to the sun to sustain liquid water for long, believing that constant evaporation would have proved too large a problem. However, recent computer modeling seems to confirm that it would have been possible even with the planet’s slow rotation.

This also hints that 2 to 3 billion years ago the sun may have been 30% dimmer, thus easing the evaporation effects for the young planet. Even so Venus was still receiving about 40% more sunlight than Earth does today, but according to some scientists those conditions would have still resulted in a stable, warm, and wet climate that would have created thin a cloud cover that blocked UV radiation and kept the surface a few degrees cooler than modern Earth. Venus’ current state is theorized to be a result of several factors. First the increasing brightness of the sun would have certainly sped up the evaporation cycle. The ultra-violet radiation breaks down the water vapor and releases hydrogen into space, which has led to a carbon dioxide build up over billions of years. Also, intense volcanic activity in the lowland regions was very likely a big contributing factor. This all would have resulted in a feedback loop that sped up the process even further. Thus, the greenhouse gases grew out of control and resulted in the thick and acidic atmosphere of today.

Home Sweet Venus
Of all the planets Venus is the first planet humans ever sent probes to, starting in 1961, but penetrating the clouds has always proven to be difficult. There have more than 20 missions to Venus, and a lot of unsuccessful ones. The most interesting missions tend to be the Soviet Venera missions between 1961 and 1983. They included orbiters, landers, and even balloons to study the atmosphere. Most probes could not survive more than an hour inside the planet’s atmosphere, even those designed for intense heat and pressure quickly succumb to the hellish conditions. That means we do not have anything on Venus comparable to Curiosity or the other Mar’s rovers, but we do actually have some pictures of the surface… Yes, we know what the surface of Venus looks like and you can Google it.

venus-2Yet, despite the incredibly hostile conditions there is a growing contingent of NASA scientists that believe the planet might be ripe for manned missions, and even colonization. In a now famous report by Geoffrey Landis, it is suggest that humans don’t colonize the surface but the skies of our sister world. At about 50 kilometers or 30 miles above the surface the planet’s atmosphere is the most Earth-like place found in the solar system- outside of… you know… Earth. Floating zeppelins would allow scientists to conduct research, live, and work, on a planet that has similiar gravity, atmospheric pressure, and even enough protection from solar and cosmic radiation to provide for relative safety for the people living and working there. Additionally, since oxygen is lighter than the Venusian atmosphere, the balloons could float and be breathable for the colonists at the same time. The entire area of the blimps could be habitable for explorers.

Venus’ relative proximity to Earth compared to Mars, also means that travel times would be decidedly less. The missions would be cheaper and have less transit time through space for humans. That is a good thing, as one of the biggest technological challenges we are having with a Mars mission is the amount of cosmic radiation that astronauts will be exposed to during the 6 to 8 month transit period. Going to Venus would only takes 3 months using today’s technology. That is still not ideal but it does mean that humans are left exposed for less than half the time. Also -and we’re just going to throw this out there- we could have Cloud City.

All in all whether you think Venus is a love goddess or a living hell, you have to admit that it’s a pretty interesting place. Who knows maybe we might even live there someday. Just call us Lando Calrissian.


Image Courtesy: http://www.geek.com/science/what-would-it-be-like-to-stand-on-the-surface-of-venus-1597652/
Simulation Hypothesis

With the release of Deadpool this weekend we here at The NYRD thought it might be a good time to dive into some of the science behind… What’s that sound? Oh no, not him again.

Here’s Johnny!.. You called me name?

I only said it once.

That’s all it takes. Who do I look like Michael Keaton?

*Sounds of a Scuffle*

Hey folks and folkettes its your friendly neighborhood Deadpool here. The original writer of this Internet swill has found himself a bit tied up…

*Muffled screams coming from the closet*

…So I thought I’d take it from here. With the release of my mega-awesome movie that even Ryan Reynolds should not be able to screw up, I thought we should talk about one of the things that makes me so special, my katanas -I love them so much- but seriously I have been known to break the fourth wall on occasion. So I thought I would return the favor and help you mindless meat sacks do the same. Now it’s time to talk today about a little thing called the Simulation Hypothesis…. Muah ha ha ha… MUAH HA HA HA… *cough* Sorry had something in my throat.

The Professor X Factor
What is it that bald starship captain once said, “All this might just be an elaborate simulation, running inside a little device sitting on someone’s table?” Hey, did you ever notice he looks suspiciously like Professor X? Also, he’s not wrong. Star Trek is a TV show. Unlike you and me, that bald captain and his bearded first officer are fake. They’re only simulations, fictions in a fictitious world. A world, by the way, that is waaay better than those crappy Abrams movies. Not that I watch Star Trek, or anything, but I wouldn’t mind getting a night on the holodeck with Counselor Troi. I got a thing for girls who can read minds… I’d be like, “Hey baby, want to feel my emotions” as I pointed to my crotch, and she’d be like, “I’m wearing a phaser,” and I’d be like… Wait. Sorry, folks. I’m getting distracted.

Did you ever stop to think that maybe your reality is fake too? Now, now, just hear me out on this. I have a well thought-out and cogent argument: “You can’t prove that it, nah nah nah nah nah nah.” Think about it. It’s almost impossible to prove a negative, which is a negative statement itself, therefore its impossible to prove that you can’t prove a negative, but if you can’t not prove it then you can prove it? Ah screw it, because what I and other smarty smart people really mean is that there is a lack of evidence to disprove the Simulation Hypothesis. After all, the simulation itself would hide that information from us or make it so that we saw any discrepancies as normal, which is why I am a genius.

Seriously, look at old Tony Stark or even Reed Richards. Mr. Fantastic thinks he’s so… fantastic, but you and I know better. He has no idea he’s living in a comic book or in a critically and audience panned movie reboot starring that Facebook guy, but old Deadpool knows the difference. The Silver Surfer may have the power of Cosmic Awareness, but I have Comic Awareness. Even my old pal, Logan, thinks I’m crazy -and he’s had more people poking around his brain than the Sunday buffet line at Red Lobster- They’re all just afraid to accept the truth, I may be the sanest of them all. Isn’t that a scary thought, and here are some more:

What is the Matrix… Now, I’ll Take Dead Comic Characters for 200, Alex
If all of this is sounding like a Keenu Reeves movie then you’re wrong. It is nothing like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. What it does sound like is The Matrix and there is a reason for that. The creator of the Simulation Hypothesis, Dr. Nicholas Bostrom didn’t come up with this idea until 2003, thus ruining people’s grasp on reality the same year that The Matrix Revolutions ruined people’s grasp on a good franchise. Now, I’m not saying he stole the idea from Keenu, but I am also not not saying it. Nick “The Boss” Bostrom -that should totally be his nickname- came up with the idea that we’re all living like a bunch of Sims, except with less magic pool ladder removals. C’mon, you know you’ve done it. I once constructed a small room where I kept my sim for 8 weeks, only allowing them to live on bare minimum food and water till they slowly went crazy, or wait, was that my housekeeper? Truly, life is a strange and mysterious place.

So you might be wondering who in their right mind would want to create a computer simulation to watch millions of people basically do nothing with their life but watch cat videos on YouTube? The answer would be aliens or post-humans or intelligent hamsters or something. Basically whatever evolves next on this planet might have an interest in creating simulations of the way things were before the Hamster Apocalypse of 2136. Look at it this way. Is it impossible to believe that a civilization would ever have the technology to create a fictitious world with advanced artificial intelligence programing, whether it be for purposes of learning, experimentation, or just good old fashioned voyeuristic entertainment? According to The Boss and his thought-experiment we have three scenarios to consider:

  1. The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
  2. The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero; or
  3. The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

I am going to say that number 2 is definitely incorrect, because as most of the Internet knows, if we had the technology to create intelligent computer programs we would probably already be running a porn based simulated world, populated by pizza delivery men, pool boys, and naughty school girls. Yet, if we accept number 1 as true, then we also accept that we are real but we’re probably going to do ourselves in before we get to the level of technology needed to create any artificially intelligent girl on girl simulations. So in my foremost expert brilliant opinion it seems that we almost need to accept number 3. If posthuman simulations are numerous and possible it would mean that statistically we are already living in one.

Unlike Neo and Laurence Fisburne, the Simulated Hypothesis does not say that we are actually humans at all. Nor are we living in vats with our brains wired up to giant car batteries, though that does sound like a good afternoon’s diversion. No, the Simulated Hypothesis claims that we are all computer programs, generated by a larger program. In fact, the program could be running at 10x normal speed and we would not even know it, anymore than Keenu knows it when I fast forward my DVD over his parts in Point Break. We did not create the simulation. In fact, it is more likely that the program created you using random code and personality algorithms. The program may not even have an end goal, other than to simulate civilizations. That means free will is still possible, at least to a point. We are not playing this game, we are the game. We’re NPC’s and we do not have any control over our programmed environment, anymore than the simulated ants walking on the ground, at least till their stomped under my heel. Yeah, take that ants. That’ll show you for thinking you’re better than me.

Frank Castle is a Wimp
The Boss Bostrom points out that we could be the first generation of morons to inhabit this planet and that it may be us who will one day create the simulations that are the subject of the Simulation Hypothesis. his ideas are not so much about whether this thought experiment is true, as much as it is about probability. Statistically speaking there could be a whole lot more simulated people than real people. There may even be multiple simulated versions of you and me. Actually I know there are. I’ve met them, like Ultimate Deadpool, that’s guys a jerk, a handsome jerk. The point is that if there are two simulated versions of you and one non-simulated version, than you have a higher probability of being one of the simulated versions. If you believe that humans -or hamsters- will one day possess the technology to create simulated intelligent worlds, populated by billions of simulated people, then you need to accept that the number of simulated people will outweigh that society’s non-simulated ancestors. So, if everyone who ever or will ever exist –simulated or otherwise– guesses that they are the non-simulated versions, then statistically the majority of them will be wrong. Hell, the real world may not even be like our fictional world. We could be living in a world programmed for increased gravity, higher levels of oxygen, or even higher levels of tolerance for bad Spider-Man movies.

Again, there is no real way to test this, other than for some random malware glitch to suddenly turn our world into a hellscape of penis enlargement advertisements and desperate Nigerian princes. Oh what a world that would be… Some argue that we could test it if we find incomplete areas in our simulation. You know, like if there are things that don’t make sense, like dark matter, dark energy, or the appeal of the Kardashian family, but even with that type of thing we could just chalk it up to a lack of scientific knowledge, and reality TV. There is also a theory that says it we figure out how to make our own simulations then our great unseen couch potato masters will probably pull the plug on us. We may never know, because the only way to really test the Simulation Hypothesis is to have an exceptionally long life span. The longer one lives in the simulation the more likely they might be to see the end of it, but barring amazing healing powers and sweet katana skills, like yours truly, most of you will probably not live long enough to prove anything, other than the existence of heart disease.

You see, that’s kind of the point of this idea. We are all only trapped in our own bodies. We only have our own perspectives and experiences to draw from. Everyone else around us might as well be computer characters. That would also explain why I often enjoy playing real-life Mortal Kombat with those hobos near the train tracks. -There used to be a lot more of the- So, who is to say we aren’t all fictional characters in a fictional world created by madmen and DC Comics writers. There’s a scary thought, but it brings me to my real point. Maybe you people need to start being a little more like me. Break the fourth wall, break someone’s perception of reality, or if that doesn’t work, break their jaw. Just do something to show those possibly-overweight-and-over-pimpled computer gods that you’re not content to live in the reality they assigned you. So, go crazy, because we may all just be one spilled can of Mountain Dew away from total annihilation.

Don’t you just love a good thought experiment? Personally, I am usually up for any sort of experimentation, if you get my meaning… You know a lot of people underestimate how scholarly and worldly I can be… Well okay, I basically copied a lot of this wholesale of Wikipedia, but this writing thing isn’t too hard. I don’t know what these NYRDS are always complaining about.

*Muffled yells from the closet*

It has finally arrived in blazing trail of flaming tire marks, October 21, 2015. This day has been hotly anticipated by the Internet, but much like October 20th or September 21st, the truth is that it is a day like any other. We look at the world that Marty McFly visited and part of us wonder why it is so different than our own? Where are our flying cars? Where are my dog-walking drones? And where are the hoverboards? (God knows we’ve tried.) The real fact of the matter is that the future is harder to predict than a comedy movie about about a time traveling DeLorean might have us believe.

Omen, Doc
It is important to remember that there was never a plan for Back to the Future II. It was the commercial success of the original movie that created the sequel, not some grand ideas about the future of the world. Most of the predictions made in that second movie were done for laughs, and yet it is ironic that many of the more comical predictions, like 80’s themed restaurants, where the things that actually came true. Back to the Future never claimed to be an authority on what was to come, and despite that it managed to get more than a few things right, maybe not in practice but principal. For instance, it predicted that Flea would still be around, and who would have guessed that was true.

Prophesizing about the future is hard. Even real scientists and their teenage sidekicks have made incredibly wrong predictions about what is to come, and for some incredibly believable reasons. For decades, whenever we got a new gadget or gizmo that we believed would be the “future of mankind,” our predictions often made that thing bigger and better going forward. After all, if computers were the wave of the future than surely they only continue to grow to the size of buildings? In the 90’s some people believed that arcades would become massive places of entertainment. Yet, we have learned in the past three decades that miniaturization was always more likely, computers got smaller and video games got personal. Even Doc Brown never guessed about things like the Internet, Wi-Fi, or smartphones, because he had never seen them before.

As humans we think we know what will happen because of a common confusion between prediction and hindsight. In 1932 Albert Einsteins  famously said, “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” At the time he was not wrong. It was just that his experiences and understanding of the world of the present made such an act seem feasibly impossible. We don’t have a flying DeLorean to help us see what is coming so we have to rely on our ideas and understanding of past patterns. It’s one of the reasons why we are always predicting doomsday around the next corner. Our personal experiences coupled with unrealistic feelings of nostalgia tell us how much worse things are now, so we must surely be heading for the end times?

ALMANACCultural Flux Capacitor
The changing potential of our future is not limited by our technological achievements. If anything culture is a far greater factor on the development of what our tomorrows look like. Back when George McFly was still busy being a creeper outside his Lea Thompson’s window, people believed that by 2015 we would have robots and easy-clean synthetic materials to help Mom out around the house. All those ideas about the technology that would exists to help out the “little woman” never really accounted for the fact that maybe wives and mothers didn’t want to spend their lives as homemakers. So instead we got technologies like dishwashers and microwaves, conveniences meant to help families with two working parents.

One of the most innovative and flashy technologies of Back to the Future II is the flying car. It’s the kind of invention everyone was waiting for, but it never happened. The truth is that we could probably make it happen with our current level of technology if we were so inclined, but we’re not. In a world of frivolous litigation, high insurance premiums, and fluctuating gas prices a flying car is completely impractical. Think of how much of a hassle it is when you bump another car at a traffic light. Now imagine that you are 2,000 feet up in the air and one or both cars  comes crashing out of the sky and lands on some poor guy’s deck. Somehow we don’t think that even 15 minutes will save you 15% or less on that kind of a fender bender. What the movie failed to guess at was the rise of the electric and self driven cars, which are far more likely in today’s world of climate change and overcrowded highways, because those have become our new priorities and/or frustrations.

Our lives and our culture change ever year. When you were a kid, maybe more than ever you wanted that one special toy, but of course it was way too expensive to get. Now that you are older and have an actual job with a paycheck you could easily afford that toy, but you have other priorities. -Food, rent, video games, etc- We are not saying these new priorities are wrong, just different, and as a kid you never really understood how your life was going to change as you got older. Society is like that, we are constantly changing along with our needs and wants. That is why the predictions of the 50’s are different than the predictions of the 80’s, which are different than the predictions of today. Our understanding and priorities keep shifting. -Though, truthfully, we at the NYRD would still argue that there is always time for toys.-

Marty, The Future Isn’t Written
The back and forth between culture and technology is not a one way street. They are two sides of a coin. In fact it is a little like time travel. When you alter or change the technology you run the risk of altering the culture and the course of our society going forward. So like old Biff and his now outdated sports almanac, every new technology or cultural shift has the potential to create ripple effects that change the trajectory of our future. For instance, in the movie we see that the Marty McFly of the future is still using fax technology in his home. Nowadays we look at that and laugh because, -apparently unlike the screenwriters- we know the true potential of The Internet and how it changed everything.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, which means that if you fail to predict one thing you have the potential of missing everything connected to it. Think about it. If you never conceived of the Internet, then you miss things like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Napster. You also fail to foresee things like the collapse of the music industry, the changing nature of on-demand streaming, Uber and its potential impact on the transportation and car industries, and more. You would have no way of knowing how such things affect today’s youth culture or even geopolitical revolutions. The Internet has changed the way we think of communication, humor, language, navigation, and even knowledge itself. In turn our lives and goals have changed. We no longer leave work at work. Emails follow us around every where, which is something that -arguably- Back to the Future II actually did predict. We also now worry about government surveillance, maintaining online personas, taking pictures of our food, and about writing overly-detailed articles about 30 year old movie franchises and their correlations to modern culture. These are not concerns that Marty was thinking about back when he was jamming out to fresh beats of Huey Lewis and the News, but they are the realities of today.

It is also worth noting that art and movies like Back to the Future have a place in all this. Think about all the products we have developed in the past few years. Nike has created self-tying shoes, Pepsi even created Pepsi Perfect, and of course, there is our seemingly endless quest for hoverboards. Heck, we could write a whole separate article on the technology that inspired by Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction and fantasy movies, comics, books, and television shows. Human beings are dreamers and we almost instinctively look to our fictions, such as Back to the Future, for inspiration. Part of science fiction and movies in general is to help us see worlds we can only dream of and then question how we can achieve them for ourselves.

In essence, we may not always be great about predicting the future, but Great Scott, are we amazing at creating stories that inspire it. So do not despair that we don’t have all the cool things of Marty McFly’s future. Instead, rejoice at what we do have and be thankful that we live in a world where we get to enjoy great works of fiction like Back to the Future, because that is certainly one thing you won’t find in Hill Valley.