By Scott Feschuk - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 0 Comments
Greetings from the future!
I, a human of a century hence, feel compelled to respond to the wild imaginings contained within this magazine—if indeed that is the correct term for this ancient curiosity, this “Internet with staples.” The definitive historical record of my time, Wikipedia, tells me that several of your “newsweeklies” exist until well into 2013. Good for you, imminent relics!
My point is this: I look at your barbaric 21st-century lives and I have to laugh. I mean that literally—the mood-altering chip put in my brain by the drug companies forces me to guffaw every 98 seconds. Sure, it gets a little awkward during job interviews and funerals but that’s the price you— HAHAHAHAHAHA.
This quirk aside, ours is a HAHAHAHAHAHA—sorry, sometimes it acts up—ours is a superior incarnation of humanity. We’re all in terrific shape. We’ve cured cancer and bedhead. We can live almost forever. On the other hand, so can Donald Trump—so yeah, that pretty much ruins it.
We’ve also conquered time itself and developed the ability to send messages into both the past and future. Although my last love letter to Nefertari wound up in 24th-century Cleveland. This Apple Time Maps app sucks.
I acknowledge that some of the predictions contained within these pages turn out to be accurate. We have indeed found new ways to extract energy from the earth and extend the life of batteries. We had no choice after all the wind turbines got knocked over by idiots in jetpacks.
As for these swarms of tiny robots you envision—they too have come to pass. In recent years, they’ve helped rescue survivors from the sites of countless disasters that they themselves have caused.
And, yes, we today grow our own replacement organs the way that you grow Sea Monkeys. (By the way: why do you grow Sea Monkeys? The ones you pour down the sink grow pretty big over time. And mean. Three of them have been blocking the Panama Canal now for 25 years.)
But much of what you foresee is, to the people of my time, laughably laughable.
For instance, there are many of you—and one moron in particular—who are certain that robots will one day rise up against humankind. As it happens, machines do become self-aware—but turn out to be really great guys. Seriously, they couldn’t be nicer. I’ve got a cousin who plans to get hitched as soon as the definition of marriage is extended to include one person and one toaster.
So there is no “robocalypse.” In fact, our most advanced robots—the ones that developed the capacity to experience emotions—even felt sympathy for humans when 84 per cent of our species was strangled to death in the 2063 rebellion of genetically modified plants. What do you get when you continuously tinker with the genome of a cucumber vine? You get a crisp, tasty, unstoppable killing machine.
Also, the whole “flying car” thing didn’t really work out. We’re as surprised as you are. After all, what could be safer than giving terrible drivers the ability to make poor decisions in literally an infinite number of directions?
My dear halfwits: yours is the age of yearning. You aspire to extend the human lifespan, to make teeth so white as to permanently blind passersby, to live in a world in which all meats are served with bacon on top—even bacon itself. We have achieved these goals. Your primitive minds could not hope to comprehend where we are putting bacon today.
Those of us who survived the cucumber menace lived to forge a new and better society, except for the millions who perished in the global warming floods or the 50-Years Hip-Hop War.
Sure, the advanced machines of our own creation ultimately result in massive unemployment, trigger global fiscal collapse and herald a return to the barter economy. But I wouldn’t trade where I am right now for anything. Unless you have three cigarettes and a roll of duct tape, because then I could buy a chicken.
More important than our many technological achievements is our spiritual growth. We have learned so much about why we are here. In fact, I would venture to say we have discovered the meaning of life—and the meaning of life is HAHAHAHAHA.
By Sarah Elton - Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 6:20 AM - 0 Comments
A new crop of urban farming businesses aims to feed locavores, save the planet—and turn a decent profit
On a rooftop farm in Brooklyn one sunny afternoon, dozens of tomato plants heavy with fruit swayed in the wind, a farmer stooped over rows of dandelion greens and the customers kept coming. They climbed through the door to the 65,000-sq.-foot roof of the Brooklyn Grange Farm, in the city’s navy yards, across the water from Manhattan, and without fail they exclaimed with delight. “I love it. This is beautiful!” said Giovanni Cipolla, a grey-haired man who bought a bunch of dandelion and remarked that the only other place he could buy greens this fresh was Italy.
At the vegetable stand set up in the middle of the roof, with the Manhattan Bridge visible in the distance, another man bought eggplants priced at $4 a pint. “My 99-year-old mother is going to slice them, fry them and make eggplant parmesan,” he said.
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 6:20 AM - 0 Comments
Brain caps that let us speak via our thoughts, cochlear implants that bestow super hearing. And it’s not far away.
A century ago, the design of 21st-century man was unimaginable to anyone but sci-fi writers, and even they didn’t go far enough. No one foresaw a species able to prevent pregnancy with a pill. Or able to snake a wire up an artery to restore bloodflow. No one anticipated the sub-species of “Real Housewives”—women bronzed in tanning beds, filled with silicone and injected with a poisonous toxin to smooth wrinkles.
Such interventions are but a prelude to the human-design innovation to come, predicts Juan Enríquez, founding director of Harvard Business School’s Life Sciences Project. We’ve been given glimpses of that future: the thriving field of regenerative medicine is using stem cells to regrow old organs—and build brand new ones. Cancer patients have received new windpipes built from their own cells; spinal columns are being augmented with polymers. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Edward Boyden’s lab has successfully downloaded a mouse’s memory to a computer, raising all sorts of possibilities for externalizing human memory. Scientists are isolating “high-performance” genes such as ACE, linked to the ability to adapt to high altitudes, and 577R, which is found in most Olympic power athletes. Meanwhile, neuroprosthetics are redefining “bionic man” with artificial limbs powered via little more than a bit of electric current and the person’s thoughts.
Man’s instinct to re-engineer is hard-wired, Enríquez says in an interview with Maclean’s. “We’ve transformed poisonous berries into beautiful heirloom tomatoes,” he says. “We’ve taken wolves and made them into various species of dogs; we’ve taken corn and made it a completely unnatural plant—grains the same size and colour.” And now, in making the human body itself the platform for innovation, we’re propelling the evolution of the species itself. In Homo Evolutis: A Short Tour of Our New Species, an ebook he co-authored with Steve Gullans, Enríquez writes that Homo sapiens have already evolved into “Homo evolutis,” defined as “a hominid that takes direct and deliberate control over the evolution of his species, her species and other species.”
The result, Enríquez says, will be an explosion of various species of varying genetic composition. And soon. Our children or grandchildren, he says, could take different enough biological forms from us to be considered another species entirely.
In conversation, Enríquez dials back his timeline slightly. “Though it takes centuries for entire species populations to separate, you are going to start to see clusters, looking like very different types of things.” The history of genetically modified food offers a model, he says: “Over 20 years, plant life in one place is completely different from another. Grain harvested in Canada is very different than grain harvested in parts of Europe.” New natural selection will hinge on money and government policy: “Some countries will veto procedures like stem cell and gene therapies; others will push for them,” he says. “And you’ll get every type of variety in between.”
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
A new breed of small but complex ‘learning’ robots are set to revolutionize manufacturing and labour
If you want a glimpse of the future of robotics, and you can’t get a tour of NASA’s Ames Research Center, try spilling some lunch on your backyard patio. Depending on time of year and location, the inevitable brigade of ants will materialize, their seemingly random movements growing increasingly co-ordinated as they lug bits of their bonanza away in a martial column—a marvel of low-tech efficiency.
Back in the early 1990s, this scenario inspired a far-fetched idea: what if machines could be taught to do the same thing? A large population of relatively simple robots could “swarm” a task we humans would rather forego, like cleaning a banquet hall. Or mining a coal face. Each could be designed to accomplish the most rudimentary functions, robotics experts theorized, such as gathering, carrying and dropping. They’d be equipped with the capacity to share limited information like the quickest routes, or the location of the next payload.
Many a scientific career has run aground on the task of mimicking nature, but that imagined future is now within sight. Four months ago, a Canadian computer science professor named Andrew Vardy posted footage on YouTube of toy-sized robots he’d modified to sort plastic pucks randomly placed on a surface the size of a dining table. Over 29 minutes, the devices (they look a bit like tugboats) buzz around their miniature arena, grabbing the pucks and carrying them away. Vardy, who teaches at Memorial University of Newfoundland, is not the first researcher to model mini-bots on insect behaviour. Small vehicles equipped with infrared sensors have been taught to hunt, gather and store in laboratories around the world. But Vardy did add a notable wrinkle: his robots could “see” through tiny on-board cameras. By the end of the exercise, they’d sorted the pucks into tidy clusters of red and green.
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
In conversation with Brian Bethune
Brian David Johnson is Intel Corporation’s chief futurist, the man the computer-chip-making giant entrusts with looking ahead 10 or 15 years and predicting how people will be interacting with its products. He is also someone who passionately argues the future is what we make it, and being pessimistic and fearful is more liable to make it unpleasant.
Q: You have a very cool title: “futurist and director of future casting.” Your job is to divine the future—how you see it in social terms—and try to make technology that works for it?
A: Correct. Get an understanding of people first and foremost, right? Base it on people, because people don’t change all that much compared to technology. Base it on social science and people, and then take the work that we’re doing inside our labs and ask, “Okay, how can we use that technology to make people’s lives better?”
Q: It sounds harder than doing the opposite, saying, “We can make this,” whatever this is, “and surely someone will find a use for it.”
A: Oh, that is so intellectually dishonest, but it is something that we have been guilty of in the high-tech industry for a very long time. We create technology—really cool, brilliant technology—that is useless to people. To me that’s one of the greatest tragedies: amazing technology that does no good. It’s the end experience, not the specs—but how is this device, this platform, this future—how is that going to engage with people, make their lives better, make them more sustainable?
By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Once dismissed as a flight of fancy, the flying car is preparing for takeoff again
One spring day more than 15 years ago, Col. Joe Kittinger, an experimental test pilot and world-renowned extreme skydiver, slid into the driver’s seat of a 1954 Taylor Aerocar, coaxed it to a speed of 130 km/h on a runway outside Minneapolis, and took the craft, looking something like a stubby Volkswagen with wings, to the air. Kittinger was in his mid-70s and, as a fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, had flown dozens of aircraft over a career that spans 16,800 flying hours. Yet this was the first flying car, and it was almost 50 years old. “I didn’t have anybody to talk to who’d ever flown it before,” says Kittinger, speaking from his home outside Orlando, Fla. “I just got in it and taught myself how.”
Within a week, he’d learned the ins and outs of managing the Aerocar in flight. One quirk of the mechanism, he quickly learned, has to do with how the steering wheel controls both its front wheels and, simultaneously, the aileron, a flap on the trailing edge of an aircraft’s wings that manages roll. When landing, Kittinger realized he would have to jam the wheel dead straight to prevent it from lurching sideways when the front wheels hit the ground.
His last day piloting this “roadable” aircraft—which refers to a plane that also drives—coincided with an air show at the Anoka County Airport in Blaine, Minn., and Kittinger decided to give the crowd something to talk about. He installed a truck’s air horn and approached the spectators from the sky honking, the windshield wipers flapping, the turn signal blinking. “Everybody laughed their butts off,” he says. “Here was this airplane flying but looking like a car and sounding like a truck.” When he landed before the crowds, he immediately put the machine in reverse and backed up—something no airplane can do. “They thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen,” Kittinger says. “It was a spectacle.”
By Chris Sorensen - Saturday, October 13, 2012 at 1:20 PM - 0 Comments
A solution to one of modern life’s most vexing problems: getting the last bit of ketchup out of the bottle
The humble ketchup bottle is a food-packaging icon. With its thin neck, metal cap and eight-sided body, the glass bottle developed by H.J. Heinz in the 1890s remains a cultural touchstone even though most ketchup is now sold in squat plastic containers.
But even icons have their flaws. Though initially designed to be practical—the bottle’s clear glass allows consumers to see the condiment’s freshness, while the thin neck helps slow oxidization—consumer preference for thicker ketchup meant the slender bottles soon became an exercise in frustration. Even constant evolutions of the bottle, including the most recent upside-down models, didn’t fully solve the problem of how to easily get all the ketchup out of the bottle.
So after more than a century of consumers banging, slapping and prodding their ketchup bottles with a knife, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think they have the answer. They unveiled a high-tech coating earlier this year called LiquiGlide that allows ketchup and other viscous condiments—from mustard and mayo to salsa and steak sauce—to slide easily out of a tipped bottle, like ice cream off a warm spoon. It’s just one example of how the food-packaging industry is suddenly going through a period of rapid innovation—much of it driven by nanotechnology, which is the manipulation of matter on a molecular scale. “Food packaging research with nano-materials has exploded over the past decade,” says Loong-Tak Lim, a professor in the University of Guelph’s department of food science.
Though its inventors claim LiquiGlide is not technically a nanotech product, the definition of which can sometimes be a bit fuzzy (it generally refers to the use of particles thinner than 100 nanometers), Lim says there are several familiar examples—like the inside of a potato-chip bag. “It looks like aluminum foil, but it’s not,” he says. “It’s actually a plastic material that’s coated with a thin layer of aluminum deposits. And that layer is about 20 to 30 nanometres thick.”