A Bright Future

September 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

Reading time travel stories got me thinking about the way that cities might manifest themselves in the future. I imagine they’ll look something like Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Massive, reflective (glass IS the material of the future, isn’t it?), hopefully green. Green in multiple senses. Full of public parks and people mingling among trees in little squares hidden away under the shade of the colossal buildings. But green also in the sense of being energy efficient. Because quite frankly if they aren’t, it’s doubtful that our cities of the future will look any less bleak than the beginning scenes from WALL-E.

Several recent pieces of technology news have excited my imagination for how our cities might transform into the gleaming beacons of future civilization. Solar roadways and transparent solar cells are among the least believable (and so obviously most interesting).

An organization called Solar Roadways had a wonderfully successful crowdfunding campaign about a year or two ago. When I first heard about the idea I thought it was a scam. The organization claimed to be developing hexagonal textured glass panels which would collect solar energy, melt snow during the winter, and light the roads at night. Its creators call it an “intelligent” road. Among its astonishing planned features are the ability to indicate when animals are on the road to prevent accidents, as well as using an LED arrow to guide drivers to new destinations. The idea quite simply reads like a science fiction story.

Another amazing element: eventually through something called “mutual induction panels” the road will be able to charge electric cars on the go. If that doesn’t sound like something completely fictional, I don’t know what does. The United Kingdom is making an attempt at mobile car charging later this year through “dynamic wireless power transfer”. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what that is either, nor how it differs from mutual induction panels. But it lends some credibility to the idea of wireless charging. For now let’s assume it’s completely feasible. Imagine our future city now. No need to worry about refueling cars. No nasty carbon dioxide emissions. No guilt about owning personal vehicles.

How do transparent solar cells fit into our beautiful clean city of the future? We make our gleaming towers into massive solar farms, of course. Ubiquitous Energy, a company founded by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Michigan State University, is making solar panels that only collect the invisible end of the light spectrum. Capturing only infrared and ultraviolet light is what allows the panels to be transparent. The implementation involves covering glass with an organic solar coating, which should actually be cheaper than manufacturing traditional silicon solar panels. The one downside is their relatively inefficiency as a result of limiting the spectrum of light intake. What makes up for this is the sheer surface area available for their distribution. The city becomes a giant power generator.

So now we’re set. We have beautiful roads, remarkable glass towers, and most importantly, clean energy. The future city is a sunny utopia. Let’s hope that future isn’t too far off.

-Confused Vulcan

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A Letter From a Future Self

October 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Dear PJ,

Hello from the future!  I’m not sure what kind of paradoxes sending you this letter will lead to.  Surely it couldn’t have warped the space-time continuum too much or anything like that because apparently I still survived to write this letter to you.  Or maybe another Universe has been created and you are not really me.  I’m not sure.  But no matter what situation you find yourself in, I would like to offer you a few words of advice.   Below is a list of 10 things for you to remember as you grow older.  I can only hope that by taking these words to heart you will grow up to be a slightly wiser, holier, and all around better man than the one who writes this letter to you.

1. In a few years, you will be taking a test called the SAT.  The answers to the first 20 questions are C,A,C,C,B,B, D, A,C,A,B,C,D,D,B,C,B,A,C,D.

Haha, just kidding.  Those aren’t the right answers.  I’m sure you know that you/I would never cheat like that.  But at least you know you still have the same corny sense of humor when you get older.

2. Don’t forget to pray.  Every day.  No matter what.  Nothing else will give you the kind of peace, joy, and love that God will give you through prayer.  And nothing else is more important.

3. Listen to Mom and Dad and do what they tell you.  Yes, they really are a little harsh sometimes.  And yes they are more strict than they should be.  But they are still your parents.  By respecting them, even when they are wrong, you will be showing your love for them in one of the best ways possible.  But let’s face it, in reality they are almost always right, and you are almost always wrong.

4. Don’t try to be so independent.  Believe it or not, there will come a time when actually miss your family.  You will miss all of the things that Mom used to do for you that you have to do yourself now.  Like laundry.  So enjoy it while you can.

5. Hold fast to what you know is true and right.  I don’t really have to tell you this, because you are stubborn enough as it is.  It takes courage to go against the crowd, but it is worth it.  As you will later read from G.K. Chesterton, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

6. Don’t watch so much TV and read so many books.  Spend time with real people.  I know you always want to retire into the recesses of your own mind.  But you need other people.  They bring you out of yourself and into the beauty and adventure of the real world.

7. Never tire of giving of yourself in love.  No one ever looks back on their life and says “I wish I had been more selfish.”  or “I wish I had never woken up early to help my little brother with homework.”  It will be tiring and exhausting.  But it is worth it.

8. In the future people will start using the phrase “YOLO.”  DON’T DO IT.

9. Also, in 2002, bet all of your money on the Cubs to win the World Series.  No, they won’t win that year (or anytime in the near future for that matter).  But the video game you were going to spend that money on will take up way too much of your time and distract you from living life in the real world.

10. And finally, go to Canada, find a kid named Justin Bieber, and give him some books to read or a sport to play or something.  Just make sure he doesn’t take up singing.  The world will be eternally indebted to you.

Life is an adventure.  Make it an exciting one.  And on the night of October 9, 2012, don’t forget that you have a letter to write.  Make it a good one.

Your friend,

PJ

-PJ Jedlovec (pjjed) (B5)

Designer Babies Are All the Rage

September 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

(yes, this is for B3. I just posted early!)

A/N: Mild spoilers for “Gattaca” below!

I went into Gattaca knowing absolutely nothing about the movie other than the fact that it starred Jude Law and Uma Thurman (if one is going to star in a futuristic Sci-Fi movie, what better name than “Uma Thurman,” am I right?). But within the first ten minutes, I was hooked.

I happen to also be taking a screenwriting class this semester, and in that class, we’ve been taught that the first ten minutes of any movie are enough for most movie-goers to decide whether or not they’re interested in continuing. By the time ten minutes are up, you ought to have an idea of where the movie is going, the main characters, the setting, etc.

I have a habit of watching all movies in a vaguely analytical manner now, so I know that at ten minutes in, Vincent has just been born: a “Godchild,” imperfect, with a high chance of heart disease, and already a reduced measure of his father’s love. At ten minutes in, I was still thinking this was some kind of “sabotage” movie, where Vincent had taken on Jerome’s persona (after, I guessed, killing or otherwise incapacitating Jerome) in order to do some evil at Gattaca. (think of all the “heist” movies that involve faking someone’s retinal scan or fingerprint)

It’s not until about twenty to twenty-five minutes into the movie that we realize what’s really going on, and it is, I think, after this realization that I came to really enjoy this movie rather than simply be intrigued by it.

“Gattaca” is an example of one of my favorite kinds of science fiction. (Before taking this class, I would have just said it IS my favorite kind of science fiction, but I’ve come to realize my taste for sci-fi is broader than I thought). It’s sci-fi that’s light on the science and heavy on the social effects of said science. We get little explanation on how this genetic engineering works, or how the doctors can tell a baby’s likelihood for heart disease—and life expectancy!—from a single drop of blood. We aren’t asked to question why all this has been made possible, yet computers and cars still look much the same, and society apparently went from “little to no genetic engineering” to “if you weren’t genetically engineered, you’re doomed to a life as a hobo or a janitor” in one generation.

(Let’s not even mention the weirdly bulky hand-scanners they’ve got going on, in addition to the oddly 60s hair/clothing styles, and the fact that Pluto is apparently still a planet. As my friend said when I mentioned the last bit— “I like to think they realized the error of their ways.”)

“Gattaca” is sci-fi in which the actual science is painted in broad strokes, and we are treated, instead, to the details of human life in the face of such science. Vincent faces a specific, vaguely fantastical problem that no one watching the movie (especially in 1997) faces. But his struggle—that of the underdog, the man fighting to prove himself in the face of all odds—is so very connected to the soul of the human experience.

In the end, I love science-fiction like “Gattaca” so much because while it makes us wonder for the future, marveling at some new-fangled idea, it roots us in the problems and heroics of the present.

-Kat Zhang

Robots and Post-Scarcity Society

November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Imagine a future reminiscent of the future featured in Frederik Pohl’s “The Midas Plague”, in which the entirety of the labor needed to provide for humanity’s needs and wants is performed by machines that operate automatically–by robots.

This is hardly a new idea; a century and a half ago, many people were convinced that the ever-increasing mechanization and industrialization of production would soon relegate labor as it was then known to the dustbin of history. To a certain extent, this is exactly what came to pass; the kind of work that the majority of people perform in postindustrial societies today is markedly different from the kind that the majority of people performed a hundred and fifty years ago. And yet, there have been–and there will continue to be–growing pains.

As production grows increasingly automatized, the participation of human beings in various sectors of the economy becomes obsolete. Over two hundred years ago, the growth of textile mills took over the market niche previously occupied by textile artisans; in recent decades, robots employed by the automobile manufacture industry similarly took over much of the niche previously occupied by automobile workers. Of course, new professions are also created in the process; someone, after all, must direct and design the robots that build cars. However, it is not at all clear that the number of jobs automatization creates is greater than the number it renders obsolete; rather, the opposite seems to be intuitively true, since a single design can can be replicated in a manner limited only by the available resources. Population growth serves to compound this problem. And what happens when even the direction, design, and production of automata themselves becomes automatized?

Even as the capacity for production increases, then, the rate of unemployment increases, the portion of the population that is able to afford the product in question decreases, and prices consequently plummet, along with profits. In fact, it is precisely this sort of crisis of overproduction (or, perhaps more accurately, underconsumption) that is classically held to have been the primary cause of the Great Depression. Keynesian economics proposed to remedy  this problem through government spending programs that would put people to work in public-works projects and thus provide them with sufficient funds to resume consumption. Yet this solution has a fairly ridiculous air to it; if private-sector work can be automated, can’t public-sector work be as well? If so, human labor in public-works projects is labor for the sole sake of distributing funds to the people performing the labor, which seems a fairly irrational solution to an equally irrational problem.

All this seems to imply one of three possibilities with regards to the notion of a fully-automatized society. First, it is possible that an endless sequence of crises of overproduction/underconsumption will so impede economic growth as to render such a society an unreachable goal. Second, it is possible that such a society is in our future, and we will cope with it by employing close to the whole of the population in public-works projects that could be performed more efficiently by machines, for the sole purpose of providing people with the funds needed to consume the products of the machines. Finally, it is possible that such a society is in our future, and we will cope with it in a rational manner by revising our economic system, particularly with regards to the ownership of property. In a future in which goods are no longer scarce and require no labor on the part of humans to produce, ownership (in the modern sense of the word) of such goods would make as little sense as ownership of air does today.

Richard W.

2112

October 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

Rush is my favorite band in the universe.  Not only is their musical ability unparalleled by any major bands of today, the subject material of their lyrics is philosophical, profound, and often deals with fantasy and science fiction.  Currently, I’m listening to their concept album 2112, a 21-minute megasuite depicting a man who rediscovers rock music in a dystopian future, only to have his discovery rejected by the priests of the Temple of Syrinx; he then runs off, is shown a vision of the “Elder Race” by an oracle, and kills himself in despair of not living in such a free world.  If you’ve read Anthem, by Ayn Rand, this plot should sound familiar, sans the depressing end.  In any case, the music and lyrics fuse perfectly in creating the plot of the story.  I’d highly recommend spending the time and listening to the track.

Rush has inspired me before; I’ve used quotes from their songs on essays all throughout high school and on all manners of applications.  Now, when it comes time to think of a scifi story of my own, they once again pull through.  This story would be set in the far future and have the same theme of discovery, but aside from that the message would be entirely different.

It is the year 2504.  Earth has become uninhabitable, surrounded by a dense fog of carbon dioxide and methane, its surface temperature upwards of two hundred degrees Fahrenheit.  The majority of life is dead of cataclysmic storms and tremendous heat waves.  The only exceptions are archaea living near volcanic vents and the colony of ten thousand humans living on the Moon, a colony started by some farsighted scientists which is focused on terraforming the moon so that spacesuits are no longer necessary and the population can increase.  Having learned their lessons from the past, the founders of the colony set up an idyllic collectivist society, a society in which the benefit of the individual is subordinated to the benefit of the community.  Each member of the colony has a specific job, the people live in peace, and the overall conditions and culture are almost tribal in nature.  Unfortunately, these people have forgotten the true horrors of the distant past, and now carry on their society out of habit.  There is scientific progress, but a sense of history is lacking.

Obviously, also lacking is a resource supply, since the Moon doesn’t have much to offer on its own.  Thus, each month a crew of colonists makes a trip back to Earth to collect things like water, metal ore, and other necessary supplies.  Unfortunately, on one of these trips a young explorer falls through a crack in some rock, and a la Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood makes a discovery–more accurately, a rediscovery–of gold, all the gold bullion left behind in the ruins of Fort Knox.  Struck by its beauty, he takes a nugget, and mentally notes the location of the mine.  As more trips to Earth are required, he continually volunteers, each time taking back more and more gold, until he holds a vast fortune, or what would have been a vast fortune on Earth five hundred years earlier.  Eventually, he unveils his riches to the community.

The colony is in awe of this new, shiny metal, and because it lacks the historical knowledge of all the conflicts caused by gold over the years, does not know better than to make any attempt to seize it.  A bitter jealously develops, and at some point a good amount of the gold is stolen by the man’s rival and some of the rival’s followers.  Naturally, this sets off a violent conflict.

In the midst of this conflict, another resource ship returns, this one bearing another explorer who has fallen through the ruins of the Library of Congress and discovered the history of war on Earth.  Meaning to stop the war on the moon, he returns, but is killed in the fighting.  Eventually, the moon war is won by the original discoverer of the gold, who establishes a dictatorship and begins to pollute the moon with factories built to produce arms.

This is a pretty depressing view of human nature, I guess.  Hopefully we can save THIS Earth so that we don’t even have to resort to the moon.

Zach B.

Decisions, Decisions…

September 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

If I somehow had the good fortune to come into possession of a time machine, the first decision facing me would be whether to transport myself into the past or into the future. Though on the surface this seems to be a difficult issue to resolve, the answer soon became clear as I considered the potential repercussions of traveling into the future. I feel that such a voyage would engender a sense of fatalistic inevitability in me; I would see the development of my own life, and of human society in general, then return to the present (assuming that I still desired to) and traverse my pre-established path to my preconceived end and watch all humanity do likewise. I would observe personal and global struggles and disasters with a morbid fascination, riveted by the inevitable progression of foreseen tragedies, as humans always are.

So, it is decided: I would travel into the past. But, again, a dilemma presents itself: Would I transport myself back into earlier years in an effort to change certain happenings, thus altering and, theoretically, improving, the present status of myself and all humanity, or would I return as a mere observer, in an effort to satisfy certain desires or curiosities I might have? Somewhat surprisingly, even in my own eyes, I realized that I would opt for the latter, perhaps selfishly, perhaps thoughtfully; as has been effectively illustrated in countless books and stories, no one can judge the effects that his or her actions, however minor they might seem, would have on the progression of human existence. Thus, I would want to return to an earlier time as an observer only; I would, however, in order to achieve my desired aim (to be explained shortly), also require the ability to choose a very specific location to be transported to, and that I be invisible, perhaps not physically, but in the sense that my presence would not alter any other person’s choice of words or actions.

And here would be my aim: to return to various points in history at which critical decisions were made, and merely to observe how they came about; specifically, I would like to know whether the decision-makers were plagued with doubt and uncertainty, or whether they seriously considered other options, the choosing of which would have drastically altered the course of human history. Did the fingers of the killers of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, for example, hesitate for a fraction of a second before they made contact with the fatal trigger? Did they conceive of the effects their actions would have? Did Benedict Arnold spend countless nights in a tortured state of internal conflict over whether he should carry out his betrayal? Did the quills in the hands of the signers of the Declaration of Independence waver at all as they moved over that seminal document? Perhaps less significantly, or maybe more to some, did Shakespeare ever consider letting Romeo and Juliet live happily ever after, and did he experience any twinge of regret at his literary murder? Did Napoleon or Alexander the Great ever secretly weep for the fathers and sons they slaughtered, and did they at any point reconsider the need for conquest and empire? Specific individuals, and thus humanity in general, are continuously facing innumerable decisions, countless roads which we can choose to travel; in so choosing, we also choose countless roads that we shall not travel, and we are never permitted to go back and make a different decision under precisely the same circumstances. With a time machine, I would go back to these moments, not to change any of these decisions, but rather to ponder what might have been…not to change the present, but rather to see other possible “presents” that were considered and rejected, and, ultimately, to enjoy and be thankful for the present selected for me.

-Ginny

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