Andron Ocean

Fiction and speculation about science, technology, and the future of humanity

Tag: Technology

It’s 2014: Welcome to the Future

There’s a buzz in the January air, and it’s the feeling of the future.

I noticed something in 2013. For the first time in my experience, there were tangible moments when the future — in all its strange, heady, tech-infused, rapidly-accelerating unusualness — felt like it was really happening. It didn’t seem just around the corner, or the province of a distant tomorrow that you had to squint to perceive. The future was here, now, all around me.

For a moment. Then, quickly, it was back to business as usual in the mundane present. However, a heck of a lot of futuristic things happened in 2013. It occurred to me that this experience of the future will become more and more ubiquitous as technology, science, and society evolve rapidly. I have a hunch that, in 2014, many more people will begin to feel that they are living in the future.

So, without further ado, here is what’s coming in 2014 that will make you feel like science fiction isn’t so, well, fictitious anymore: Continue reading

Coconuts

Think you that our technology is so impressive?

Ponder this: The mightiest ship that mankind has ever sailed across the seven seas is put to shame by the humble coconut.

A coconut palm

Image via El Bibliomata on Flickr. Reused under a Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 license.

Continue reading

Noisy Books

Some technologies can ruin the very thing they try to improve.

I happened across one of these recently. The conquest of e-readers, tablets, laptops, smartphones, and their ilk over the bound and printed book means that authors can do a lot more things in their e-books than traditional books permitted. They can embed images, video, expandable notes, links between chapters, interactive content, and other obvious things to enhance the text. And, less obviously, they could include sound.

Not merely sound such as, “Here’s a recording of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech to go along with this chapter on the civil rights movement.” Sound such as, “Here is a soundtrack for the book”. Author Nathan Bransford tipped me off to this in his recent blog post Sound effects for books?, which mentions a company, Booktrack, that offers this ability. On Booktrack, users can assemble an audio track from music and other sounds to accompany a text, either their own writing or one from Booktrack’s public domain library. The completed book and audio can then be published for all the world to read and hear.

My immediate reaction to the idea was, “Ugh, no.” However, since I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, I pointed my browser to Booktrack and explored a few of the texts. After ten minutes I was done, wholly convinced: audio accompaniment to a book is a horrible idea. Continue reading

The Gods’ House

The gods’ house was unguarded. Toima knew this was unthinkable; it was the blood-duty of a single warrior to guard it from sun’s rise to twilight. Yet before her the house stood, a strange and unnatural structure rising out of the forest like a gigantic metallic mushroom, its tarnished, ovoid body perched atop a perfect cube of white stone. No one present. Beside the featureless metal door in one side of the cube-base, the place where the warrior always sat was shockingly empty.

I shouldn’t be here. The truth of the statement echoed in Toima’s every bone, and she clutched the clay water-pot closer to her thin chest. She had been going to the springs, like she did every day to fetch water for her mother. One could glimpse the top of the gods’ house from the path, but not since she was very small had she sneaked away, through thickets and cane-brakes, to peek at the house. It was improper. Everyone knew the gods did not want humans interfering in their affairs. Therefore, the house was guarded. Why had she risked discovery to spy on the place now?

But there hadn’t been a guard today. And Toima did not like the fluttering of temptation in her stomach.

“Why is no one allowed into the gods’ house?” she had asked her mother when she was younger and more ignorant.

“It is forbidden,” came the reply. “Long ago, the gods deemed it improper for the unclean to come into their homes. And so we have obeyed them ever since.”

“But the gods vanished many generations ago,” Toima had said.

“It changes nothing. An immortal god’s rule may not be changed by humans. We do not speculate why they chose to leave us, but their laws will stand forever. Why all these questions?”

Toima had given no answer. She could not explain to herself her fascination with the gods. But her ears had been open to tales of them and their house in the forest. One of those stories she now recalled: an anecdote used by elders to impress upon children the sanctity of the gods’ house. Many years past, the tale went, two boys chanced to find the gods’ house unguarded, and commenced—as boys would—throwing stones at it. The rocks ricocheted off the walls with a noise like the striking of a gong. At last one boy hurled an ill-aimed rock, and it crashed through one of the oval windows ringing the top of the house. The building began to howl, whooping and shrieking so loudly that the din was heard in the village. In terror the boys fled. They confessed their sins in the village circle, and were beaten to death there for the offense. On festival nights, when all sat around a bonfire on the hard-beaten dirt of the dancing-ground, an ancient woman had recited the story to Toima and her friends. “The house’s scream! It sounded like a giant beast. A noise like death! It yanked your heart into your throat and made your skin feel like it was crawling off your body and running far away. Do not go near the gods’ house!” the crone had warned. Continue reading

Speed systems: the next century of transport—part 3

This is the final post in a series of three exploring the evolution of passenger transport locally, regionally, and globally over the next century. The first post, discussing regional transportation, is here; the second post examined ideas for local transit.

In this series of posts, I have described possibilities for how people will travel over short-to-medium distances perhaps twenty or thirty years from now. Locally (meaning within a metropolitan area), my bets are on personal rapid transit in the form of podcars (perhaps suspended from guideways like SkyTran) and self-driving taxis. To travel greater distances, between cities in heavily-populated regions, I’ve predicted that we will use something betweeen tube capsules, like in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea, and high-speed rail.

But what about traveling long distances, such as between New York and Los Angeles, or London and Hong Kong? Global transportation is the final tier of future transit technologies. More importantly, when we behold the full picture of local, regional, and global transportation, broad trends emerge that whisper of how we will live and travel in the middle of the 21st century.

Imagine, for a moment, that it’s 2035, and you’re preparing to travel to Shanghai, Dubai, Buenos Aires, or some other city on the opposite side of the globe, across continents and oceans. Today, you would almost certainly be boarding an airplane for a not-very-comfortable sixteen-hour sojourn in a cramped seat. For most destinations in the world, I doubt this will change by 2035, and perhaps never will, unless teleportation becomes a reality. (Sorry.) But, to connect certain important regions, pairs of the so-called “global cities“, new methods may appear. Continue reading

Speed systems: the next century of transport—part 2

This is the second post in a series of three about the evolution of passenger transport locally, regionally, and globally over the next century. The first post is here; the third will be published in a few days.

Decades ago, clever people conceived that north-central New Mexico, where I live, could use commuter rail service along the Rio Grande. In 2003, governor Bill Richardson espoused the idea, and over the next five years, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express was planned, built, and opened—with great fanfare. Today, Rail Runner trains whiz every couple hours along a line running from Belen, north through Albuquerque, and up to my home city of Santa Fe. I have never been on one.

Why not? After all, I like trains! I also visit Albuquerque regularly for errands and pleasure. The problem is the location of the stations. In Albuquerque, the rail line runs through older residential and agricultural areas, with the main station downtown: not an optimal situation for this city. Albuquerque is big, sprawling north, south, east and west for miles. Important areas in the city are far apart. The Rail Runner has established bus links to several of these points, and desperate travelers could always call a cab. But taxicabs and buses are slow and expensive, and for someone, like me, who may want to spend the day in Albuquerque, do some errands, and return home in the evening, these options are slow and unforgiving.

This illustrates a decisive factor of regional-scale transport: as nice as the service between cities may be, if it leaves you with few options at either end, the service becomes essentially useless to many people. This is a problem today, and it will be a problem for futuristic systems, like the Hyperloop, that would connect not just towns and cities, but whole metropolitan areas. In my previous post discussing Hyperloop-style transit systems, I speculated how new technologies might change regional transportation, as speed becomes increasingly important to travelers. What happens, twenty years from now, when you disembark from a Hyperloop-inspired capsule, and need to reach your destination several miles away, cheaply and quickly? This is the domain of local transit, and it demands speed and efficiency at least as much as the regional variety. There are a few developing technologies that might foot the future’s bill, and mix things up along the way. Continue reading

Speed systems: the next century of transport—part 1

This is the first post in a series of three about the evolution of passenger transport locally, regionally, and globally over the next century. The next two will be published over the coming week.

You’ve probably heard about the Hyperloop. Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, made public his concepts for the futuristic transit system eleven days ago, and it has attracted at least as much attention as real megaprojects towards which investors have paid cold, hard cash. First, there was gushing praise and excitement at such a techno-romantic idea, then the critics showed up en masse, armed with those lethal anti-imagination weapons: accounting books and technical data. Who is right? They both are. The Hyperloop proposal itself has flaws, but as an idea, it can tell us a lot about how we might be traveling during the next century.

I won’t bore you with a detailed description of the Hyperloop (I recommend you read Musk’s actual proposal for that), or an involved treatment of its faults (the best I have seen is Alon Levy’s careful analysis over at Pedestrian Observations). Instead, in this and two subsequent posts, I will take you on a tour of possibilities for the future of transportation, and how they might integrate with and transform our society. The Hyperloop’s design offers a nice place to start.

Elon Musk’s inspirations for the Hyperloop appear to have been (merited) frustration with California’s halting, expensive high-speed-rail project, and wanting to seek out a “new mode of transport – a fifth mode after planes, trains, cars and boats” that would be safer, faster, cheaper, more durable, more convenient, and more sustainable than current options. Continue reading

When we’re all iPeople

Two days ago, I came across this video of Marshall Davis Jones performing his poem “Touchscreen”. It struck me powerfully, both by the vigor of his expression onstage and by the incisiveness of his message about technology. Watch it yourself before you read on:

That was in 2011—merely two years ago. Today, technology has grown even more intimate with our personal experience and interactions. Google Glass is a real thing now, smartwatches are arriving at an online store near you, and there’s worry that the family television, one of the last remaining centers of regular familial activity, will be replaced by the screens of single-user devices. We are experiencing a greater and greater chunk of our lives not directly, nor in the physical company of others, but through our ever-present gadgets. Continue reading

In the Beginning: Aba’s Tale

Not long ago, in a wide valley between tumbled hills, there lived a tribe of a couple dozen creatures. They walked upright on two legs, swinging their arms back and forth at their sides with each pace. They appeared mostly defenseless and harmless, without large teeth or strong jaws or sharp claws, and their forward-facing eyes flicked nervously from side to side in an unceasing vigil for food and predators. In the valley’s thickets they searched for berries, nuts, and roots, and occasionally scavenged a few strips of meat from a lion’s kill, furtively stripping the cold flesh from the bones and gulping it down with delight. At night, they huddled together for warmth in a cave near the head of the valley. They slept lightly and muttered noises to one another that held some ill-defined scrap of meaning.

One day, a healthy male of the tribe, who responded when his fellows cried out “Aba”, wandered off down a well-worn trail. The day was fair and warm, and Aba was aware, with an emotion akin to happiness, of the blood pulsing in his veins and the movement of his muscles. He walked, his head upturned to gaze at an eagle circling above the valley, and he did not notice that a sinkhole had collapsed across the path on the previous night. Aba stumbled in, landing with a grunt on his elbows and knees. Continue reading

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