The Good and Bad of Changes Ahead

At Columbia University in 2017, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Bill Gates and his billionaire buddy Warren Buffett discussed increased productivity. The idea that more output per capita “should be harmful to society is crazy,” says Buffett. “If one person could push a button and turn out everything we turn out now, is that good for the world or bad for the world?” asks Buffett, the CEO of investment house Berkshire Hathaway. “You would free up all kinds of possibilities for everything else.”

“The macro picture that it enables is an opportunity,” agrees Gates. But, he adds, it “really forces us to look at the individuals affected and take those extra resources and make sure they are directed to them in terms of re-education and income policies.”

Buffett and Gates think it’s ‘crazy’ to view job-stealing robots as bad. Technological innovation is rapidly increasing the potential of human productivity. In the short run, those advances mean that many workers, particularly those in lower-skilled positions, will lose their jobs to automation. But Buffett and Gates say that increasing the potential output of each human being is always a good thing.

In the coming years, an increasing number of jobs are likely to be on the chopping block. Nearly half of U.S. jobs will potentially be replaced by robots and automated technology in the next 10 to 20 years, according to a 2013 study by Oxford University’s Carl Frey and Michael Osborne. In particular, transportation, logistics, office management and production workers are likely to be the first to lose their jobs to robots.

Those figures are more dire in less developed countries. A 2016 analysis from the World Bank estimated that roughly two-thirds of all jobs in developing nations around the globe are susceptible to replacement by automation.

Buffett cautions that the trend towards automation replacing lower-skilled labor is not new. “If we were here in 1800 and conducting this, somebody would point out that eventually tractors would come along and better fertilizer and that 80 percent of the people are now employed on the farm and in couple hundred years it is going to be 2 or 3 percent, and what are we going to do with all these people?” says Buffett. “Well, the answer is we released them.”

With fewer people needed to work on farms, more are able to pursue other skills and vocations.
“The macro picture that it enables is an opportunity,” says Gates. While both billionaires are self-avowed optimists and firmly preach the potential of a better future with robots doing more of our mundane or repetitive skills, both stress the importance of some form of wealth redistribution.

If robots take your job, the government might have to pay you to live. “Everything should be devoted initially to getting greater productivity,” says Buffett. “But people who fall by the wayside, through no fault of their own, as the goose lays more golden eggs, should still get a chance to participate in that prosperity. “And that is where government comes in.”

Buffett, Gates and SpaceX and Tesla’s Elon Musk agree that it’s a virtual inevitability that, as robots replace more and more jobs, the U.S. will have to implement a program of cash payments distributed to everyone. As founding members of The Giving Pledge, Buffett and Gates are already making moves in that direction, having committed to donate more than half of the wealth they have amassed. “A problem of excess really forces us to look at the individuals affected and take those extra resources and make sure they are directed to them in terms of re-education and income policies,” says Gates.

“Yeah, I am not sure exactly what to do about this. This is really the scariest problem to me, I will tell you.”
Transportation operators will be the first to lose their jobs, says Musk. The U.S. Department of Transportation says one in seven jobs in the U.S. is transportation-related. But no job is safe, he says. “Transport will be one of the first to go fully autonomous. But when I say everything — the robots will be able to do everything, bar nothing.”

Robots are getting smarter faster than expected. Artificial intelligence experts thought that it would be at least 20 years before a computer could beat a human playing Go, a strategy game that is more complex than chess. Last year, AlphaGo, a division of Google subsidiary Deep Mind, “absolutely crushed the world’s best player. And now it can crush and play the top 50 simultaneously and crush them all,” Musk says.
“That pace of progress is remarkable. Robots will be able to do everything better than us,” adds Musk.

Robots are now able to teach themselves physical skills faster than humans can. “You can see robots that can learn to walk from nothing within hours, way faster than any biological being,” Musk says.

“The thing that is the most dangerous — and it is the hardest to get your arms around because it is not a physical thing — is a deep intelligence in the network. “You say, ‘What harm can a deep intelligence in the network do?’ Well, it can start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and doing fake press releases and by manipulating information,” Musk says. Musk says that people are not as afraid of the potential of robotics and artificial intelligence as they should be because they don’t fully understand its potential.

“I have exposure to the most cutting edge A.I., and I think people should be really concerned by it,” he says.
“A.I. is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not — they were harmful to a set of individuals within society, of course, but they were not harmful to society as a whole.”

According to Musk, the solution is to increase regulatory oversight of the development and implementation of artificial intelligence as soon as possible. “A.I. is a rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation than be reactive,” he says.

So is there any upside to all this? Yes, say some of the most successful tech billionaires. Entrepreneur Mark Cuban has said he thinks the world’s first trillionaire will be an artificial intelligence entrepreneur. And in the big picture, robots taking over jobs can be a good thing, says Gates.

No More Working 9-to-5

Proudly It Waves
If you have driven into Omaha on West Dodge from beyond Elkhorn since Dec. 7, you likely have noticed our great new flag at Dino’s Storage. The 30-foot by 60-foot flag is flying from a 125-foot flagpole. Right now it is at half staff until month’s end in honor of the late President George H.W. Bush.

The 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday grind got you down?

Take solace: That will one day be history, according to billionaire British entrepreneur Richard Branson.
“The idea of working five days a week with two day weekends and a few weeks of holiday each year has become ingrained in society. But it wasn’t always the case, and it won’t be in the future,” Branson wrote in a recent blog. That’s because technology will change jobs currently held by humans, Branson says.

“As Google’s Larry Page and others have said, the amount of jobs available for people is going to decrease as technology progresses. New innovations will drive industries forward, but they will also reduce our reliance on people power,” Branson says. “Ideas such as driverless cars and more advanced drones are becoming a reality, and machines will be used for more and more jobs in the future. Even pilot-less planes will be become the reality in the not too distant future.”

Branson is not alone in this viewpoint. Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk has issued dire warnings about technology usurping human jobs. “There certainly will be job disruption. Because what’s going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us. … I mean all of us,” Musk told the National Governors Association in 2017.

But unemployment rates will about the same in 20 years, even if the kind of jobs have changed, according to Rob Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

If “governments and businesses are clever, the advance of technology could actually be really positive for people all over the world,” says Branson. For example, governments should pay for workers to be retrained, Branson says, and there will need to be a way to keep people’s income the same. But with solutions to such issues, more technology could help create “smarter working practices,” says Branson. “Could people eventually take three and even four day weekends? Certainly. Will job-sharing increase? I think so,” he says.

Microsoft cofounder and billionaire Bill Gates has also said advancements in technology will mean more time off. “Well, certainly we can look forward to the idea that vacations will be longer at some point,” said Gates. “The purpose of humanity is not just to sit behind a counter and sell things. More free time is not a terrible thing,” Gates added.

Branson believes more people will be able to have what he has: “I’m lucky in being able to work wherever I am, at any time, and don’t see work and play as separate – it’s all living,” Branson says. “I think this will be the case for more and more people in the future, to the benefit of businesses, countries and individuals.”

There have been some dour predictions about the potential of artificial intelligence from some high-profile technologists. For example, Musk has said A.I. will be more dangerous than North Korea. Legendary physicist Stephen Hawking says that A.I. has the potential to be the “worst event in the history of our civilization.”

Machine learning will make humans more productive and therefore able to accomplish the same amount of work in less time and that’s a good thing, says Gates. “The purpose of humanity is not just to sit behind a counter and sell things. More free time is not a terrible thing,” says Gates.

Surveillance, security and transcription are several areas where machine learning will make things faster and cheaper. “A.I. is simply better software,” Gates continues. “In these high value environments — whether it is an operating room, a jail, a factory, a courthouse — you will be able to transcribe everything that is being said, and you will be able to see things if they are safety violations even a construction site. And so you will be far more efficient in using resources, you will be far more aware of what is going on, and it is very cheap now because computers can see and hear as well as humans can.”

“This is a problem of excess, … so can you redirect people to help the elderly, to reduce class size, to help out kids with special needs? You will have the resources because you will just be so much more productive,” says Gates.

The transition will not be easy, says Gates. He says the government may need to create a safety net that allows employees to be retrained. That will be hard, though, because the rate of change in coming decades will be faster than it has been before. So the percentage of workers who need retraining will be high.

Musk has said he thinks the only option the government will have is to pay people a cash handout to live. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” says Musk, referring to programs through which governments pay their citizens a monthly stipend, regardless of employment. “Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”

The Future: Amazing or Awful

The future is either going to be really, really amazing, or really, really awful. Will we be commuting to work on flying bicycles on air-conditioned highways, or replaced by robots and hiding in our homes because antibiotics have stopped working? Will cancer be cured? Will there be Internet on Mars? Some experts took a stab at the answers.

You’ll communicate with dead relatives via virtual reality. Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and director of engineering at Google, doesn’t like the idea of people he loves dying any more than you do. We can’t stop them from dying, but we can preserve their memories a little better than just fading photographs. He thinks we’re heading towards an age when we’ll be able to create virtual reality avatars of our deceased loved ones, realistic enough that we can interact with them. “This will be a way to bring him back,” he says, referring to his father. “Even if it isn’t fully realistic to bring these people back in A.I., it’ll be close.”

You’ll check email with your contact lenses. Engineers at Samsung are hard at work trying to develop a pair of contact lenses that let you go online and read your favorite websites without lifting a finger. How does it work? Well, it involves a “light-emitting diode on an off-the-shelf soft contact lens, using a material the researchers developed: a transparent, highly conductive, and stretchy mix of graphene and silver nanowires.”

Mars will get rings like Saturn. Saturn’s rings always made it the most recognizable planet in our solar system, but it may lose those bragging rights in another 20 to 40 million years. Mars could one day get its own outer ring. It all depends on its moon, Phobos, which is getting closer and closer to the red planet’s surface. If it doesn’t crash into Mars, it will break apart into countless tiny bits, which will continue to orbit the planet.

We’ll be communicating with thoughts. The BBC is pretty confident we can make this happen in the not-so-distant future. “Picking up thoughts and relaying them to another brain will not be much harder than storing them on the net,” claims futurologist Ian Pearson.

China will undergo a revolution, according to George Friedman, author of The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. One out of seven exports from China go to Walmart, he says, and even Warren Buffett doesn’t believe Walmart has a future. “All of the prosperity of China is built on the willingness of the U.S. and Europe to buy its products,” he says, and that time is coming to an end. When that time comes, he doesn’t think the current version of China will be able to survive “a billion [angry] peasants.”

We’ll have dinosaur zoos with real woolly mammoths. Thanks to advances in cloning technology, we might be able to bring back animals like the woolly mammoths. But according to Akira Iritani, a professor at Kyoto University, “Now the technical problems have been overcome, all we need is a good sample of soft tissue from a frozen mammoth.” Russian scientists are working on doing just that, and the big question in the medical community isn’t “is it possible,” but “should we do it?”

CGI will replace actors entirely. CGI has been used for everything from creating new scenes of actors in their youth to replacing actors who’ve died. How long before it just replaces them completely? Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise can relax for now, but according to Nadia Magnenat Thalmann, a computer graphics scientist and founder and head of MIRALab at the University of Geneva, as the technology improves, anyone who isn’t an A-list actor will likely be done “more and more by computer.”

Artificial intelligence will replace artists, according to futurist Ray Kurzweil. He says computers will be able paint, write and compose far better than humans ever will.

The days will get a lot longer. We’re not talking about the summer solstice, where it just feels like the days are longer because there’s more sunlight. We mean literally longer. Granted, you’d need to live a long, long time to experience it, as we’re only gaining about 1.7 milliseconds every 100 years. But it’s still amazing to think that one of the things we consider absolute can actually be altered. It won’t affect you, but your great-great-great-great grandkids are going to have a little more time in their day to get everything done.

Pills will be able to detect cancer. Google’s X Lab announced in 2014 that they’re working on a pill that’ll send microscopic particles into your bloodstream, capable of identifying cancers and even future heart attacks long before they become deadly. We’d prefer a cancer cure, but knowing about cancer years before it’s diagnosed could save millions of lives.

You’ll fly in planes that are literally all window. If companies like Technicon Design in France and the UK’s Center for Process Innovation have their way, everybody will get a window seat in the plane of tomorrow, which will offer panoramic views of the sky as you fly towards your destination. Relax, the windows aren’t technically real, they’re just cameras mounted on the plane’s exterior. Still terrifying, though. Happy flying!

Bathroom mirrors will inspect your moles. Worried about sun damage or the possibility of skin cancer? Ian Pearson, a senior futurologist at the U.K.-based company Futurizon, claims we’ll soon have bathroom mirrors with LED displays and high-resolution cameras. “They’ll be connected to the Internet so you could have a video check-up with your dermatologist,” he says.

We’ll discover another 2,000 planets. We’ve already identified 2,341 planets outside our solar system, but thanks to a collaboration between NASA and Google, that number is projected to jump to 4,496 in the near future. Will there be life in any of those planets? We’ll find out soon enough.

The robots are indeed coming. Only not as personal assistants and vacuum cleaners. Ask any smart person and they’ll tell you, “Oh yeah, we’re making robots that are way too smart. We’re all doomed.” Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup, believes that “we will be the first species ever to design our own descendants.” Dr. Nayef Al-Rodhan, a Neuroscientist and Geostrategist – which are two occupations that almost sound like fake jobs from a science-fiction movie – says that it’s only a matter of time before human beings create “transhumans,” which are just “improved versions of themselves that will eventually pose a threat to non-enhanced humans.”

Your every move will be monitored by dust spies. Kris Pister, a computing professor at the University of California, Berkeley, came up with the idea for “smart dust” particles in the 90s, which were basically tiny sensors, almost undetectable to the human eye, which would record everything that happened in the world. From big cities to small towns, billionaires to working class citizens, everything humans do will be recorded. “It’s finally here,” Pister told CNN in 2010.

Driving yourself will be passé and considered unsafe. In 2020 automated cars will start to become something most people take for granted. By some projections, there’ll be nearly 10 million cars on the road with self-driving features. The thing that seems so weird and futuristic now will, by the next presidential election, become something that annoys you if you don’t have it. You know how angry you get when you rent a car and it’s an older model without satellite radio? In the next five years, cars that don’t drive themselves will be the hand-me-downs that nobody wants.

Terrorists will be capable of creating their own pandemic. Think terrorism is scary now? Just wait till they’re making their own diseases. In 2016, Oxford’s Global Priorities Project curated a list of potential future catastrophes that could kill off 10 percent or more of the human population. A man-made pandemic was probably the scariest of the bunch, not just because of the death toll but because of the human evil necessary to create it.

Nanobots in your bloodstream will protect you from getting sick. We’re all on board with the “not getting sick” part. But tiny robots in our bloodstream might also be transmitting our personal thoughts to a data-mining cloud? That sounds downright Orwellian. We like the idea of not getting cancer because of our robot protectors. Since this isn’t expected to be reality until at least 2030, according to some predictions, we still have time to think about it and not seriously ponder the ethical dilemma until it’s too late.

An asteroid “might” destroy us in 862 years. Wait, did we say might? That’s right, based on NASA calculations, there’s a less than 1% chance that a mile-long asteroid will collide with Earth, wiping out all human life, on March 16, 2880. Of course, that means there’s a 99% chance humanity won’t be wiped out. And as NASA is the first to admit, “the upper limit could increase or decrease as we learn more about the asteroid in the years ahead.”

Antibiotics will stop working. We’ve come to depend on antibiotics as a quick fix for so many medical ailments. But what if the medicine just stopped working? What if you got pneumonia and doctors just shrugged and said, “There’s not much we can do, sorry?” That time may be coming sooner than we think. In fact, a 2016 report found that the new era of “antimicrobial resistance” could kill up to 10 million people each year by 2050.

Robotic earthworms will gobble up our garbage, according to an issue of The Futurist magazine. Do you want to know what any of that means? Or is it enough just to know that “tiny, agile robot teams will go through mines and landfills to extract anything of value”?

You’ll have easy access to all of the world’s knowledge. That’s what Google’s Eric Schmidt was promising in 2005, saying that the company would eventually “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It would take 300 years to make it happen, but it’d be worth the wait. Imagine having the ultimate Wikipedia at your disposal, but filled with all human knowledge, and none of it fabricated by trolls!

We’ll have prosthetic brains. They were first announced in 2003, but we’re still years away from a commercially available “neural prosthetic.” Bryan Johnson, who launched a startup called Kernel, is making strides to be the first to produce a brain implant. “Just like we’ve had civil rights, human rights, abortion rights, marriage rights, the next big debate to consume our society will be evolution rights,” he says.

We’ll have interplanetary Internet. We take it for granted that there’ll be colonies on Mars someday. But will the red planet get any Internet access? An interplanetary Internet has been in the planning stages since 1998. When we finally make it to Mars, which could be by the early 2030s, you won’t have to give up your Twitter account.

You’ll be able to smell your favorite TV shows. Have you ever watched your latest episode of the Walking Dead and thought, “That would’ve been so much better if I could smell the zombies?” You may be in luck. Nicholas Negroponte, a former director of M.I.T.’s Media Lab, predicted back in 1992 that we’d soon be getting “full-color, large-scale, holographic TV with force feedback and olfactory output.” Do we really need smell-o-vision?

Most office workers will be taking drugs to work harder and longer. Seventy percent of people surveyed across the globe claim they’d let medical science mess with their brains or bodies if it helped their career prospects. Some have predicted that “smart drugs” will soon become commonplace at offices. And a 2017 report from professional services firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that “medically-enhanced workers” will be a reality soon enough.

We’ll need to leave Earth. Stephen Hawking, the world famous physicist and cosmologist who died last March, was not very hopeful about the future of our planet. Thanks to dangers like climate change, epidemics, population growth and even direct hits by asteroid, he believed we’ll need to find a way to leave Earth in the next hundred years.

Who Knows What Lies Ahead?

Some of the greatest minds in history have dreamed of the future and come up with what now appear to be some bizarre pedictions. We all wonder about what is to come, Here are some of the things others said we should expect.

Thomas Edison played a role in some of the greatest inventions of modern man, from light bulbs to movie cameras. But not all of his ideas worked out. During a 1911 interview, he predicted that the house of the next century “will be furnished from basement to attic with steel.” And it wouldn’t end there. “The baby of the 21st Century will be rocked in a steel cradle,” Edison said. “His father will sit in a steel chair at a steel dining table, and his mother’s boudoir will be sumptuously equipped with steel furnishings.”

In 1950, Associated Press writer Dorothy Roe revealed some shocking predictions of what life on Earth would be like in the 21st Century. Among her more head-scratching forecasts were that the women of tomorrow would be “more than six feet tall”, would “wear a size 11 shoe, have shoulders like a wrestler, and “muscles like a truck driver.” Her proportions, Roe wrote, would be perfectly “Amazonian,” due to science providing “a balanced ration of vitamins, proteins and minerals that will produce maximum bodily efficiency.”

Thomas Watson, the one-time president of IBM, suggested in 1943 that future consumer demand for his company’s products was limited at best. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,” he said. As of 2014, there were an estimated 2 billion personal computers in use across the globe. Watson wasn’t the only computer expert who thought there was no future in his industry. Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., predicted in 1977: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

We have blood blanks, where life-saving plasma can be donated and used to help patients who need emergency blood. So why not tooth banks? Modern Mechanix magazine had an article in a 1947 issue which promised that, in the future, tooth banks would not just be realistic but a good idea. “Picture the possibilities,” the story read. “Into the junk pile will go all artificial dentures, all bridges, plates, partial plates. All men and women of whatever age will be able to have human teeth imbedded inside their gums until the day they die.

If you’re curious about the future of language, maybe you don’t ask a railroad engineer. But that’s what the Ladies’ Home Journal did in 1900, asking renowned engineer John Elfreth Watkins Jr. for his educated guesses about the 21st Century. He had no love for what he considered extraneous letters, and so boldly predicted that by 2020, “There will be no C, X or Q in our everyday alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary.” Instead, Watson wrote, we’d be spelling mostly by sound and would only communicate with “condensed words expressing condensed ideas.”

We’ll wear antenna hats and disposable socks. Why anyone asked furniture and industrial designer Gilbert Rohde what he thought the “21st Century man” would be wearing is beyond us. But ask they did, and his answers were published in a 1939 issue of Vogue magazine. The man who helped define American modernism thought that, by 2020, we would have banished buttons, pockets, collars and ties. “The man of the next century will revolt against shaving and wear a beautiful beard,” Rohde declared. “His hat will be an antenna, snatching radio out of the ether. His socks disposable, his suit minus tie, collar and buttons.”

Human feet will become just one big toe. In a lecture to the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1911, a surgeon by the name of Richard Clement Lucas made the following curious prediction: “Human beings in the future will become one-toed,” he promised. “The small toes are being used less and less as time goes on, while the great toe is developing in an astonishing manner.” In roughly 100 years, Lucas predicted, our outer toes would gradually disappear and “man might become a one-toed race.”

Houses will be cleaned by hose. Have you ever wished that you could clean your house with a big hose, soaking everything and then being done with it? Popular Mechanics during the 1950s promised grand things in the next century for the housewife who dreams of keeping a spick-and-span house by “simply turn(ing) the hose on everything.” It’ll be more than possible in the year 2020, the story promised, as furniture will all be made of synthetic fabric or waterproof plastic. “After the water has run down a drain in the middle of the floor (later concealed by a rug of synthetic fiber),” the article explains, “she turns on a blast of hot air and dries everything.” Any soiled linen is thrown into the incinerator, and presto, done for the day.

Nobody works and everybody’s rich. As reported by Time magazine in 1966, the 21st Century promises to be a pretty awesome time for just about everybody. By 2020, “the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the U.S. will, in effect, be independently wealthy,” the article assured readers. without even lifting a finger, the average non-working family could expect to earn an average salary of between $30,000 and $40,000. That’s in 1966 dollars; by 2018, that’d be about $307,000. For doing nothing. Yes, we’re apparently heading into a pleasure-oriented society full of “wholesome degeneracy.”

Imagining Tomorrow

From the dawn of civilization, mankind has wondered what the future would bring. From children looking up at the moon, wondering when man would get there to serious futurists, engineers and science writers, people have dreamed of what lies ahead.

Here are some of the predictions about travel and transportation in the year 2020.

We’ll have ape chauffeurs. The second issue of The Futurist magazine, published in 1967, contained an exclusive report from the RAND Corp., a global think tank with a track record that’s included contributing to the space program and the development of the internet. In a story titled “Intelligent Apes Become Chauffeurs,” they shared details from a RAND study indicating that, “by the year 2020 it may be possible to breed intelligent species of animals, such as apes, that will be capable of performing manual labor. During the 21st Century, those houses that don’t have a robot in the broom closet could have a live-in ape to do the cleaning and gardening chores.” The study concluded that “the use of well-trained apes as family chauffeurs might decrease the number of automobile accidents.”

Roads will become tubes. If you’re sick of asphalt roads, with all their potholes and endless rush-hour gridlock, then you should be delighted to learn that by 2020, every road and street in America will be “replaced by a network of pneumatic tubes.” That’s according to a 1957 article in Popular Mechanics, which explained how the family vehicle of 2020 would only need enough power to get from your home to the nearest tube. Then, by the calculations of a Honeywell engineer, “they will be pneumatically powered to any desired destination.”

We’ll live in flying houses. Arthur C. Clarke, an inventor, science writer and futurist, believed the boring houses of 1966 would be radically different by the time we reached 2020. The house of the future “would have no roots tying it to the ground,” he wrote. “Gone would be water pipes, drains, power lines; the autonomous home could therefore move, or be moved, to anywhere on Earth at the owner’s whim.” And it wasn’t just one home that could relocate without the owner even needing to get out of bed. “Whole communities may migrate south in the winter, or move to new lands whenever they feel the need for a change of scenery,” Clarke promised.

We’ll finally make it to Mars. We’ve been dreaming of making it to Mars for as long as we’ve known the red planet existed. Only recently that venture has started to feel remotely realistic. Back in 1997, Wired magazine picked the date 2020 as the year when “humans arrive on Mars.” In the go-go ’90s, we had every reason to believe them. But we’re not so optimistic that Mars tourism is in our immediate future. Even NASA projects that the earliest we could get a human on the face of Mars is 2030, and that’s only if we’re really, really lucky.

Mail will be sent via rocket. Mail delivered by a cruise missile was successfully attempted in 1959, when a Navy submarine – the USS Barbero – sent 3,000 letters, all addressed to political figures like President Dwight D. Eisenhower, using only a rocket. The nuclear warhead was taken out and replaced with mail containers, and the missile was launched toward the Naval Auxiliary Air Station. The mail was successfully delivered, and Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield was so excited by the “historic significance” of mail delivery via instruments of war that he predicted it would become commonplace by the next century. “Mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles,” he said. “We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.” Instead, we got email, where messages can be transmitted around the globe within seconds.

We’ll have personal helicopters. Forget jetpacks and flying cars. The magazine Popular Mechanics was pretty sure in 1951 that every family in 2020 would have at least one helicopter in their garage. “This simple, practical, foolproof personal helicopter coupe is big enough to carry two people and small enough to land on your lawn,” they explained. “It has no carburetor to ice up, no ignition system to fall apart or misfire: instead, quiet, efficient ramjets keep the rotors moving, burning any kind of fuel from dime-a-gallon stove oil or kerosene up to aviation gasoline.”This one isn’t so very far off. Workhorse Group of Cincinnati starts production of its personal helicopter this year. But the price tag of $200,000 likely will limit sales to the uber rich.


Eating Predictions Miss the Mark

We all think about the future and what it will bring for us, our children and our grandchildren. Some even make bold predictions about the future. If we were asked 10 or 20 years ago what we expected in the year 2020, we might have guessed that we’d all be eating synthetic food pills and being served by robot butlers.

Nikola Tesla, the electricity wizard, predicted in 1937 that “within a century, coffee, tea and tobacco will be no longer in vogue.” Alcohol, however, “will still be used,” he claimed. “It is not a stimulant but a veritable elixir of life.” Tobacco use has plunged, but coffee and tea are going strong. Tesla also warned against chewing gum, claiming it could cause “exhaustion of the salivary glands, put[ting] many a foolish victim into an early grave.”

In 2005 futurist and computer scientist Ray Kurzweil predicted that eating will no longer be necessary.
“Nanobots capable of entering the bloodstream to ‘feed’ cells and extract waste will exist (though not necessarily be in wide use). They will make the normal mode of human food consumption obsolete,” he wrote. Maybe that’s a good idea, but it’s likely none of us ever thought “this meal would be so much better if it had no flavor whatsoever and it was just a tiny robot that we injected into our veins.”

Waldemar Kaempffert, a New York Times science editor, had lots of opinions about how different the world would become by 2020, especially when it came to our diets. All food, “even soup and milk,” would be delivered to our homes in the form of frozen bricks. It would never take anyone “more than half an hour to prepare … an elaborate meal of several courses.” And thanks to advances in culinary technology, it would be possible to take ordinary objects like old paper and even “rayon underwear,” and bring them to “chemical factories to be converted into candy.”

Gustav Bischoff, president of the American Meat Packers Association, had only grim forecasts for the 21st century, which he warned would involve a diet of mostly vegetables. Because of a shortage of meat, even the wealthiest people in 2020 would be forced into a life of vegetarianism. Bischoff told a New York Times reporter in 1913 that “living as the low-caste [Asian man] does now, on rice and vegetables, and, like him, slothful creatures, anemic and without initiative.” Aside from his staggering racism, Bischoff felt that the only way to save humanity was to “educate the American farmer to the necessity of raising more cattle.”

We all should have robot butlers or maids by now, right? David Eagleman, the neuroscientist and writer, says “I predicted that 20 years ago, when I was a sanguine boy loving Star Wars, and the smartest robot we have now is the Roomba vacuum cleaner.” Even though he’s holding out for robot assistants, “I won’t be surprised if I’m wrong in another 25 years. Artificial intelligence has proved itself an unexpectedly difficult problem.” As for fears that robots will soon steal all our jobs, Wired magazine isn’t too concerned. As they reported last year, “the problem we’re facing isn’t that the robots are coming. It’s that they aren’t.”

Undaunted by failed predictions of the past, some have some ideas for 2030.

Amazon is already launching drone delivery, and some believe the kitchen of tomorrow won’t need you to notice that your milk is running low or you’re almost out of beer. Containers will send out alerts, on their own, when they’re in need of replenishing.

Sean Raspet, a former flavorist-in-residence at Soylent, recently launched a new company called Nonfood that makes food entirely out of algae. As in, the gross slime that floats on the top of swamps. Pretty soon we’ll all be eating food that isn’t really food, some of which one early review reports tastes like “vinyl, and latex, and the dust of my grandfather’s ashes.” Delicious, NOT!

Six Signs May Indicate Heart Disease

One in four people in the western world die of cardiovascular disease. The importance of keeping the heart in good working order is hard to overstate. Sadly, the first sign many people have that their heart isn’t in good working order is when they have a heart attack.

Although you can’t see your heart beating in your chest — not without specialist imaging technology, at least — there are visible, external signs that can indicate if something is wrong with your heart, before you suffer from a life-changing – or ending — “cardiovascular event”.

Adam Taylor, director of the Clinical Anatomy Learning Centre and a senior lecturer at England’s Lancaster University, offers these cautions..

1. Creased earlobes. One such external indicator is diagonal creases on the earlobes – known as Frank’s sign, named after Sanders Frank, an American doctor who first described the sign. Studies have shown that there is an association with the visible external crease on the earlobe and increased risk of atherosclerosis, a disease where plaque builds up inside your arteries.

More than 40 studies have demonstrated an association between this feature of the ear and an increased risk of atherosclerosis. It is not clear what the cause of the association is, but some have postulated that it has to do with a shared embryological origin. Most recently, it has been seen that these creases are also implicated in cerebrovascular disease – disease of the blood vessels in the brain.

2. Fatty bumps. Another external indicator of heart issues is yellow, fatty bumps – known clinically as “xanthomas” – that can appear on the elbows, knees, buttocks or eyelids. The bumps themselves are harmless, but they can be a sign of bigger problems.

Xanthomas are most commonly seen in people with a genetic disease called familial hypercholesterolemia. People with this condition have exceptionally high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol – so-called “bad cholesterol”. The levels of this cholesterol are so high they become deposited in the skin. Unfortunately, these fatty deposits are also laid down in arteries that supply the heart.

The mechanism that causes these fatty deposits in tissues is understood and it holds an iconic place in medicine as it led to the development of one of the blockbuster group of drugs that reduce cholesterol: statins.

3. Clubbed fingernails. A phenomenon known as digital clubbing may also be a sign that all is not well with your heart. This is where the fingernails change shape, becoming thicker and wider, due to more tissue being produced. The change is usually painless and happens on both hands.

The reason this change indicates heart issues is because oxygenated blood is not reaching the fingers properly and so the cells produce a “factor” that promotes growth to try and rectify the issue. Clubbing of the fingers is the oldest known medical symptom. It was first described by Hippocrates in the fifth-century BC. This is why clubbed fingers are sometimes known as Hippocratic fingers.

4. Halo around the iris. Fat deposits may also be seen in the eye, as a grey ring around the outside of the iris, the coloured part of the eye. This so-called “arcus senilis”, starts at the top and bottom of the iris before progressing to form a complete ring. It doesn’t interfere with vision.

About 45% of people over the age of 40 have this fatty halo around their iris, rising to about 70% of people over the age of 60. The presence of this fatty ring has been shown to be associated with some of the risk factors for coronary heart disease.

5. Rotten gums and loose teeth. The state of your oral health can also be a good predictor of the state of your cardiovascular health. The mouth is full of bacteria, both good and bad. The “bad” bacteria can enter the bloodstream from the mouth and cause inflammation in the blood vessels, which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that tooth loss and inflamed gums (periodontitis) are markers of heart disease.

6. Blue lips. Another health indicator from the mouth is the color of your lips. The lips are usually red, but they can take on a bluish color (cyanosis) in people with heart problems, due to the failure of the cardiovascular system to deliver oxygenated blood to tissues.

Of course, people also get blue lips if they are extremely cold or have been at a high altitude. In this case, blue lips are probably just due to a temporary lack of oxygen and will resolve quite quickly.

In fact, the other five symptoms — mentioned above — can also have a benign cause. But if you are worried or in doubt, you should contact your GP or other healthcare professional for an expert opinion.

The Jetsons Are Coming

You might remember George & Jane Jetson of Orbit City. The couple and their family lived in Orbit City and came to our attention in the 1962-63 television season on ABC TV. In the animated production, the Jetsons used a variety of futuristic devices, including a personal helicopter.

Workhorse Group of Cincinnati is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to begin production of its personal helicopter in 2019. Dubbed the Surefly, the two-seat device uses electric vertical takeoff and landing technology and is expected to sell for about $200,000. Test flights already are under way.

Interested customers can make a $1,000 deposit at to reserve one.

Commuters expect they can cut two-hour commutes to about 10 minutes with the Surefly, which has a cruising speed of up to 70 miles per hour. It can travel for more than two hours using battery power combined with a small engine. The device is about the size of a sedan.

Workhorse Group already produces a delivery drone, dubbed the Horsefly.

The Japanese government has launched a campaign to bring together companies and public agencies in a push to have similar vehicles aloft in the next decade. In the United States, ride service Uber announced an initiative last year to create flying vehicles.

Noise, flight paths and landing spots are among the problems posed by personal helicopters. But the time saved in commuting is likely to push the growth of the concept.

Comedy Club One-liners

Now and again we enjoy a bit of humor. And the best humor, quite often, is self-deprecating. Here are some one-liners from well-known comedians.

Carol Burnett
“I liked myself better when I wasn’t me.”
“I don’t have false teeth. Do you think I’d buy teeth like these?”

George Carlin
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
“Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.”
“People who say they don’t care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don’t care what people think.”

Billy Crystal
“Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.”
“I sleep like a baby—I’m up every two hours.”

Ellen DeGeneres
“Can’t we just love everybody and judge them by the car they drive?”
“I like my coffee like I like my men…. I don’t drink coffee.”

Will Ferrell
“I’m actually pretty athletic. I have to work out just to look fat.”

Tina Fey
“An interim government was set up in Afghanistan. It included two women, one of whom was Minister of Women’s Affairs. Man, who’d she have to show her ankles to to get that job?”
“Amy Poehler and I have been friends for so long, we’re like Oprah and Gale. Only we’re not denying anything.”
“To say I’m an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair.”

Whoopi Goldberg
“I don’t look like Halle Berry. But chances are she’s going to end up looking like me.”
“I don’t have pet peeves; I have whole kennels of irritation.”

Jay Leno
“Britney Spears told an interviewer if she weren’t famous, she would be a teacher. So, thank God she’s famous.”
“According to a recent survey, men say the first thing they notice about women is their eyes. And women say the first thing they notice about men is they’re a bunch of liars.”

David Letterman
“Do you know what I love most about baseball? The pine tar, the resin, the grass, the dirt. And that’s just in the hot dogs.”
“USA Today has come out with a new survey. Apparently three out of four people make up 75 percent of the population.”
“Robbers broke into The Gap this weekend. The suspects are being described as armed and casual.”

Steve Martin
“First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me.”
“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.”

Lorne Michaels
“I don’t tweet for a very simple reason, which is that I drink.”

Eddie Murphy
“Anything you have to acquire a taste for was not meant to be eaten.”
“I tell ya, I’m ’bout as crazy as a dog in a hubcap factory.”

Bill Murray
“I don’t have to take this abuse from you. I’ve got hundreds of people dying to abuse me.”

Bob Newhart
“I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, ‘denigrate’ means ‘put down.'”

Richard Pryor
“I had to stop drinking, ’cause I got tired of waking up in my car driving 90.”
“I’m not addicted to cocaine. I just like the way it smells.”

Carl Reiner
“A lot of people like snow. I find it an unnecessary freezing of water.”

Neil Simon
“Gee, what a terrific party… Later on we’ll get some fluid and embalm each other.”

Lily Tomlin
“If love is the answer, could you rephrase the question?”
“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
“No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.”
“Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?”

Jonathan Winters
“I’m from the Delbert Home for the Unusual.”
“I have a photographic memory; I just haven’t developed it yet.”

Some Urban Legends Are True

Urban legends may shoot chills up your spine. But there’s an enjoyment that comes from tall tales that are confirmed to be true. Some of the most notable legends can be verifiably tied to actual events, from tales of bogeymen and subterranean cities to the story of the word the dictionary got wrong.

Read on to be surprised by some urban legends confirmed to be rooted in truth.

Gators in the Sewers. The truth depends on the century. In the early 1900s, it wasn’t unheard of for wealthy New Yorkers to bring baby Floridia alligators back to the Big Apple as pets. When they found their pets weren’t quite as cute as they’d hoped, they supposedly flushed them down the toilet. In 1932, the New York Times reported that a group of teen-agers had witnessed a gator easing itself out of the Bronx River. But don’t fret, the chances that there’s a band of toothy reptiles currently swimming through the sewage of your city these days is nil.

The Story of Charlie No-Face. The tale of Charlie No-Face is one of those true stories that gets wildly twisted in each retelling. Here are the facts: in the early 1900s, a Hillsville, Pa., boy was electrocuted by a trolley wire, resulting in lifelong disfigurement. Most of his facial features melted away, which is tragically a bit legendary in and of itself. As Charlie grew into an adult, rumors about his strange nighttime activities began to crop up, growing more and more preposterous as the rumor mill spun. Today, the people of Pennsylvania insist that Charlie No-Face has become a radioactive, glowing Green Man-type figure who haunts an abandoned freight tunnel with the ability to stall any cars daring to trespass in his tunnel – but the truth is that he was just a guy who experienced an unfortunate childhood accident.

Neil Armstrong’s Bungled Moon Landing Speech. That pivotal moment for all of humanity, when man first set foot on the moon, was, of course, scripted. But the quotation that we all know is not verbatim what astronaut Neil Armstrong was supposed to radio back to Earth. We all know the phrase as, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The crucial part that Armstrong left out was just the word, “a.” He was meant to say, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” After listening to the recording of himself, Armstrong admitted to misspeaking the line.

The Government Stole Dead Children. In the flurry of testing after World War II, after the U.S. had dropped the world’s first atomic bomb, scientists wanted to determine the effect of nuclear radiation on human flesh. In a series of tests known as “Project Sunshine,” the test subjects were deceased children – specifically, stillborn babies, whose parents were probably not notified about how their children’s bodies were being experimented on. Gruesome and sad, but true.

A Corpse in the Water Tank. Sometimes the water at your hotel just tastes downright disgusting. Well, it’s not entirely outside of the realm of reason that there might be a dead body floating in the water supply, contributing to the less-than-desirable taste. At least, that’s what happened at a Los Angeles hotel in 2013. For several days guests complained about a terrible smell that emanated anytime they turned on the shower and a terrible taste when they tried to brush their teeth. Management checked the water tank on the hotel roof and found the body of 21-year-old Elisa Lam floating inside. Her body was estimated to have been in the tank for two weeks.

Murderers in the Medicine Cabinets. The 1992 horror film Candyman includes a scene where the main characters learn that a murderer might be entering apartments via the medicine cabinets. Apparently this was once a legitimate structural flaw in some apartment complexes. The medicine cabinets in adjoining apartments in Chicago were connected by a flimsy partition, and an actual murder was committed by criminals entering through this weak structure.

The House Watcher. Right after a family purchased their dream home in New Jersey, a stalker calling himself “The Watcher” barraged them with a series of letters, claiming, among other things, that his own family had “watched” the house for generations. The letters also inquired about when the family would be filling the house with “young blood.” It’s unclear if there’s any truth to what was substantiated in the letters, but it was enough to scare the parents and their three young children out of moving into the house.

The Bogeyman. Parents often reassure their children that the Bogeyman doesn’t exist, but on Staten Island in the 1980s, he was all too real. Stories about “Cropsey” abounded claiming he would drag children from their beds and he carried a bloody ax in the crook of his arm. In reality, the legends surrounding Cropsey can likely all be traced back to a man by the name of Andre Rand. Rand worked as a janitor at Willowbrook State School, which specialized in providing services for children with disabilities. He was later suspected of kidnaping multiple children from the school, and officially found guilty for kidnapping two.

The Underground City. Conspiracy theories about the subterranean city beneath Denver International Airport have been thoroughly debunked, but another city, Las Vegas, does have its own underground city. It’s less of a conspiracy and more of an effort on the part of the tourist industry to maintain the city’s appeal. With stringent police limitations preventing homeless people from setting up camp on the Vegas strip, that population was struggling to find anywhere to go, and they ended up in the city’s flood channels.

The House at the Bottom of the Lake. Resting in the murky depths of Salem’s Gardner Lake is a fully intact house. That much is confirmed by the Hartford Courant. Supposedly, the house sank beneath the surface when a family attempted to move it across the frozen lake in the midst of a 19th-century winter. The really eerie part is that, to this day, fishermen report hearing strained musical notes gurgling up to the surface of the lake, supposedly issuing from the parlor room piano. That part of the story has not been confirmed.

The Entire Town at the Bottom of the Lake. It’s no Atlantis, but it’s probably as close as America is going to get to the underwater city of myth. In the 1940s, an entire evacuated town in Georgia was purposely flooded in order to build what is now known as Lake Lanier. The entire community, including a racetrack, was submerged by the lake-building project.

The Man Who Became a Pair of Shoes. Big Nose George was hanged in the 1880s for being a raucous outlaw with a penchant for horse thievery. Supposedly, a physician examining George’s brain trying to root out the cause of his criminal activity decided to use George’s skin for a number of bizarre purposes. That included making himself a new pair of shoes. After a whiskey barrel containing the remainder of the outlaw’s bones was discovered in 1950, speculation continued to mount: Maybe the legends revolving around who Big Nose George actually was are true after all.

Rats in the Toilet. Maybe you have always harbored a bit of a secret fear of what could possibly be lurking in the toilet. Well, if you haven’t been before, you might start looking before you sit yourself down. As told on a This American Life podcast, an Oregon man returned from a fun night out and wanted to make a quick trip to the bathroom before crawling into bed. His plan was foiled by the furry, live rodent he found in the toilet when he lifted up the lid!

Halloween Treat Tricksters. It’s recommended that parents exercise some caution and only visit neighborhoods they trust when carting their costumed children around for an evening of trick-or-treating. Unfortunately there have been multiple reports of unsuspecting children returning home with small baggies of crystal methamphetamine in their treat bags.

Murderous Medicine. Ever wondered if the medicine you’re dutifully taking as prescribed includes any extra ingredients? Thanks to the modern-day tamper-resistant seal, you can rest assured that your medicine is mixed just like the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, this packaging was developed for a reason. In 1982, someone got it into their head to inject potassium cyanide, a deadly poison, into multiple bottles of Tylenol. After several people died in what came to be known as the Tylenol Murders, the Federal Drug Administration stepped up to the plate and came out with regulations requiring all medicinal manufacturers to produce tamper-proof seals.

Webster’s Dictionary Made an Error. From 1934 through 1947, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary included an entry for a fabricated word: “dord,” defined as “density.” The error eventually was corrected by a flustered editor, who termed it a “ghost word.” It’s nice to know that one of the most authoritative sources on the English language makes mistakes, too.

The Jet-Black Squirrels of the Midwest. These squirrels’ possible possession of arcane powers, akin to black cats on Halloween, remain a source of contention, but the existence of these rare, jet-black woodland creatures is irrefutable. Of note is the fact that these black squirrels are confined to the Midwest, concentrated in particularly large clusters in Michigan. The story goes that Kellogg’s cereal guru W.K. Kellogg imported the black squirrels in an effort to eradicate red squirrels, a species that he detested.