10 strange inventions from the future

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/07/27/10-strange-inventions-from-the.html

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Come on! Three seashells? That’ll never catch on!


That institute for the future looks pretty interesting actually, too!

How does one join and collaborate, I’m literally a week away from beginning work on an employee handbook for a fictional company (and it’s going to be kind of awesome, I’ve been experimenting pitching to my Uber drivers) :wink:

Waaaaaaait a minute.

These aren’t real!

Point of order: I already change gender temporarily whenever I specifically present as male or female. (Although my gender identity remains the same.) Now temporarily changing my sex is a different matter and an option that I would be interested in having available. Seriously, when talking about how “Gender identity has become a national issue” I’d think a bit more accuracy in terms would be useful.

Also, these are strange inventions? Maybe I just read too much Charles Stross or Rudy Rucker …they didn’t really make me blink.

Edit: changed for clarity about what I’d like available, just in case anyone’s interested in developing these items soon.


I really want that ring. Someone tell me when it’s actually a real thing.

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For the sake of argument, let’s take a black hat to this list:

1. Brain implants that allow people to read each other’s minds.

A human thought is a magnificently complicated spatial structure. You aren’t going to capture that kind of detail with the kind of sensors that will fit permanently into an implant, and even if you did an analogous structure in the brain of the recipient almost certainly does not exist for thought reproduction. And even if the structure could in theory be reproduced, what unholy manner of contraption do you suppose I would need installed in my skull that could coerce each one of my neurons into replicating some digitized thought-structure?

Mind reading is a full 3D-to-3D (or I suppose 4D, if you like) mapping, where all serious efforts I have seen at brain-computer interfaces are generally in the form of a 2D panel of electrodes that are attached to the exterior of the brain, or even to one of the brain’s existing sensory interfaces. Interface is the key word here, brain implants work as a small door through which data can be passed to and from the brain. You can’t read minds, you can’t transmit pure thought-stuff, and whatever electrical signals you might send to the brain, it will be the brain that decides how to interpret them and what to send back.

“You might imagine it’s like mind-reading, but it’s so much more.” I predict it will be so much less. Computer-enhanced telepathy is likely to present to the human mind as another input-output channel, much like voice and hearing and probably even modelled by the brain using the same linguistic machinery, although analogues for other senses should also be possible as long as we’re capable of coming to a consensus as to what the signals mean in the same way we have with spoken and written language. So, think of something like an intercom or a phone, but with fucking amazing emoji.

Of course by the time the technology is there, cutting open your skull and gluing a microchip to your brain may be a whole lot less appealing given the lack of remaining effective antibiotics.

2. A new currency in the online-education economy.

This one feels like it was written without a good understanding of the security guarantees that a block chain ledger can and cannot make. In short, how is it supposed to know what we’re using the currency for?

  • Who decides who is a qualified education provider?
  • Who decides how many edubucks an activity is worth?
  • “When you master a new skill at work, that goes on your learning record, too.” Or hey, even if you didn’t master it we’ll throw it on your record. It’ll make us look good for investors.
  • How many edubucks will you give me for this dime bag? Just put it on the ledger as a maths tutorial.
  • Hey, you didn’t take a maths tutorial at all! I’ll just amend your rec- oh shit block chain…

Currency is currency, and it’s fucking hard to dictate how people spend it. Qualifications are also fucking hard and you need a trusted authority to verify and police them. Block chain ledgers are currency without authority so it’s not even clear to me what they bring to the table in this scenario.

3. Augmented reality that helps anyone conquer public speaking.

If I’m not good at public speaking, I don’t know if getting HUD notifications mid-speech telling me to “maintain modest smile” are going to help or make me look like a weird robot, an effect probably not helped by whatever face-apparatus I have to wear to get the HUD.

As a high-end tool for experienced speakers, yeah maybe. But in that case, what can it achieve that I can’t already get from an aide talking into my earpiece? If anything, I’d want my aide wearing the HUD.

4. Pills that let you change genders temporarily — or forever.

This one’s kind of lazy, isn’t it? The article you linked to calls you a research organization, but pills that do things instantly and permanently until you take an “opposite pill” sound more like a thing you make up at age 5 than a thing you research.

With Gender XY-Change, a pill that could instantly change your hormone levels so you can experience life as the opposite sex, people would develop greater empathy toward one another.

What are the rules here? Should I even bother pointing out that hormones don’t work that way, or will you hand-wave something about how the future is hard to predict and when you say ‘hormones’ you mean some other as-yet undiscovered substance that will make your vagina pop out into a penis when you swallow a dose? Ugh. You futurologists are a shady bunch.

5. Blood kits to give people with the rarest blood type a way to stay safe and make money.

Ok, I guess? This one hardly seems very futuristic and it hardly seems to count as an invention, but it’s plausible.

Frauenfelder says home donation kits could allow people with Golden blood to sell it at a high cost — upward of $2,400 a liter.

To whom? Each other? Maybe the stuff has a market with the military, where you don’t want to carry the right blood type for everyone in the platoon. Most people with typical blood types are happy with typical blood transfusions.

They could save the profits for when they need to buy more of it in the event of an injury.

A sex change pill in a decade, but socialized medicine is hard to imagine…

6. Water that gives people a shot at immortality, at a high cost.

Research about aging suggests the first person who will live forever might already be alive.

This bold claim backed by an article headlined “Has the First Person to Achieve Immortality Already Been Born?” It quotes a researcher who says “the first thing I want to do is get rid of the use of this word immortality, because it’s enormously damaging, it is not just wrong, it is damaging.” He lists seven barriers to extreme longevity, one of which is All The Cancers. He hopes to reverse, uh, I guess one of them? The article doesn’t say, but whatever it is he hopes to be able to do it with lab mice in six to eight years.

As a software engineer who has had experience trying to tidy up old, complex, highly coupled systems, I suspect that this problem seems tantalizingly tractable because we don’t fully understand the system, hence we don’t understand the problem, and there are myriad failure modes that don’t become apparent until you start hacking.

But as a futurologist sure, fuck it, why not.

7. Microbial Mood Rings that give people unprecedented access to their health.

The Microbial Mood Ring would contain a perfect replica of the wearer’s microbiome. When you encounter an environment that might negatively affect that bacteria…

Your gut bacteria live in a warm, wet, and fairly acidic ecosystem with a steady food supply. You know what’s an environment that might negatively affect them? Well, just about anywhere that isn’t your gut but particularly a ring on your finger.

Is the ring hermetically sealed? In that case the ring is useless and also the bacteria will die. Is the ring exposed? In that case the bacteria will die and also the ring will be useless. And even if you’ve somehow managed to create a gut-like environment on a ring, that’s exposed to air but also doesn’t leak stomach juices onto my finger, as a way to detect “bad” bacteria, you’ve now given that bad bacteria the perfect place to colonize. Right there on the finger I eat my food and pick my nose with.

In any case most human environments are fucking jungles when it comes to bacteria, and unless a place is absolutely infested with one species the typical distribution of any one type of bacteria will often be a random splatter of small colonies. So, what touches the ring may not be what goes in your mouth, and vice versa.

Expensive, impractical, single-use, ineffective, even counter-productive.

8. Reputation Statements that list any good deeds you do.

The Chinese government is working very hard at getting basically this built into the WeChat platform, and it fucking terrifies me. This might work as an entirely open platform, if only defamation weren’t so damned easy to perpetrate, but once you throw governments, corporations, financial institutions and whatnot into the mix it turns into a nightmare.

Imagine one set of values imposed onto the actions of every individual. Imagine that set of values being determined by Silicon Valley investor capital. By your government. By your insurance company. Even by public consensus. Keep it away from me.

9. An Indulgence Navigator to provide real-time updates that help you avoid cravings.

Self-help products have been around since forever. I guess they will continue to improve. But where’s the business model for this app of yours? It’s tapping into massive amounts of personal biometric, activity and health data, and it discourages you from buying luxury foods. The data will leak, the company will go under, and the whole thing will be bought up on the quiet by McDonalds.

10. An augmented reality app that makes exercise a transparent and measurable facet of daily life.

Self-help products have been around since forever and I guess they will continue to improve. Although I’m struggling to understand how augmented reality applies to an app that encourages you to take the stairs. You just added that in to sound more futuristic, didn’t you?

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