You Are Not So Smart podcast 020: The Future - James Burke and Matt Novak




I love James Burke and think his Connections & The Day the Universe Changed series as some of the best historical scientific documentaries ever. I was pleased that he was still around and doing talks and while I find his talk on the potential game changing world of abundance with the help of personal nano-factories to be intriguing it is well worth looking at his documentary "After the Warming" in which most of his predictions are way off the mark. You can probably find it on youtube, it was made in the early 90s but made to look like it was the year 2050 and we were looking back at what happened in the early 21st century. We are given mock newscasts of climate disasters - some of which really are close to home, such as the Katrina and Sandy hurricanes, massive bush fires in Greece etc. Yet some of them are hopelessly off the mark - such as Japan dominating the world economy and a word wide planetary body that regulates carbon etc. to mitigate climate change. It is all wildly optimistic, and obviously doesn't take into account a post 911 world, a post 2008 Economic collapse world, and the fact that the vested fossil fuel energy interests were willing to put up a fight against climate change science. Another wildly optimistic prediction that most of the world stops eating beef by 2020. Still I enjoy listening to Burke, there still might be more things coming out of left field such as synthetic biology. (I suggest George Church's Regenesis).


Founding Father's of Science Explanation? You left out one of the best! Isaac Asimov wrote hundreds of books, many of which were easy to understand but very well written books about many different branches of science. Not mentioning him is like leaving Einstein out of a list of important physicists!


All big influences on me. Burke especially so. I used to write some Clockpunk / Steampunk stuff - at least for myself, if for no one else - and instead of making it sort of whimsical and detached from reality (lets make the past better) I always tried to ground it in an appreciation for what they were actually doing, or could have been doing, with maybe just a tweak.


I love all three of these guys. But I would add John Romer to the list. Romer is to archaeology what Sagan was to astronomy.


Continuing the discussion from You Are Not So Smart podcast 020: The Future - James Burke and Matt Novak:

I have never had an urge to download the podcast...but James Burke is an automatic win, for me.

Recently rewatching "The Day the Universe Changed", it was eerily prescient about some things, especially it's worries at the dawn of the Information Age. "After the Warming" is off the mark on a lot of points, but given it was made in 1989, it's biggest mistake is being optimistic about people dealing with climate change. Some of the mistakes are based on science from the time, while others are much closer to the mark than we might have imagined: for every part he gets wrong (a world org to manage carbon emissions, getting rid of cattle) he gets another right (flooding of New Orleans, Gulf Wars, politicians styming action on climate change)


I work as a tech analyst and so I make a lot of prediction, though I'm definitely not a futurist. The thing to note is that when you make long term predictions you do it assuming you're going to be wrong, because you're smart enough to know you're not smart enough to know what's going to happen.

Rather, the goals include:
(1) To set down your assumptions and explore their implications
(2) To try out various scenario assumptions and see what could happen
(3) To get people to focus on the factors and assumptions you consider important
(4) To shape the broader conversation on a topic, thereby influencing the very trend you're trying to analyze


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