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

You are Not So Smart is hosted by David McRaney, a journalist and self-described psychology nerd. In each episode, David explores cognitive biases and delusions, and is often joined by a guest expert.

If you love educational entertainment - programs about science, nature, history, technology and everything in between - it is a safe bet that the creators of those shows were heavily influenced by the founding fathers of science communication: Carl Sagan, David Attenborough, and James Burke.

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast we sit down with James Burke and discuss the past, the present, and where he sees us heading when we arrive in a future where scarcity is rare and home manufacturing can produce just about anything you desire.

James Burke is a legendary science historian who created the landmark BBC series Connections which provided an alternative view of history and change by replacing the traditional “Great Man” timeline with an interconnected web in which all people influence one another to blindly direct the flow of progress. Burke is currently writing a new book about the coming age of abundance, and he continues to work on his Knowledge Web project.

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We also sit down with Matt Novak, creator and curator of Paleofuture, a blog that explores retro futurism, sifting through the many ways people in the past predicted how the future would turn out, sometimes correctly, mostly not.

Together, Burke and Novak help us understand why we are to terrible at predicting the future and what we can learn about how history truly unfolds so we can better imagine who we will be in the decades to come.

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  1. petr says:

    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).

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