This Podcast Was Written by an AI

Today we do something weird, in honor of the end of the second season of Flash Forward! Instead of coming up with a future and then finding experts to talk about it, I asked an AI to write a future for us. And the AI apparently wants us to talk about space travel, witches, and the occult.

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In this episode we feed all the past Flash Forward episodes to a neural network, and ask it to write a script for us. And that script is full of space travel, Mars conspiracy theories, future witches, and a whole lot of theories about cutting someone’s hands off.

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What Would Happen if We Stopped Eating Meat?

Today we go to a future where animal products are banned. It’s one that lots of listeners have asked for so here you go. We talk about what happens to the land, the animals and the humans in this equation.

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In this episode we discuss the arguments in favor and against banning meat. How does that impact culture? Why should we do it? Does it help or hurt the environment? Can you really grow meat in a lab? And is that meat vegan?

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When Today's Teens Run for Office

Today we try to figure out what happens when our future presidential candidates have thousands of Tweets and Tumblr posts and Instagrams in their online record.

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What happens, when today’s teens start running for office? When their entire internet history is there, searchable, for us to read? What if these teens Tweet something at 15 that they might regret at 45? Do we learn to accept that their opinions have changed? Or do we go through every candidate's entire social media history to find dirt on them? Does that tactic still work in the future? Or do we all just throw up our hands and admit that teens have bad opinions and that hopefully those opinions have changed?

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What if all drugs were totally legal?

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In this episode we discuss the history of drug laws, why some drugs are legal and others aren’t, and what would happen if we just let everybody lose to do whatever they want.

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What if school was out, forever?

Today a future without schools. Instead of gathering students into a room and teaching them, everybody learns on their own time, on tablets and guided by artificial intelligence.

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In this episode we talk to a computer scientist who developed an artificially intelligent TA, folks who build learning apps, and critics who wonder if all the promises being made are too good to be true. What do we gain when we let students choose their own paths? What do we lose when we get rid of schools?

Illustration by Matt Lubchansky.

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What if all the active volcanoes on Earth erupted at the same time?

In this episode, we take on a doomsday future: all the active volcanoes in the world erupt. At the same time. Kaboom. This is not good for us. What happens to humans and our planet? Who survives? How?

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We talk about the basics of a volcanic eruption, what makes something an active volcano, and all the terrible things that would happen if all 1,500 active volcanoes erupted at once.

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What if all pop stars used avatars?

Today we go to a future where all pop stars use avatars, clones, robots or cartoons instead of their real bodies and faces. What does that do to music? Can everybody pull off an avatar? And why would any pop star even want that?

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In this episode we talk about Beyonce clone conspiracy theories, how pop stars currently construct personas, and how fans might use their favorite star’s avatars. Plus, I go to a concert for a cartoon character.

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If you could choose to find out your death date, would you?

Today we travel to a future where everybody knows exactly when they’re going to die. Read the rest

What would the world be like if we could all understand each other?

Today we travel to a world with universal translation devices.

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In this episode we talk about how machine translation could be meddled with, who gets to be the baseline language, and what these devices might do for language loss and assimilation.

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Could America Ever Become a Direct Democracy?

Today we travel to a future where America has converted to a direct democracy. Everybody votes on everything!

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In this episode we explore the U.S. states that have direct democracy systems in place today, how to apply that model to the whole country, how to even gather all those votes, and what could go so, so very wrong with this idea.

Illustration by Matt Lubchansky.

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What happens when computers gain consciousness?

Today we travel to a world we share with conscious robots.

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In this episode we talk about everything from what artificial intelligence and consciousness even mean, whether you’ll ever have a moral obligation to pay Siri, and what happens when your intelligent secretary needs a therapist.

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How likely is a future without paper?

Today we travel to a fully digital world, a world where paper is a thing of the past.

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In this episode we talk about how likely it is that we might get rid of paper (not very) and what might happen to our reading habits, memories, and environment if we do.

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Flash Forward Reveals Hidden References

Today’s episode is a minipod, a smattering of time travel, future travel, and news about the show.

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In this episode we hear a bunch of messages from listeners: what folks think about past futures we’ve been to, and future futures we should travel to. We also do a little bit of time travel to the past, to talk about the first season of the show and hear some of the best bits from those futures. We do some announcements, and reveal a few of the hidden references from earlier episodes. A lot of people have asked me what they should be looking for, so this should help in your search.

In episode 2, Love At First Sexbot, the names of the different sex robots are references to particular people and characters. The Hadaly is named after a mechanical woman invented by a fictional Thomas Edison in the 1886 novel, The Future Eve. She’s one of the first female robots to appear in literature. The Leopold is named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose name lives on in the term “masochism.” And here’s probably the hardest one from that episode: Margot’s Discount Closet Solutions is named after a character from a Ray Bradbury short story called “All Summer in a Day.” That one was hard, I admit. In the mosquito episode, two of the names are references to Animorphs characters, and the repeated use of the number 18 points to the book in which the Animorphs turn into mosquitos. Read the rest

Will we ever live in a world without pets?

Today we travel to a future without pets. What would it take for us to give up our fuzzy, slithery, fishy friends? Should our pets get more rights? And if we didn’t have dogs or cats, would we domesticate something else to take their place?

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In this episode we also run through a couple of possible ways we might wind up in a pet-free world. Which, to me, sound really sad. Thankfully (spoiler alert) it’s probably never going to happen.

Illustration by Matt Lubchansky

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How to live a spreadsheet approved life

Today we travel to a future full of spreadsheet approved lives. A future where everything we do is tracked and quantified: calories, air quality, sleep, heart rate, microbes, brain waves, finances, happiness, sadness, menstrual cycles, poops, hopes and dreams. Everything.

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This episode is longer than our usual 20 minute jaunts to the future, because the future of quantified self is so huge. We cover everything from biased algorithms, to microbiomes (again), to the future of the calorie, and more.

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From cancer to body odor, the future uses of the microbiome

Today we travel to a future where your microbiome becomes a key part of your identity. From health to your child’s kindergarten, here are all the ways knowing about your microbiome might impact your life.

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In this episode we talk about the possibilities and limitations of the microbiome — the trillions of bacterial cells that live in and on your body. There’s a lot of money going towards microbiome research right now, and a whole lot of claims about what the microbiome can do. We break down what we actually know, and where we’re probably going.

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How would we get rid of every single mosquito?

In this episode of the Flash Forward podcast we travel to a future where humans have decided to eradicate the most dangerous animal on the planet: mosquitos. How would we do it? Is it even possible? And what are the consequences?

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We talk to experts on mosquito ecology, public health, and a guy who’s trying to genetically engineer mosquitoes to eliminate themselves. We talk about everything from how hard it would be to exterminate mosquitoes, to which species we should target, to what the potential side effects might be. Listen for all that and more!

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