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Perspectives


Perspectives help us better understand how today’s accelerating and exponential technologies will impact us in the future. Get a new perspective on the future!

How Could the Big Bang Arise From Nothing?

READER QUESTION: My understanding is that nothing comes from nothing. For something to exist, there must be material or a component available, and for them to be available, there must be something else available....

How a Handful of Prehistoric Geniuses Launched Humanity’s Technological Revolution

For the first few million years of human evolution, technologies changed slowly. Some three million years ago, our ancestors were making chipped stone flakes and crude choppers. Two million years ago, hand-axes. A million...

How the Extinction of Ice Age Mammals May Have Forced Us to Invent Civilization

Why did we take so long to invent civilization? Modern Homo sapiens first evolved roughly 250,000 to 350,000 years ago. But initial steps towards civilization—harvesting, then domestication of crop plants—began only around 10,000 years...

Scientists Counted 20 Billion Ticks of an Extreme Galactic Clock to Test Einstein’s Theory of Gravity

For more than 100 years, Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity has been our best description of how the force of gravity acts throughout the universe. General relativity is not only very accurate, but ask...

Humans Didn’t Invent Mathematics, It’s What the World Is Made Of

Many people think that mathematics is a human invention. To this way of thinking, mathematics is like a language: it may describe real things in the world, but it doesn’t “exist” outside the minds...

Evolution Tells Us We Might Be the Only Intelligent Life in the Universe

Are we alone in the universe? It comes down to whether intelligence is a probable outcome of natural selection, or an improbable fluke. By definition, probable events occur frequently, improbable events occur rarely—or once....

The First Continents Bobbed to the Surface More Than Three Billion Years Ago, Study Shows

Most people know that the land masses on which we all live represent just 30 percent of Earth’s surface, and the rest is covered by oceans. The emergence of the continents was a pivotal moment...

Animal Evolution: Fossil Discovery Hints First Animals Lived Nearly 900 Million Years Ago

Ever wonder how and when animals swanned onto the evolutionary stage? When, where, and why did animals first appear? What were they like? Life has existed for much of Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, but for most...

Deciphering the Philosophers’ Stone: How Scientists Cracked a 400-Year-Old Alchemical Cipher

What secret alchemical knowledge could be so important it required sophisticated encryption? The setting was Amsterdam, 2019. A conference organized by the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry had just concluded at the...

Would We Still See Ourselves as ‘Human’ if Other Hominin Species Hadn’t Gone Extinct?

In our mythologies, there’s often a singular moment when we became “human.” Eve plucked the fruit of the tree of knowledge and gained awareness of good and evil. Prometheus created men from clay and...

China’s Cracking Down on Kids’ Screen Time, and the Implications Could Be Far-Reaching

Screens are taking over our lives. According to market research firm eMarketer, in 2020 adults in the US spent an average of 7 hours and 50 minutes per day looking at screens. That total...

A Ferocious Asteroid Strike Demolished an Ancient Middle Eastern City 3,600 Years Ago

As the inhabitants of an ancient Middle Eastern city now called Tall el-Hammam went about their daily business one day about 3,600 years ago, they had no idea an unseen icy space rock was...

Drugs, Robots, and the Pursuit of Pleasure: Why Experts Are Worried About AIs Becoming Addicts

In 1953, a Harvard psychologist thought he discovered pleasure—accidentally—within the cranium of a rat. With an electrode inserted into a specific area of its brain, the rat was allowed to pulse the implant by...

Ancient Brains: Inside the Extraordinary Preservation of a 310-Million-Year-Old Nervous System

Charles Darwin famously discussed the “imperfections” of the geological record in his book On the Origin of Species. He correctly pointed out that unless conditions are just right, it’s unlikely for organisms to be...

To What Extent Are We Ruled by Unconscious Forces?

Sometimes when I ask myself why I’ve made a certain choice, I realize I don’t actually know. To what extent we are ruled by things we aren’t conscious of? – Paul, 43, London Why did...

A Cave Site in Kenya’s Forests Reveals the Oldest Human Burial in Africa

Africa is often referred to as the cradle of humankind, the birthplace of our species, Homo sapiens. There is evidence of the development of early symbolic behaviors such as pigment use and perforated shell...

How Early Humans Used Fire to Permanently Change the Landscape Millennia Ago

Fields of rust-colored soil, spindly cassava, small farms and villages dot the landscape. Dust and smoke blur the mountains visible beyond massive Lake Malawi. Here in tropical Africa, you can’t escape the signs of...

AI Is Harder Than We Think: 4 Key Fallacies in AI Research

Artificial intelligence has been all over headlines for nearly a decade, as systems have made quick progress in long-standing AI challenges like image recognition, natural language processing, and games. Tech companies have sown machine...

One Incredible Ocean Crossing May Have Made Human Evolution Possible

Humans evolved in Africa, along with chimpanzees, gorillas, and monkeys. But primates themselves appear to have evolved elsewhere—likely in Asia—before colonizing Africa. At the time, around 50 million years ago, Africa was an island...

In ‘Klara and the Sun,’ We Glimpse an Eerie Future Through the Eyes of a Robot

In a store in the center of an unnamed city, humanoid robots are displayed alongside housewares and magazines. They watch the fast-moving world outside the window, anxiously awaiting the arrival of customers who might...

Origin of Life: Lightning Strikes May Have Provided Missing Ingredient for Earth’s First Organisms

The origin of life on Earth is one of the most complex puzzles facing scientists. It involves not only identifying the numerous chemical reactions that must take place to create a replicating organism, but...

All the Coronavirus in the World Could Fit Inside a Coke Can, With Plenty of Room to Spare

When I was asked to calculate the total volume of SARS-CoV-2 in the world for the BBC Radio 4 show "More or Less," I will admit I had no idea what the answer would...

Anthropocene: Human-Made Materials Now Weigh as Much as All Living Biomass, Say Scientists

Our deficiencies have always driven us, even among our distant ancestors, back in the last Ice Age. Having neither the speed and strength to hunt large prey, nor sharp teeth and claws to tear...

After 1.5 Billion Years in Flux, Here’s How a New, Stronger Crust Set the Stage for Life on Earth

Our planet is unique in the solar system. It’s the only one with active plate tectonics, ocean basins, continents and, as far as we know, life. But Earth in its current form is 4.5...

Why We Need a Collective Vision to Design the Future of Health

My mother died of Covid-19 at the age of 91. She was recovering from surgery in an assisted-living facility in Durham, North Carolina. While she had previously been healthy, the virus aggressively invaded her...

Resilience Is the New Black: The Lessons of Covid-19

For years it can seem as if the world is predictable, and then all at once, everything changes. Most of us have been blown away by the speed at which the coronavirus, Covid-19, has swept...

Why We Need Mass Automation to Pandemic-Proof the Supply Chain

The scale of goods moving around the planet at any moment is staggering. Raw materials are dug up in one country, spun into parts and pieces in another, and assembled into products in a...

4 Non-Obvious Trends That Matter During This Pandemic

Last year at South By Southwest, author and entrepreneur Rohit Bhargava spoke to a packed auditorium about trends that, though they may not be obvious, are playing a serious role in shaping the future....

How to Make Sense of Uncertainty in a Coronavirus World

As the internet churns with information about Covid-19, about the virus that causes the disease, and about what we’re supposed to do to fight it, it can be difficult to see the forest for...

Is Digital Learning Still Second Best?

As Covid-19 continues to spread, the world has gone digital on an unprecedented scale. Tens of thousands of employees are working from home, and huge conferences, like the Google I/O and Apple WWDC software...

Huge $161 Million Investment Means Meat Without the Animal Is Here

In 1931, Winston Churchill made a bold prediction: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable...

Why Designing Our Own Biology Will Be the Next Big Thing in Medicine

It’s hard to watch a loved one get sick. Their eyes go glassy. Their breathing is punctuated by body-wracking coughs. Feverish and aching, they struggle to get out of bed. Hard as these symptoms are...

Flying Cars, Aerial Ridesharing, and the Not-Too-Distant Future of Transport

In 2018, for the sixth straight year, Los Angeles earned the dubious honor of being the most gridlocked metropolis in the world, where the average driver spends 2.5 working weeks per year trapped in traffic. And countless...

How Can We Protect Alien Life From Us—and Us From It?

Is Earth the only known planetary body with life on it? Nope. In fact, there are 96 bags of human waste on the lunar surface. These were left over by the Apollo astronauts and...

How 3D Printing, Vertical Farming, and Materials Science Are Overhauling Food

Food. What we eat, and how we grow it, will be fundamentally transformed in the next decade. Already, indoor farming is projected to be a US$40.25 billion industry by 2022, with a compound annual growth...

Why Principles Over Practices Are the Key to Timeless Success

Why do some leaders and teams achieve great success in complex, uncertain, and fast-changing environments, while others who are equally capable struggle? Earlier this year, I found myself in a room with the heads of...

We Can’t Even Comprehend the Massive Data Haul We’ll Soon Get From Sensors

“Hey Google, how’s my health this morning?” “One moment,” says your digital assistant. It takes thirty seconds for the full diagnostic to run, as the system deploys dozens of sensors capturing gigabytes of data. Smart sensors in...

3D Printing Everything: Ultra-Cheap, Zero-Waste Products Are Coming

3D printing is about to transform manufacturing as we know it, decimating waste, multiplying speed to market, and harnessing never-before-used materials. Additive manufacturing products and services are projected to more than double by 2024, just...

How Augmented Reality Will Overhaul Our Most Crucial Industries

Augmented reality (AR) has already exceeded over 2,000 AR apps on over 1.4 billion active iOS devices. Even if on a rudimentary level, the technology is now permeating the consumer products space. And in just...

New AI Systems Are Here to Personalize Learning

The narratives about automation and its impact on jobs go from urgent to hopeful and everything in between. Regardless where you land, it’s hard to argue against the idea that technologies like AI and...

The First Evidence That Drugs Could Turn Back the Clock on Our Biological Age

After decades of research, here it is: the first promising evidence in humans, albeit imperfect and early, that a cocktail of three drugs is enough to reverse the epigenetic clock—a measure of someone’s biological...

Augmented 2030: the Apps, Headsets, and Lenses Getting Us There

Today, adults in the US spend over 11 hours a day looking at screens. That counts for more than a third of our livelihoods. Yet even though they serve as a portal to 90 percent...

What Does Ethical AI Look Like? Here’s What the New Global Consensus Says

Elon Musk usually isn’t one for advocating regulation and oversight. But when it comes to AI, he doesn’t mince words. AI is humanity’s “biggest existential threat,” he once proclaimed to some controversy. While that statement...

Introducing the Augmented World of 2030

Augmented reality is about to add a digital intelligence layer to our every surrounding, transforming retail, manufacturing, education, tourism, real estate, and almost every major industry that holds up our economy today. Just last year,...

A Brief Tour Through the Wild West of Neural Interfaces

To most of us, zapping neurons with electricity to artificially “incept” memories, sensation, and movement still sounds crazy. But in some brain labs, that technology is beginning to feel old school. As a new...

How Much Is AI Really Moving the Needle on Health?

When it comes to health and wellness, most people have a similar goal: we want to live a healthier, longer, and happier life. Thanks to antibiotics, vaccines, medical imaging, and other technological breakthroughs, we’ve...

The Promise of Direct Air Capture: Making Stuff Out of Thin Air

Imagine making fuel, plastics, and concrete out of “thin air." That’s the promise of direct air capture (DAC), a technology that fundamentally disrupts our contemporary oil economy. Mimicking what already occurs in nature, DAC essentially...

The Time for AI Is Now. Here’s Why

You hear a lot these days about the sheer transformative power of AI. There’s pure intelligence: DeepMind’s algorithms readily beat humans at Go and StarCraft, and DeepStack triumphs over humans at no-limit hold’em poker. Often,...

The Value of Owning Your Business’s Values

Nikolay Storonsky, CEO of the UK’s hottest fintech startup Revolut, has been extremely vocal about his company’s values. “Ninety-five per cent of founders, they will bullshit you,” he told the Financial Times. “I’m not going...

Wait, What? The First Human-Monkey Hybrid Embryo Was Just Created in China

Last week, news broke that a prominent stem cell researcher is making human-monkey chimeras in a secretive lab in China. The story, first reported by the Spanish newspaper El País, has all the ingredients of...

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