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An App That Does Your Homework for You Is Now Worth $3 Billion

Homework Machine

Extracurricular education is big business in China.

One futuristic example: Yuanfudao, an online tutoring platform that includes an app that uses artificial intelligence to give students answers to their homework after they snap a photo of it.

Yuanfudao claims it now has 200 million users, and that interest from parents and students has translated into major interest from investors. If it lives up the hype, it could represent a new path forward for educational technology — not just in China but for students across the globe.

Fully Invested

On Tuesday, Yuanfudao announced another $300 million in funding, bringing its valuation to more than $3 billion. Chinese social networking and gaming giant Tencent led the round, with an international squad of investment firms including Warburg Pincus and IDG Capital also joining in.

Yuanfudao told TechCrunch it plans to use these funds for AI research and development, and to improve the user experience of its homework app.

Practice Makes Perfect

While being able to snap a photo of your homework and instantly get answers to problems sounds like a lazy student’s dream come true, the homework app actually isn’t Yuanfudao’s main moneymaker — the company told TechCrunch most of its revenue comes from selling live courses.

Rather than using the app to get out of doing their homework in the first place, it’s more likely that Chinese students use the app to check that their homework answers are correct. After all, the ultimate goal of paying for Yuanfudao is to improve exam scores, so skipping out on doing the homework that prepares a student for those exams would be counterintuitive.

Chinese parents probably wouldn’t be too happy about that use of the app, either. All told, they spend an average of $17,400 every year on extracurricular tutoring for their children — and based on Yuanfudao’s latest round of funding, investors are as willing to pump money into tutoring companies as Chinese parents are.

READ MORE:  Tencent-Backed Homework App Jumps to $3B Valuation After Raising $300M [TechCrunch]

More on Chinese education: Not Paying Attention in Class? China’s “Smart Eye” Will Snitch on You

The post An App That Does Your Homework for You Is Now Worth $3 Billion appeared first on Futurism.

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An App That Does Your Homework for You Is Now Worth $3 Billion

Futurism – Wikipedia

Futurism (Italian: Futurismo) was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century. It emphasized speed, technology, youth, violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane, and the industrial city. Its key figures were the Italians Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carr, Gino Severini, Giacomo Balla, and Luigi Russolo. It glorified modernity and aimed to liberate Italy from the weight of its past.[1] Cubism contributed to the formation of Italian Futurism’s artistic style.[2] Important Futurist works included Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism, Boccioni’s sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, Balla’s painting Abstract Speed + Sound, and Russolo’s The Art of Noises. Although it was largely an Italian phenomenon, there were parallel movements in Russia, England, Belgium and elsewhere. The Futurists practiced in every medium of art, including painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, urban design, theatre, film, fashion, textiles, literature, music, architecture, and even Futurist meals. To some extent Futurism influenced the art movements Art Deco, Constructivism, Surrealism, Dada, and to a greater degree Precisionism, Rayonism, and Vorticism.

Futurism is an avant-garde movement founded in Milan in 1909 by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.[1] Marinetti launched the movement in his Futurist Manifesto,[3] which he published for the first time on 5 February 1909 in La gazzetta dell’Emilia, an article then reproduced in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro on Saturday 20 February 1909.[4][5][6] He was soon joined by the painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carr, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini and the composer Luigi Russolo. Marinetti expressed a passionate loathing of everything old, especially political and artistic tradition. “We want no part of it, the past”, he wrote, “we the young and strong Futurists!” The Futurists admired speed, technology, youth and violence, the car, the airplane and the industrial city, all that represented the technological triumph of humanity over nature, and they were passionate nationalists. They repudiated the cult of the past and all imitation, praised originality, “however daring, however violent”, bore proudly “the smear of madness”, dismissed art critics as useless, rebelled against harmony and good taste, swept away all the themes and subjects of all previous art, and gloried in science.

Publishing manifestos was a feature of Futurism, and the Futurists (usually led or prompted by Marinetti) wrote them on many topics, including painting, architecture, religion, clothing and cooking.[7]

The founding manifesto did not contain a positive artistic programme, which the Futurists attempted to create in their subsequent Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1914).[8] This committed them to a “universal dynamism”, which was to be directly represented in painting. Objects in reality were not separate from one another or from their surroundings: “The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten four three; they are motionless and they change places. … The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it.”[9]

The Futurist painters were slow to develop a distinctive style and subject matter. In 1910 and 1911 they used the techniques of Divisionism, breaking light and color down into a field of stippled dots and stripes, which had been originally created by Giovanni Segantini and others. Later, Severini, who lived in Paris, attributed their backwardness in style and method at this time to their distance from Paris, the centre of avant-garde art.[10] Severini was the first to come into contact with Cubism and following a visit to Paris in 1911 the Futurist painters adopted the methods of the Cubists. Cubism offered them a means of analysing energy in paintings and expressing dynamism.

They often painted modern urban scenes. Carr’s Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (191011) is a large canvas representing events that the artist had himself been involved in, in 1904. The action of a police attack and riot is rendered energetically with diagonals and broken planes. His Leaving the Theatre (191011) uses a Divisionist technique to render isolated and faceless figures trudging home at night under street lights.

Boccioni’s The City Rises (1910) represents scenes of construction and manual labour with a huge, rearing red horse in the centre foreground, which workmen struggle to control. His States of Mind, in three large panels, The Farewell, Those who Go, and Those Who Stay, “made his first great statement of Futurist painting, bringing his interests in Bergson, Cubism and the individual’s complex experience of the modern world together in what has been described as one of the ‘minor masterpieces’ of early twentieth century painting.”[11] The work attempts to convey feelings and sensations experienced in time, using new means of expression, including “lines of force”, which were intended to convey the directional tendencies of objects through space, “simultaneity”, which combined memories, present impressions and anticipation of future events, and “emotional ambience” in which the artist seeks by intuition to link sympathies between the exterior scene and interior emotion.[11]

Boccioni’s intentions in art were strongly influenced by the ideas of Bergson, including the idea of intuition, which Bergson defined as a simple, indivisible experience of sympathy through which one is moved into the inner being of an object to grasp what is unique and ineffable within it. The Futurists aimed through their art thus to enable the viewer to apprehend the inner being of what they depicted. Boccioni developed these ideas at length in his book, Pittura scultura Futuriste: Dinamismo plastico (Futurist Painting Sculpture: Plastic Dynamism) (1914).[12]

Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912) exemplifies the Futurists’ insistence that the perceived world is in constant movement. The painting depicts a dog whose legs, tail and leashand the feet of the woman walking ithave been multiplied to a blur of movement. It illustrates the precepts of the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting that, “On account of the persistency of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations, in their mad career. Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular.”[9] His Rhythm of the Bow (1912) similarly depicts the movements of a violinist’s hand and instrument, rendered in rapid strokes within a triangular frame.

The adoption of Cubism determined the style of much subsequent Futurist painting, which Boccioni and Severini in particular continued to render in the broken colors and short brush-strokes of divisionism. But Futurist painting differed in both subject matter and treatment from the quiet and static Cubism of Picasso, Braque and Gris. Although there were Futurist portraits (e.g. Carr’s Woman with Absinthe (1911), Severini’s Self-Portrait (1912), and Boccioni’s Matter (1912)), it was the urban scene and vehicles in motion that typified Futurist paintinge.g. Boccioni’s The Street Enters the House (1911), Severini’s Dynamic Hieroglyph of the Bal Tabarin (1912), and Russolo’s Automobile at Speed (1913)

In 1912 and 1913, Boccioni turned to sculpture to translate into three dimensions his Futurist ideas. In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) he attempted to realise the relationship between the object and its environment, which was central to his theory of “dynamism”. The sculpture represents a striding figure, cast in bronze posthumously and exhibited in the Tate Modern. (It now appears on the national side of Italian 20 eurocent coins). He explored the theme further in Synthesis of Human Dynamism (1912), Speeding Muscles (1913) and Spiral Expansion of Speeding Muscles (1913). His ideas on sculpture were published in the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture[13] In 1915 Balla also turned to sculpture making abstract “reconstructions”, which were created out of various materials, were apparently moveable and even made noises. He said that, after making twenty pictures in which he had studied the velocity of automobiles, he understood that “the single plane of the canvas did not permit the suggestion of the dynamic volume of speed in depth … I felt the need to construct the first dynamic plastic complex with iron wires, cardboard planes, cloth and tissue paper, etc.”[14]

In 1914, personal quarrels and artistic differences between the Milan group, around Marinetti, Boccioni, and Balla, and the Florence group, around Carr, Ardengo Soffici (18791964) and Giovanni Papini (18811956), created a rift in Italian Futurism. The Florence group resented the dominance of Marinetti and Boccioni, whom they accused of trying to establish “an immobile church with an infallible creed”, and each group dismissed the other as passiste.

Futurism had from the outset admired violence and was intensely patriotic. The Futurist Manifesto had declared, “We will glorify warthe world’s only hygienemilitarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.”[6][15] Although it owed much of its character and some of its ideas to radical political movements, it was not much involved in politics until the autumn of 1913.[14] Then, fearing the re-election of Giolitti, Marinetti published a political manifesto. In 1914 the Futurists began to campaign actively against the Austro-Hungarian empire, which still controlled some Italian territories, and Italian neutrality between the major powers. In September, Boccioni, seated in the balcony of the Teatro dal Verme in Milan, tore up an Austrian flag and threw it into the audience, while Marinetti waved an Italian flag. When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, many Futurists enlisted.[16] The experience of the war marked several Futurists, particularly Marinetti, who fought in the mountains of Trentino at the border of Italy and Austria-Hungary, actively engaging in propaganda.[17] The combat experience also influenced Futurist music.[18]

The outbreak of war disguised the fact that Italian Futurism had come to an end. The Florence group had formally acknowledged their withdrawal from the movement by the end of 1914. Boccioni produced only one war picture and was killed in 1916. Severini painted some significant war pictures in 1915 (e.g. War, Armored Train, and Red Cross Train), but in Paris turned towards Cubism and post-war was associated with the Return to Order.

After the war, Marinetti revived the movement. This revival was called il secondo Futurismo (Second Futurism) by writers in the 1960s. The art historian Giovanni Lista has classified Futurism by decades: “Plastic Dynamism” for the first decade, “Mechanical Art” for the 1920s, “Aeroaesthetics” for the 1930s.

Russian Futurism was a movement of literature and the visual arts. The poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was a prominent member of the movement. Visual artists such as David Burlyuk, Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova and Kazimir Malevich found inspiration in the imagery of Futurist writings and were poets themselves. It has also a larger impact on the all suprematism movement. Other poets adopting Futurism included Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksey Kruchenykh. Poets and painters collaborated on theatre production such as the Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun, with texts by Kruchenykh and sets by Malevich.

The main style of painting was Cubo-Futurism, adopted in 1913 when Aristarkh Lentulov returned from Paris and exhibited his paintings in Moscow. Cubo-Futurism combines the forms of Cubism with the representation of movement. Like their Italian predecessors the Russian Futurists were fascinated with dynamism, speed and the restlessness of modern urban life.

The Russian Futurists sought controversy by repudiating the art of the past, saying that Pushkin and Dostoevsky should be “heaved overboard from the steamship of modernity”. They acknowledged no authority and professed not to owe anything even to Marinetti, whose principles they had earlier adopted, obstructing him when he came to Russia to proselytize in 1914.

The movement began to decline after the revolution of 1917. Some Futurists died, others emigrated. Mayakovsky and Malevich became part of the Soviet establishment and the Agitprop movement of the 1920s. Others were persecuted. Mayakovsky committed suicide on April 14, 1930.

The Futurist architect Antonio Sant’Elia expressed his ideas of modernity in his drawings for La Citt Nuova (The New City) (19121914). This project was never built and Sant’Elia was killed in the First World War, but his ideas influenced later generations of architects and artists. The city was a backdrop onto which the dynamism of Futurist life is projected. The city had replaced the landscape as the setting for the exciting modern life. Sant’Elia aimed to create a city as an efficient, fast-paced machine. He manipulates light and shape to emphasize the sculptural quality of his projects. Baroque curves and encrustations had been stripped away to reveal the essential lines of forms unprecedented from their simplicity. In the new city, every aspect of life was to be rationalized and centralized into one great powerhouse of energy. The city was not meant to last, and each subsequent generation was expected to build their own city rather than inheriting the architecture of the past.

Futurist architects were sometimes at odds with the Fascist state’s tendency towards Roman imperial-classical aesthetic patterns. Nevertheless, several Futurist buildings were built in the years 19201940, including public buildings such as railway stations, maritime resorts and post offices. Examples of Futurist buildings still in use today are Trento’s railway station, built by Angiolo Mazzoni, and the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence. The Florence station was designed in 1932 by the Gruppo Toscano (Tuscan Group) of architects, which included Giovanni Michelucci and Italo Gamberini, with contributions by Mazzoni.

Futurist music rejected tradition and introduced experimental sounds inspired by machinery, and would influence several 20th-century composers.

Francesco Balilla Pratella joined the Futurist movement in 1910 and wrote a Manifesto of Futurist Musicians in which he appealed to the young (as had Marinetti), because only they could understand what he had to say. According to Pratella, Italian music was inferior to music abroad. He praised the “sublime genius” of Wagner and saw some value in the work of other contemporary composers, for example Richard Strauss, Elgar, Mussorgsky, and Sibelius. By contrast, the Italian symphony was dominated by opera in an “absurd and anti-musical form”. The conservatories was said to encourage backwardness and mediocrity. The publishers perpetuated mediocrity and the domination of music by the “rickety and vulgar” operas of Puccini and Umberto Giordano. The only Italian Pratella could praise was his teacher Pietro Mascagni, because he had rebelled against the publishers and attempted innovation in opera, but even Mascagni was too traditional for Pratella’s tastes. In the face of this mediocrity and conservatism, Pratella unfurled “the red flag of Futurism, calling to its flaming symbol such young composers as have hearts to love and fight, minds to conceive, and brows free of cowardice.”

Luigi Russolo (18851947) wrote The Art of Noises (1913),[19][20] an influential text in 20th-century musical aesthetics. Russolo used instruments he called intonarumori, which were acoustic noise generators that permitted the performer to create and control the dynamics and pitch of several different types of noises. Russolo and Marinetti gave the first concert of Futurist music, complete with intonarumori, in 1914. However they were prevented from performing in many major European cities by the outbreak of war.

Futurism was one of several 20th-century movements in art music that paid homage to, included or imitated machines. Ferruccio Busoni has been seen as anticipating some Futurist ideas, though he remained wedded to tradition.[21] Russolo’s intonarumori influenced Stravinsky, Arthur Honegger, George Antheil, Edgar Varse,[11] Stockhausen and John Cage. In Pacific 231, Honegger imitated the sound of a steam locomotive. There are also Futurist elements in Prokofiev’s The Steel Step and in his Second Symphony.

Most notable in this respect, however, is the American George Antheil. His fascination with machinery is evident in his Airplane Sonata, Death of the Machines, and the 30-minute Ballet Mcanique. The Ballet Mcanique was originally intended to accompany an experimental film by Fernand Lger, but the musical score is twice the length of the film and now stands alone. The score calls for a percussion ensemble consisting of three xylophones, four bass drums, a tam-tam, three airplane propellers, seven electric bells, a siren, two “live pianists”, and sixteen synchronized player pianos. Antheil’s piece was the first to synchronize machines with human players and to exploit the difference between what machines and humans can play.

Other composers offered more melodic variants of Futurist music, notably Franco Casavola, who was active with the movement at the invitation of Marinetti between 1924 and 1927, and Arthur-Vincent Louri, the first Russian Futurist musician, and a signatory of the St Petersburg Futurist Manifesto in 1914. His five Synthses offer a form of dodecaphony, while Formes en l’air was dedicated to Picasso and is a Cubo-Futurist concept. Born in Ukraine and raised in New York, Leo Ornstein gave his first recital of ‘Futurist Music’ at the Steinway Hall in London on 27 March 1914. According to the Daily Sketch newspaper “one listened with considerable distress. Nothing so horrible as Mr Ornstein’s music has been heard so far. Sufferers from complete deafness should attend the next recital.”

The Futuristic movement also influenced the concept of dance. Indeed, dancing was interpreted as an alternative way of expressing man’s ultimate fusion with the machine. The altitude of a flying plane, the power of a car’s motor and the roaring loud sounds of complex machinery were all signs of man’s intelligence and excellence which the art of dance had to emphasize and praise. This type of dance is considered futuristic since it disrupts the referential system of traditional, classical dance and introduces a different style, new to the sophisticated bourgeois audience. The dancer no longer performs a story, a clear content, that can be read according to the rules of ballet. One of the most famous futuristic dancers was the Italian Giannina Censi[it]. Trained as a classical ballerina, she is known for her “Aerodanze” and continued to earn her living by performing in classical and popular productions. She describes this innovative form of dance as the result of a deep collaboration with Marinetti and his poetry. Through these words, she explains: ” I launched this idea of the aerial-futurist poetry with Marinetti, he himself declaiming the poetry. A small stage of a few square meters;… I made myself a satin costume with a helmet; everything that the plane did had to be expressed by my body. It flew and, moreover, it gave the impression of these wings that trembled, of the apparatus that trembled,… And the face had to express what the pilot felt.”[22][23]

Futurism as a literary movement made its official debut with F.T. Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism (1909), as it delineated the various ideals Futurist poetry should strive for. Poetry, the predominate medium of Futurist literature, can be characterized by its unexpected combinations of images and hyper-conciseness (not to be confused with the actual length of the poem). The Futurists called their style of poetry parole in libert (word autonomy) in which all ideas of meter were rejected and the word became the main unit of concern. In this way, the Futurists managed to create a new language free of syntax punctuation, and metrics that allowed for free expression.

Theater also has an important place within the Futurist universe. Works in this genre have scenes that are few sentences long, have an emphasis on nonsensical humor, and attempt to discredit the deep rooted traditions via parody and other devaluation techniques.There are a number of examples of Futurist novels from both the initial period of Futurism and the neo-Futurist period, from Marinetti himself to a number of lesser known Futurists, such as Primo Conti, Ardengo Soffici and Giordano Bruno Sanzin (Zig Zag, Il Romanzo Futurista edited by Alessandro Masi, 1995). They are very diverse in style, with very little recourse to the characteristics of Futurist Poetry, such as ‘parole in libert’. Arnaldo Ginna’s ‘Le locomotive con le calze'(Trains with socks on)plunges into a world of absurd nonsense, childishly crude. His brother Bruno Corra wrote in Sam Dunn morto (Sam Dunn is Dead) a masterpiece of Futurist fiction, in a genre he himself called ‘Synthetic’ characterized by compression, and precision; it is a sophisticated piece that rises above the other novels through the strength and pervasiveness of its irony.

When interviewed about her favorite film of all times,[24] famed movie critic Pauline Kael stated that the director Dimitri Kirsanoff, in his silent experimental film Mnilmontant “developed a technique that suggests the movement known in painting as Futurism”.[25]

Many Italian Futurists supported Fascism in the hope of modernizing a country divided between the industrialising north and the rural, archaic South. Like the Fascists, the Futurists were Italian nationalists, radicals, admirers of violence, and were opposed to parliamentary democracy. Marinetti founded the Futurist Political Party (Partito Politico Futurista) in early 1918, which was absorbed into Benito Mussolini’s Fasci di combattimento in 1919, making Marinetti one of the first members of the National Fascist Party. He opposed Fascism’s later exaltation of existing institutions, calling them “reactionary”, and walked out of the 1920 Fascist party congress in disgust, withdrawing from politics for three years; but he supported Italian Fascism until his death in 1944. The Futurists’ association with Fascism after its triumph in 1922 brought them official acceptance in Italy and the ability to carry out important work, especially in architecture. After the Second World War, many Futurist artists had difficulty in their careers because of their association with a defeated and discredited regime.

Marinetti sought to make Futurism the official state art of Fascist Italy but failed to do so. Mussolini chose to give patronage to numerous styles and movements in order to keep artists loyal to the regime. Opening the exhibition of art by the Novecento Italiano group in 1923, he said, “I declare that it is far from my idea to encourage anything like a state art. Art belongs to the domain of the individual. The state has only one duty: not to undermine art, to provide humane conditions for artists, to encourage them from the artistic and national point of view.”[26] Mussolini’s mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, who was as able a cultural entrepreneur as Marinetti, successfully promoted the rival Novecento group, and even persuaded Marinetti to sit on its board. Although in the early years of Italian Fascism modern art was tolerated and even embraced, towards the end of the 1930s, right-wing Fascists introduced the concept of “degenerate art” from Germany to Italy and condemned Futurism.

Marinetti made numerous moves to ingratiate himself with the regime, becoming less radical and avant-garde with each. He moved from Milan to Rome to be nearer the centre of things. He became an academician despite his condemnation of academies, married despite his condemnation of marriage, promoted religious art after the Lateran Treaty of 1929 and even reconciled himself to the Catholic Church, declaring that Jesus was a Futurist.

Although Futurism mostly became identified with Fascism, it had leftist and anti-Fascist supporters. They tended to oppose Marinetti’s artistic and political direction of the movement, and in 1924 the socialists, communists and anarchists walked out of the Milan Futurist Congress. The anti-Fascist voices in Futurism were not completely silenced until the annexation of Abyssinia and the Italo-German Pact of Steel in 1939.[27] This association of Fascists, socialists and anarchists in the Futurist movement, which may seem odd today, can be understood in terms of the influence of Georges Sorel, whose ideas about the regenerative effect of political violence had adherents right across the political spectrum.

Futurism expanded to encompass many artistic domains and ultimately included painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, theatre design, textiles, drama, literature, music and architecture.

Aeropainting (aeropittura) was a major expression of the second generation of Futurism beginning in 1926. The technology and excitement of flight, directly experienced by most aeropainters,[28] offered aeroplanes and aerial landscape as new subject matter. Aeropainting was varied in subject matter and treatment, including realism (especially in works of propaganda), abstraction, dynamism, quiet Umbrian landscapes,[29] portraits of Mussolini (e.g. Dottori’s Portrait of il Duce), devotional religious paintings, decorative art, and pictures of planes.

Aeropainting was launched in a manifesto of 1929, Perspectives of Flight, signed by Benedetta, Depero, Dottori, Filla, Marinetti, Prampolini, Somenzi and Tato (Guglielmo Sansoni). The artists stated that “The changing perspectives of flight constitute an absolutely new reality that has nothing in common with the reality traditionally constituted by a terrestrial perspective” and that “Painting from this new reality requires a profound contempt for detail and a need to synthesise and transfigure everything.” Crispolti identifies three main “positions” in aeropainting: “a vision of cosmic projection, at its most typical in Prampolini’s ‘cosmic idealism’ …; a ‘reverie’ of aerial fantasies sometimes verging on fairy-tale (for example in Dottori …); and a kind of aeronautical documentarism that comes dizzyingly close to direct celebration of machinery (particularly in Crali, but also in Tato and Ambrosi).”[30]

Eventually there were over a hundred aeropainters. Major figures include Fortunato Depero, Enrico Prampolini, Gerardo Dottori and Crali. Crali continued to produce aeropittura up until the 1980s.

Futurism influenced many other twentieth-century art movements, including Art Deco, Vorticism, Constructivism, Surrealism, Dada, and much later Neo-Futurism.[31][32] Futurism as a coherent and organized artistic movement is now regarded as extinct, having died out in 1944 with the death of its leader Marinetti.

Nonetheless, the ideals of Futurism remain as significant components of modern Western culture; the emphasis on youth, speed, power and technology finding expression in much of modern commercial cinema and culture. Ridley Scott consciously evoked the designs of Sant’Elia in Blade Runner. Echoes of Marinetti’s thought, especially his “dreamt-of metallization of the human body”, are still strongly prevalent in Japanese culture, and surface in manga/anime and the works of artists such as Shinya Tsukamoto, director of the Tetsuo (lit. “Ironman”) films. Futurism has produced several reactions, including the literary genre of cyberpunkin which technology was often treated with a critical eyewhilst artists who came to prominence during the first flush of the Internet, such as Stelarc and Mariko Mori, produce work which comments on Futurist ideals. and the art and architecture movement Neo-Futurism in which technology is considered a driver to a better quality of life and sustainability values.[33][34]

A revival of sorts of the Futurist movement in theatre began in 1988 with the creation of the Neo-Futurist style in Chicago, which utilizes Futurism’s focus on speed and brevity to create a new form of immediate theatre. Currently, there are active Neo-Futurist troupes in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Montreal.[35]

Futurist ideas have been discerned in Western dance music since the 1980s.[36]

Japanese Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto’s 1986 album ‘Futurista’ was inspired by the movement. It features a speech from Tommaso Marinetti in the track ‘Variety Show’.[37]

In 2009, Italian director Marco Bellocchio included Futurist art in his feature film Vincere.[38]

In 2014, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum featured the exhibition “Italian Futurism, 19091944: Reconstructing the Universe”.[39] This was the first comprehensive overview of Italian Futurism to be presented in the United States.[40]

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art is a museum in London with a collection centered around Italian futurist artists and their paintings.

Umberto Boccioni, 1911, La rue entre dans la maison; Luigi Russolo, 1911, Souvenir dune nuit. Published in Les Annales politiques et littraires, 1 December 1912

Paintings by Gino Severini, 1911, La Danse du Pan-Pan, and Severini, 1913, Lautobus. Published in Les Annales politiques et littraires, Le Paradoxe Cubiste, 14 March 1920

Paintings by Gino Severini, 1911, Souvenirs de Voyage; Albert Gleizes, 1912, Man on a Balcony, LHomme au balcon; Severini, 191213, Portrait de Mlle Jeanne Paul-Fort; Luigi Russolo, 191112, La Rvolte. Published in Les Annales politiques et littraires, Le Paradoxe Cubiste (continued), n. 1916, 14 March 1920

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Futurism – Wikipedia

Futures studies – Wikipedia

Futures studies (also called futurology) is the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. In general, it can be considered as a branch of the social sciences and parallel to the field of history. Futures studies (colloquially called “futures” by many of the field’s practitioners) seeks to understand what is likely to continue and what could plausibly change. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends.[1]

Unlike the physical sciences where a narrower, more specified system is studied, futures studies concerns a much bigger and more complex world system. The methodology and knowledge are much less proven as compared to natural science or even social science like sociology and economics. There is a debate as to whether this discipline is an art or science and sometimes described by scientists as pseudoscience.[2][3]

Futures studies is an interdisciplinary field, studying past and present changes, and aggregating and analyzing both lay and professional strategies and opinions with respect to future. It includes analyzing the sources, patterns, and causes of change and stability in an attempt to develop foresight and to map possible futures. Around the world the field is variously referred to as futures studies, strategic foresight, futuristics, futures thinking, futuring, and futurology. Futures studies and strategic foresight are the academic field’s most commonly used terms in the English-speaking world.

Foresight was the original term and was first used in this sense by H.G. Wells in 1932.[4] “Futurology” is a term common in encyclopedias, though it is used almost exclusively by nonpractitioners today, at least in the English-speaking world. “Futurology” is defined as the “study of the future.”[5] The term was coined by German professor Ossip K. Flechtheim in the mid-1940s, who proposed it as a new branch of knowledge that would include a new science of probability. This term may have fallen from favor in recent decades because modern practitioners stress the importance of alternative and plural futures, rather than one monolithic future, and the limitations of prediction and probability, versus the creation of possible and preferable futures.[citation needed]

Three factors usually distinguish futures studies from the research conducted by other disciplines (although all of these disciplines overlap, to differing degrees). First, futures studies often examines not only possible but also probable, preferable, and “wild card” futures. Second, futures studies typically attempts to gain a holistic or systemic view based on insights from a range of different disciplines, generally focusing on the STEEP[6] categories of Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental and Political. Third, futures studies challenges and unpacks the assumptions behind dominant and contending views of the future. The future thus is not empty but fraught with hidden assumptions. For example, many people expect the collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem in the near future, while others believe the current ecosystem will survive indefinitely. A foresight approach would seek to analyze and highlight the assumptions underpinning such views.

As a field, futures studies expands on the research component, by emphasizing the communication of a strategy and the actionable steps needed to implement the plan or plans leading to the preferable future. It is in this regard, that futures studies evolves from an academic exercise to a more traditional business-like practice, looking to better prepare organizations for the future.

Futures studies does not generally focus on short term predictions such as interest rates over the next business cycle, or of managers or investors with short-term time horizons. Most strategic planning, which develops operational plans for preferred futures with time horizons of one to three years, is also not considered futures. Plans and strategies with longer time horizons that specifically attempt to anticipate possible future events are definitely part of the field. As a rule, futures studies is generally concerned with changes of transformative impact, rather than those of an incremental or narrow scope.

The futures field also excludes those who make future predictions through professed supernatural means.

Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah[7] argue in Macrohistory and Macrohistorians that the search for grand patterns of social change goes all the way back to Ssu-Ma Chien (145-90BC) and his theory of the cycles of virtue, although the work of Ibn Khaldun (13321406) such as The Muqaddimah[8] would be an example that is perhaps more intelligible to modern sociology. Early western examples include Sir Thomas Mores Utopia, published in 1516, and based upon Platos Republic, in which a future society has overcome poverty and misery to create a perfect model for living. This work was so powerful that utopias have come to represent positive and fulfilling futures in which everyones needs are met.[9]

Some intellectual foundations of futures studies appeared in the mid-19th century. Isadore Comte, considered the father of scientific philosophy, was heavily influenced by the work of utopian socialist Henri Saint-Simon, and his discussion of the metapatterns of social change presages futures studies as a scholarly dialogue.[10]

The first works that attempt to make systematic predictions for the future were written in the 18th century. Memoirs of the Twentieth Century written by Samuel Madden in 1733, takes the form of a series of diplomatic letters written in 1997 and 1998 from British representatives in the foreign cities of Constantinople, Rome, Paris, and Moscow.[11] However, the technology of the 20th century is identical to that of Madden’s own era – the focus is instead on the political and religious state of the world in the future. Madden went on to write The Reign of George VI, 1900 to 1925, where (in the context of the boom in canal construction at the time) he envisioned a large network of waterways that would radically transform patterns of living – “Villages grew into towns and towns became cities”.[12]

In 1845, Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., began publishing articles about scientific and technological research, with a focus upon the future implications of such research. It would be followed in 1872 by the magazine Popular Science, which was aimed at a more general readership.[9]

The genre of science fiction became established towards the end of the 19th century, with notable writers, including Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, setting their stories in an imagined future world.

According to W. Warren Wagar, the founder of future studies was H. G. Wells. His Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought: An Experiment in Prophecy, was first serially published in The Fortnightly Review in 1901.[13] Anticipating what the world would be like in the year 2000, the book is interesting both for its hits (trains and cars resulting in the dispersion of population from cities to suburbs; moral restrictions declining as men and women seek greater sexual freedom; the defeat of German militarism, the existence of a European Union, and a world order maintained by “English-speaking peoples” based on the urban core between Chicago and New York[14]) and its misses (he did not expect successful aircraft before 1950, and averred that “my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocate its crew and founder at sea”).[15][16]

Moving from narrow technological predictions, Wells envisioned the eventual collapse of the capitalist world system after a series of destructive total wars. From this havoc would ultimately emerge a world of peace and plenty, controlled by competent technocrats.[13]

The work was a bestseller, and Wells was invited to deliver a lecture at the Royal Institution in 1902, entitled The Discovery of the Future. The lecture was well-received and was soon republished in book form. He advocated for the establishment of a new academic study of the future that would be grounded in scientific methodology rather than just speculation. He argued that a scientifically ordered vision of the future “will be just as certain, just as strictly science, and perhaps just as detailed as the picture that has been built up within the last hundred years to make the geological past.” Although conscious of the difficulty in arriving at entirely accurate predictions, he thought that it would still be possible to arrive at a “working knowledge of things in the future”.[13]

In his fictional works, Wells predicted the invention and use of the atomic bomb in The World Set Free (1914).[17] In The Shape of Things to Come (1933) the impending World War and cities destroyed by aerial bombardment was depicted.[18] However, he didn’t stop advocating for the establishment of a futures science. In a 1933 BBC broadcast he called for the establishment of “Departments and Professors of Foresight”, foreshadowing the development of modern academic futures studies by approximately 40 years.[4]

At the beginning of the 20th century future works were often shaped by political forces and turmoil. The WWI era led to adoption of futures thinking in institutions throughout Europe. The Russian Revolution led to the 1921 establishment of the Soviet Unions Gosplan, or State Planning Committee, which was active until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gosplan was responsible for economic planning and created plans in five year increments to govern the economy. One of the first Soviet dissidents, Yevgeny Zamyatin, published the first dystopian novel, We, in 1921. The science fiction and political satire featured a future police state and was the first work censored by the Soviet censorship board, leading to Zamyatins political exile.[9]

In the United States, President Hoover created the Research Committee on Social Trends, which produced a report in 1933. The head of the committee, William F. Ogburn, analyzed the past to chart trends and project those trends into the future, with a focus on technology. Similar technique was used during The Great Depression, with the addition of alternative futures and a set of likely outcomes that resulted in the creation of Social Security and the Tennessee Valley development project.[9]

The WWII era emphasized the growing need for foresight. The Nazis used strategic plans to unify and mobilize their society with a focus on creating a fascist utopia. This planning and the subsequent war forced global leaders to create their own strategic plans in response. The post-war era saw the creation of numerous nation states with complex political alliances and was further complicated by the introduction of nuclear power.

Project RAND was created in 1946 as joint project between the United States Army Air Forces and the Douglas Aircraft Company, and later incorporated as the non-profit RAND corporation. Their objective was the future of weapons, and long-range planning to meet future threats. Their work has formed the basis of US strategy and policy in regard to nuclear weapons, the Cold War, and the space race.[9]

Futures studies truly emerged as an academic discipline in the mid-1960s.[19] First-generation futurists included Herman Kahn, an American Cold War strategist for the RAND Corporation who wrote On Thermonuclear War (1960), Thinking about the unthinkable (1962) and The Year 2000: a framework for speculation on the next thirty-three years (1967); Bertrand de Jouvenel, a French economist who founded Futuribles International in 1960; and Dennis Gabor, a Hungarian-British scientist who wrote Inventing the Future (1963) and The Mature Society. A View of the Future (1972).[10]

Future studies had a parallel origin with the birth of systems science in academia, and with the idea of national economic and political planning, most notably in France and the Soviet Union.[10][20] In the 1950s, the people of France were continuing to reconstruct their war-torn country. In the process, French scholars, philosophers, writers, and artists searched for what could constitute a more positive future for humanity. The Soviet Union similarly participated in postwar rebuilding, but did so in the context of an established national economic planning process, which also required a long-term, systemic statement of social goals. Future studies was therefore primarily engaged in national planning, and the construction of national symbols.

By contrast, in the United States, futures studies as a discipline emerged from the successful application of the tools and perspectives of systems analysis, especially with regard to quartermastering the war-effort. The Society for General Systems Research, founded in 1955, sought to understand cybernetics and the practical application of systems sciences, greatly influencing the U.S. foresight community.[9] These differing origins account for an initial schism between futures studies in America and futures studies in Europe: U.S. practitioners focused on applied projects, quantitative tools and systems analysis, whereas Europeans preferred to investigate the long-range future of humanity and the Earth, what might constitute that future, what symbols and semantics might express it, and who might articulate these.[21][22]

By the 1960s, academics, philosophers, writers and artists across the globe had begun to explore enough future scenarios so as to fashion a common dialogue. Several of the most notable writers to emerge during this era include: sociologist Fred L. Polak, whose work Images of the Future (1961) discusses the importance of images to societys creation of the future; Marshall McLuhan, whose The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) put forth his theories on how technologies change our cognitive understanding; and Rachel Carsons The Silent Spring (1962) which was hugely influential not only to future studies but also the creation of the environmental movement.[9]

Inventors such as Buckminster Fuller also began highlighting the effect technology might have on global trends as time progressed.

By the 1970s there was an obvious shift in the use and development of futures studies; its focus was no longer exclusive to governments and militaries. Instead, it embraced a wide array of technologies, social issues, and concerns. This discussion on the intersection of population growth, resource availability and use, economic growth, quality of life, and environmental sustainability referred to as the “global problematique” came to wide public attention with the publication of Limits to Growth, a study sponsored by the Club of Rome which detailed the results of a computer simulation of the future based on economic and population growth.[22] Public investment in the future was further enhanced by the publication of Alvin Tofflers bestseller Future Shock (1970), and its exploration of how great amounts of change can overwhelm people and create a social paralysis due to information overload.[9]

International dialogue became institutionalized in the form of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF), founded in 1967, with the noted sociologist, Johan Galtung, serving as its first president. In the United States, the publisher Edward Cornish, concerned with these issues, started the World Future Society, an organization focused more on interested laypeople.

The first doctoral program on the Study of the Future, was founded in 1969 at the University Of Massachusetts by Christoper Dede and Billy Rojas.The next graduate program (Master’s degree) was also founded by Christopher Dede in 1975 at the University of HoustonClear Lake,.[23] Oliver Markley of SRI (now SRI International) was hired in 1978 to move the program into a more applied and professional direction. The program moved to the University of Houston in 2007 and renamed the degree to Foresight.[24] The program has remained focused on preparing professional futurists and providing high-quality foresight training for individuals and organizations in business, government, education, and non-profits.[25] In 1976, the M.A. Program in Public Policy in Alternative Futures at the University of Hawaii at Manoa was established.[26] The Hawaii program locates futures studies within a pedagogical space defined by neo-Marxism, critical political economic theory, and literary criticism. In the years following the foundation of these two programs, single courses in Futures Studies at all levels of education have proliferated, but complete programs occur only rarely. In 2012, the Finland Futures Research Centre started a master’s degree Programme in Futures Studies at Turku School of Economics, a business school which is part of the University of Turku in Turku, Finland.[27]

As a transdisciplinary field, futures studies attracts generalists. This transdisciplinary nature can also cause problems, owing to it sometimes falling between the cracks of disciplinary boundaries; it also has caused some difficulty in achieving recognition within the traditional curricula of the sciences and the humanities. In contrast to “Futures Studies” at the undergraduate level, some graduate programs in strategic leadership or management offer masters or doctorate programs in “strategic foresight” for mid-career professionals, some even online. Nevertheless, comparatively few new PhDs graduate in Futures Studies each year.

The field currently faces the great challenge of creating a coherent conceptual framework, codified into a well-documented curriculum (or curricula) featuring widely accepted and consistent concepts and theoretical paradigms linked to quantitative and qualitative methods, exemplars of those research methods, and guidelines for their ethical and appropriate application within society. As an indication that previously disparate intellectual dialogues have in fact started converging into a recognizable discipline,[28] at least six solidly-researched and well-accepted first attempts to synthesize a coherent framework for the field have appeared: Eleonora Masini[sk]’s Why Futures Studies?,[29] James Dator’s Advancing Futures Studies,[30] Ziauddin Sardar’s Rescuing all of our Futures,[31] Sohail Inayatullah’s Questioning the future,[32] Richard A. Slaughter’s The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies,[33] a collection of essays by senior practitioners, and Wendell Bell’s two-volume work, The Foundations of Futures Studies.[34]

Some aspects of the future, such as celestial mechanics, are highly predictable, and may even be described by relatively simple mathematical models. At present however, science has yielded only a special minority of such “easy to predict” physical processes. Theories such as chaos theory, nonlinear science and standard evolutionary theory have allowed us to understand many complex systems as contingent (sensitively dependent on complex environmental conditions) and stochastic (random within constraints), making the vast majority of future events unpredictable, in any specific case.

Not surprisingly, the tension between predictability and unpredictability is a source of controversy and conflict among futures studies scholars and practitioners. Some argue that the future is essentially unpredictable, and that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” Others believe, as Flechtheim, that advances in science, probability, modeling and statistics will allow us to continue to improve our understanding of probable futures, while this area presently remains less well developed than methods for exploring possible and preferable futures.

As an example, consider the process of electing the president of the United States. At one level we observe that any U.S. citizen over 35 may run for president, so this process may appear too unconstrained for useful prediction. Yet further investigation demonstrates that only certain public individuals (current and former presidents and vice presidents, senators, state governors, popular military commanders, mayors of very large cities, etc.) receive the appropriate “social credentials” that are historical prerequisites for election. Thus with a minimum of effort at formulating the problem for statistical prediction, a much reduced pool of candidates can be described, improving our probabilistic foresight. Applying further statistical intelligence to this problem, we can observe that in certain election prediction markets such as the Iowa Electronic Markets, reliable forecasts have been generated over long spans of time and conditions, with results superior to individual experts or polls. Such markets, which may be operated publicly or as an internal market, are just one of several promising frontiers in predictive futures research.

Such improvements in the predictability of individual events do not though, from a complexity theory viewpoint, address the unpredictability inherent in dealing with entire systems, which emerge from the interaction between multiple individual events.

Futurology is sometimes described by scientists as pseudoscience.[2][3]

In terms of methodology, futures practitioners employ a wide range of approaches, models and methods, in both theory and practice, many of which are derived from or informed by other academic or professional disciplines [1], including social sciences such as economics, psychology, sociology, religious studies, cultural studies, history, geography, and political science; physical and life sciences such as physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology; mathematics, including statistics, game theory and econometrics; applied disciplines such as engineering, computer sciences, and business management (particularly strategy).

The largest internationally peer-reviewed collection of futures research methods (1,300 pages) is Futures Research Methodology 3.0. Each of the 37 methods or groups of methods contains: an executive overview of each methods history, description of the method,primary and alternative usages, strengths and weaknesses, uses in combination with other methods, and speculation about future evolution of the method. Some also contain appendixes with applications, links to software, and sources for further information.

Given its unique objectives and material, the practice of futures studies only rarely features employment of the scientific method in the sense of controlled, repeatable and verifiable experiments with highly standardized methodologies. However, many futurists are informed by scientific techniques or work primarily within scientific domains. Borrowing from history, the futurist might project patterns observed in past civilizations upon present-day society to model what might happen in the future, or borrowing from technology, the futurist may model possible social and cultural responses to an emerging technology based on established principles of the diffusion of innovation. In short, the futures practitioner enjoys the synergies of an interdisciplinary laboratory.

As the plural term futures suggests, one of the fundamental assumptions in futures studies is that the future is plural not singular.[2] That is, the future consists not of one inevitable future that is to be predicted, but rather of multiple alternative futures of varying likelihood which may be derived and described, and about which it is impossible to say with certainty which one will occur. The primary effort in futures studies, then, is to identify and describe alternative futures in order to better understand the driving forces of the present or the structural dynamics of a particular subject or subjects. The exercise of identifying alternative futures includes collecting quantitative and qualitative data about the possibility, probability, and desirability of change. The plural term “futures” in futures studies denotes both the rich variety of alternative futures, including the subset of preferable futures (normative futures), that can be studied, as well as the tenet that the future is many.

At present, the general futures studies model has been summarized as being concerned with “three Ps and a W”, or possible, probable, and preferable futures, plus wildcards, which are low probability but high impact events (positive or negative). Many futurists, however, do not use the wild card approach. Rather, they use a methodology called Emerging Issues Analysis. It searches for the drivers of change, issues that are likely to move from unknown to the known, from low impact to high impact.

In terms of technique, futures practitioners originally concentrated on extrapolating present technological, economic or social trends, or on attempting to predict future trends. Over time, the discipline has come to put more and more focus on the examination of social systems and uncertainties, to the end of articulating scenarios. The practice of scenario development facilitates the examination of worldviews and assumptions through the causal layered analysis method (and others), the creation of preferred visions of the future, and the use of exercises such as backcasting to connect the present with alternative futures. Apart from extrapolation and scenarios, many dozens of methods and techniques are used in futures research (see below).

The general practice of futures studies also sometimes includes the articulation of normative or preferred futures, and a major thread of practice involves connecting both extrapolated (exploratory) and normative research to assist individuals and organizations to model preferred futures amid shifting social changes. Practitioners use varying proportions of collaboration, creativity and research to derive and define alternative futures, and to the degree that a preferred future might be sought, especially in an organizational context, techniques may also be deployed to develop plans or strategies for directed future shaping or implementation of a preferred future.

While some futurists are not concerned with assigning probability to future scenarios, other futurists find probabilities useful in certain situations, such as when probabilities stimulate thinking about scenarios within organizations [3]. When dealing with the three Ps and a W model, estimates of probability are involved with two of the four central concerns (discerning and classifying both probable and wildcard events), while considering the range of possible futures, recognizing the plurality of existing alternative futures, characterizing and attempting to resolve normative disagreements on the future, and envisioning and creating preferred futures are other major areas of scholarship. Most estimates of probability in futures studies are normative and qualitative, though significant progress on statistical and quantitative methods (technology and information growth curves, cliometrics, predictive psychology, prediction markets, crowdvoting forecasts,[31][better source needed] etc.) has been made in recent decades.

Futures techniques or methodologies may be viewed as frameworks for making sense of data generated by structured processes to think about the future.[35] There is no single set of methods that are appropriate for all futures research. Different futures researchers intentionally or unintentionally promote use of favored techniques over a more structured approach. Selection of methods for use on futures research projects has so far been dominated by the intuition and insight of practitioners; but can better identify a balanced selection of techniques via acknowledgement of foresight as a process together with familiarity with the fundamental attributes of most commonly used methods.[36]

Futurists use a diverse range of forecasting methods including:

Futurists use scenarios alternative possible futures as an important tool. To some extent, people can determine what they consider probable or desirable using qualitative and quantitative methods. By looking at a variety of possibilities one comes closer to shaping the future, rather than merely predicting it. Shaping alternative futures starts by establishing a number of scenarios. Setting up scenarios takes place as a process with many stages. One of those stages involves the study of trends. A trend persists long-term and long-range; it affects many societal groups, grows slowly and appears to have a profound basis. In contrast, a fad operates in the short term, shows the vagaries of fashion, affects particular societal groups, and spreads quickly but superficially.

Sample predicted futures range from predicted ecological catastrophes, through a utopian future where the poorest human being lives in what present-day observers would regard as wealth and comfort, through the transformation of humanity into a posthuman life-form, to the destruction of all life on Earth in, say, a nanotechnological disaster.

Futurists have a decidedly mixed reputation and a patchy track record at successful prediction. For reasons of convenience, they often extrapolate present technical and societal trends and assume they will develop at the same rate into the future; but technical progress and social upheavals, in reality, take place in fits and starts and in different areas at different rates.

Many 1950s futurists predicted commonplace space tourism by the year 2000, but ignored the possibilities of ubiquitous, cheap computers. On the other hand, many forecasts have portrayed the future with some degree of accuracy. Current futurists often present multiple scenarios that help their audience envision what “may” occur instead of merely “predicting the future”. They claim that understanding potential scenarios helps individuals and organizations prepare with flexibility.

Many corporations use futurists as part of their risk management strategy, for horizon scanning and emerging issues analysis, and to identify wild cards low probability, potentially high-impact risks.[38] Every successful and unsuccessful business engages in futuring to some degree for example in research and development, innovation and market research, anticipating competitor behavior and so on.[39][40]

In futures research “weak signals” may be understood as advanced, noisy and socially situated indicators of change in trends and systems that constitute raw informational material for enabling anticipatory action. There is some confusion about the definition of weak signal by various researchers and consultants. Sometimes it is referred as future oriented information, sometimes more like emerging issues. The confusion has been partly clarified with the concept ‘the future sign’, by separating signal, issue and interpretation of the future sign.[41]

A weak signal can be an early indicator of coming change, and an example might also help clarify the confusion. On May 27, 2012, hundreds of people gathered for a Take the Flour Back demonstration at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, UK, to oppose a publicly funded trial of genetically modified wheat. This was a weak signal for a broader shift in consumer sentiment against genetically modified foods. When Whole Foods mandated the labeling of GMOs in 2013, this non-GMO idea had already become a trend and was about to be a topic of mainstream awareness.

“Wild cards” refer to low-probability and high-impact events, such as existential risks. This concept may be embedded in standard foresight projects and introduced into anticipatory decision-making activity in order to increase the ability of social groups adapt to surprises arising in turbulent business environments. Such sudden and unique incidents might constitute turning points in the evolution of a certain trend or system. Wild cards may or may not be announced by weak signals, which are incomplete and fragmented data from which relevant foresight information might be inferred.Sometimes, mistakenly, wild cards and weak signals are considered as synonyms, which they are not.[42] One of the most often cited examples of a wild card event in recent history is 9/11. Nothing had happened in the past that could point to such a possibility and yet it had a huge impact on everyday life in the United States, from simple tasks like how to travel via airplane to deeper cultural values. Wild card events might also be natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, which can force the relocation of huge populations and wipe out entire crops to completely disrupt the supply chain of many businesses. Although wild card events cant be predicted, after they occur it is often easy to reflect back and convincingly explain why they happened.

A long-running tradition in various cultures, and especially in the media, involves various spokespersons making predictions for the upcoming year at the beginning of the year. These predictions sometimes base themselves on current trends in culture (music, movies, fashion, politics); sometimes they make hopeful guesses as to what major events might take place over the course of the next year.

Some of these predictions come true as the year unfolds, though many fail. When predicted events fail to take place, the authors of the predictions often state that misinterpretation of the “signs” and portents may explain the failure of the prediction.

Marketers have increasingly started to embrace futures studies, in an effort to benefit from an increasingly competitive marketplace with fast production cycles, using such techniques as trendspotting as popularized by Faith Popcorn.[dubious discuss]

Trends come in different sizes. A mega-trend extends over many generations, and in cases of climate, mega-trends can cover periods prior to human existence. They describe complex interactions between many factors. The increase in population from the palaeolithic period to the present provides an example.

Possible new trends grow from innovations, projects, beliefs or actions that have the potential to grow and eventually go mainstream in the future.

Very often, trends relate to one another the same way as a tree-trunk relates to branches and twigs. For example, a well-documented movement toward equality between men and women might represent a branch trend. The trend toward reducing differences in the salaries of men and women in the Western world could form a twig on that branch.

When a potential trend gets enough confirmation in the various media, surveys or questionnaires to show that it has an increasingly accepted value, behavior or technology, it becomes accepted as a bona fide trend. Trends can also gain confirmation by the existence of other trends perceived as springing from the same branch. Some commentators claim that when 15% to 25% of a given population integrates an innovation, project, belief or action into their daily life then a trend becomes mainstream.

Because new advances in technology have the potential to reshape our society, one of the jobs of a futurist is to follow these developments and consider their implications. However, the latest innovations take time to make an impact. Every new technology goes through its own life cycle of maturity, adoption, and social application that must be taken into consideration before a probable vision of the future can be created.

Gartner created their Hype Cycle to illustrate the phases a technology moves through as it grows from research and development to mainstream adoption. The unrealistic expectations and subsequent disillusionment that virtual reality experienced in the 1990s and early 2000s is an example of the middle phases encountered before a technology can begin to be integrated into society.[43]

Education in the field of futures studies has taken place for some time. Beginning in the United States of America in the 1960s, it has since developed in many different countries. Futures education encourages the use of concepts, tools and processes that allow students to think long-term, consequentially, and imaginatively. It generally helps students to:

Thorough documentation of the history of futures education exists, for example in the work of Richard A. Slaughter (2004),[44] David Hicks, Ivana Milojevi[45] to name a few.

While futures studies remains a relatively new academic tradition, numerous tertiary institutions around the world teach it. These vary from small programs, or universities with just one or two classes, to programs that offer certificates and incorporate futures studies into other degrees, (for example in planning, business, environmental studies, economics, development studies, science and technology studies). Various formal Masters-level programs exist on six continents. Finally, doctoral dissertations around the world have incorporated futures studies. A recent survey documented approximately 50 cases of futures studies at the tertiary level.[46]

The largest Futures Studies program in the world is at Tamkang University, Taiwan.[citation needed] Futures Studies is a required course at the undergraduate level, with between three and five thousand students taking classes on an annual basis. Housed in the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies is an MA Program. Only ten students are accepted annually in the program. Associated with the program is the Journal of Futures Studies.[47]

The longest running Future Studies program in North America was established in 1975 at the University of HoustonClear Lake.[48] It moved to the University of Houston in 2007 and renamed the degree to Foresight. The program was established on the belief that if history is studied and taught in an academic setting, then so should the future. Its mission is to prepare professional futurists. The curriculum incorporates a blend of the essential theory, a framework and methods for doing the work, and a focus on application for clients in business, government, nonprofits, and society in general.[49]

As of 2003, over 40 tertiary education establishments around the world were delivering one or more courses in futures studies. The World Futures Studies Federation[50] has a comprehensive survey of global futures programs and courses. The Acceleration Studies Foundation maintains an annotated list of primary and secondary graduate futures studies programs.[51]

Organizations such as Teach The Future also aim to promote future studies in the secondary school curriculum in order to develop structured approaches to thinking about the future in public school students. The rationale is that a sophisticated approach to thinking about, anticipating, and planning for the future is a core skill requirement that every student should have, similar to literacy and math skills.

Several corporations and government agencies utilize foresight products to both better understand potential risks and prepare for potential opportunities. Several government agencies publish material for internal stakeholders as well as make that material available to broader public. Examples of this include the US Congressional Budget Office long term budget projections,[52] the National Intelligence Center,[53] and the United Kingdom Government Office for Science.[54] Much of this material is used by policy makers to inform policy decisions and government agencies to develop long term plan. Several corporations, particularly those with long product development lifecycles, utilize foresight and future studies products and practitioners in the development of their business strategies. The Shell Corporation is one such entity.[55] Foresight professionals and their tools are increasingly being utilized in both the private and public areas to help leaders deal with an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Design and futures studies have many synergies as interdisciplinary fields with a natural orientation towards the future. Both incorporate studies of human behavior, global trends, strategic insights, and anticipatory solutions.

Designers have adopted futures methodologies including scenarios, trend forecasting, and futures research. Design thinking and specific techniques including ethnography, rapid prototyping, and critical design have been incorporated into in futures as well. In addition to borrowing techniques from one another, futurists and designers have joined to form agencies marrying both competencies to positive effect. The continued interrelation of the two fields is an encouraging trend that has spawned much interesting work.

The Association for Professional Futurists has also held meetings discussing the ways in which Design Thinking and Futures Thinking intersect and benefit one another.

Imperial cycles represent an “expanding pulsation” of “mathematically describable” macro-historic trend.[56] The List of largest empires contains imperial record progression in terms of territory or percentage of world population under single imperial rule.

Chinese philosopher K’ang Yu-wei and French demographer Georges Vacher de Lapouge in the late 19th century were the first to stress that the trend cannot proceed indefinitely on the definite surface of the globe. The trend is bound to culminate in a world empire. K’ang Yu-wei estimated that the matter will be decided in the contest between Washington and Berlin; Vacher de Lapouge foresaw this contest between the United States and Russia and estimated the chance of the United States higher.[57] Both published their futures studies before H. G. Wells introduced the science of future in his Anticipations (1901).

Four later anthropologistsHornell Hart, Raoul Naroll, Louis Morano, and Robert Carneiroresearched the expanding imperial cycles. They reached the same conclusion that a world empire is not only pre-determined but close at hand and attempted to estimate the time of its appearance.[58]

As foresight has expanded to include a broader range of social concerns all levels and types of education have been addressed, including formal and informal education. Many countries are beginning to implement Foresight in their Education policy. A few programs are listed below:

By the early 2000s, educators began to independently institute futures studies (sometimes referred to as futures thinking) lessons in K-12 classroom environments.[61] To meet the need, non-profit futures organizations designed curriculum plans to supply educators with materials on the topic. Many of the curriculum plans were developed to meet common core standards. Futures studies education methods for youth typically include age-appropriate collaborative activities, games, systems thinking and scenario building exercises.[62]

Wendell Bell and Ed Cornish acknowledge science fiction as a catalyst to future studies, conjuring up visions of tomorrow.[63] Science fictions potential to provide an imaginative social vision is its contribution to futures studies and public perspective. Productive sci-fi presents plausible, normative scenarios.[63] Jim Dator attributes the foundational concepts of images of the future to Wendell Bell, for clarifying Fred Polaks concept in Images of the Future, as it applies to futures studies.[64][65] Similar to futures studies scenarios thinking, empirically supported visions of the future are a window into what the future could be. Pamela Sargent states, Science fiction reflects attitudes typical of this century. She gives a brief history of impactful sci-fi publications, like The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov and Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein.[66] Alternate perspectives validate sci-fi as part of the fuzzy images of the future.[65] However, the challenge is the lack of consistent futures research based literature frameworks.[66] Ian Miles reviews The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, identifying ways Science Fiction and Futures Studies cross-fertilize, as well as the ways in which they differ distinctly. Science Fiction cannot be simply considered fictionalized Futures Studies. It may have aims other than prediction, and be no more concerned with shaping the future than any other genre of literature. [67] It is not to be understood as an explicit pillar of futures studies, due to its inconsistency of integrated futures research. Additionally, Dennis Livingston, a literature and Futures journal critic says, The depiction of truly alternative societies has not been one of science fictions strong points, especially preferred, normative envisages.[68]

Several governments have formalized strategic foresight agencies to encourage long range strategic societal planning, with most notable are the governments of Singapore, Finland, and the United Arab Emirates. Other governments with strategic foresight agencies include Canada’s Policy Horizons Canada and the Malaysia’s Malaysian Foresight Institute.

The Singapore government’s Centre for Strategic Futures (CSF) is part of the Strategy Group within the Prime Minister’s Office. Their mission is to position the Singapore government to navigate emerging strategic challenges and harness potential opportunities.[69] Singapores early formal efforts in strategic foresight began in 1991 with the establishment of the Risk Detection and Scenario Planning Office in the Ministry of Defence.[70] In addition to the CSF, the Singapore government has established the Strategic Futures Network, which brings together deputy secretary-level officers and foresight units across the government to discuss emerging trends that may have implications for Singapore.[70]

Since the 1990s, Finland has integrated strategic foresight within the parliament and Prime Ministers Office.[71] The government is required to present a Report of the Future each parliamentary term for review by the parliamentary Committee for the Future. Led by the Prime Ministers Office, the Government Foresight Group coordinates the governments foresight efforts.[72] Futures research is supported by the Finnish Society for Futures Studies (established in 1980), the Finland Futures Research Centre (established in 1992), and the Finland Futures Academy (established in 1998) in coordination with foresight units in various government agencies.[72]

In the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced in September 2016 that all government ministries were to appoint Directors of Future Planning. Sheikh Mohammed described the UAE Strategy for the Future as an “integrated strategy to forecast our nations future, aiming to anticipate challenges and seize opportunities”.[73] The Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and Future(MOCAF) is mandated with crafting the UAE Strategy for the Future and is responsible for the portfolio of the future of UAE.[74]

Foresight is also applied when studying potential risks to society and how to effectively deal with them.[75][76] These risks may arise from the development and adoption of emerging technologies and/or social change. Special interest lies on hypothetical future events that have the potential to damage human well-being on a global scale – global catastrophic risks.[77] Such events may cripple or destroy modern civilization or, in the case of existential risks, even cause human extinction.[78] Potential global catastrophic risks include but are not limited to hostile artificial intelligence, nanotechnology weapons, climate change, nuclear warfare, total war, and pandemics.

Several authors have become recognized as futurists.[81] They research trends, particularly in technology, and write their observations, conclusions, and predictions. In earlier eras, many futurists were at academic institutions. John McHale, author of The Future of the Future, published a ‘Futures Directory’, and directed a think tank called The Centre For Integrative Studies at a university. Futurists have started consulting groups or earn money as speakers, with examples including Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt and Patrick Dixon. Frank Feather is a business speaker that presents himself as a pragmatic futurist. Some futurists have commonalities with science fiction, and some science-fiction writers, such as Arthur C. Clarke, are known as futurists.[citation needed] In the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin distinguished futurists from novelists, writing of the study as the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurists. In her words, “a novelist’s business is lying”.

A survey of 108 futurists found that they share a variety of assumptions, including in their description of the present as a critical moment in an historical transformation, in their recognition and belief in complexity, and in their being motivated by change and having a desire for an active role bringing change (versus simply being involved in forecasting).[82]

The Association for Professional Futurists recognizes the Most Significant Futures Works for the purpose of identifying and rewarding the work of foresight professionals and others whose work illuminates aspects of the future.[87]

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We are now aware of far more of whats happening in the world than ever before, and our ability to assess, gauge, and monitor its importance and somehow act or respond in some appropriate fashion has become critical.

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Were on break, only to return again Dec 28, and into 2019! Plus, dont miss a special TIW on NYE!~~With new plays every week,TIWis The Neo-Futurists ongoing and ever-changing attempt to shift the conventions of live theatre.

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Look at These Incredibly Realistic Faces Generated By A Neural Network

Researchers at NVIDIA created a neural network that can come up with incredibly realistic faces on the spot.

Faking It

We officially can no longer trust anything we see on the internet. From whole-body deep fakes to AI-based translation dubbing, technology is starting to distort reality — all with the help of machine learning.

Case in point: researchers at NVIDIA have harnessed the power of a generative adversarial network (GAN) — a class of neural network — to generate some extremely realistic faces. The results are more impressive than anything we’ve seen before. Take a look below, bearing in mind that none of these faces are real.

Image Credit: NVIDIA

Fake Faces

A GAN can iteratively generate images based on genuine photos it learns from. Then it evaluates the new images against the original. In this instance, the researchers taught a GAN a number of “styles” — faces modeled after subjects who were old, young, wearing glasses, or had different hair styles.

The results are spectacular. Even small seemingly random details like freckles, skin pores or stubble are convincingly distributed in the images the project generated.

The network even took a crack at generating fake pictures of cats. They didn’t turn out quite as well.

Image Credit: NVIDIA

AI Rising

It’s not the first time a GAN has been used to generate pictures of people. Last year, the same group of NVIDIA researchers created a neural-network-based image generator. But results were far less impressive: faces appear distorted and unnatural. The results are also of a much lower resolution.

Neural networks are becoming incredibly good at faking human faces. Will we be able to tell them apart in the future? At this rate, they could become indistinguishable from reality.

READ MORE: A Style-Based Generator Architecture for Generative Adversarial Networks [arXiv]

More on neural network-generated faces: These People Never Existed. They Were Made by an AI.

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Experts: United States Should Build a Prototype Fusion Power Plant

The United States should devote more resources to nuclear fusion research and build an ambitious prototype fusion power plant, according to a new report.

Power Play

The United States should devote substantially more resources to nuclear fusion research and build an ambitious prototype fusion power plant, according to a new report.

The report is the work of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Its conclusion: it’s more important than ever for the U.S. and the world to explore roads to practical fusion power.

Losin’ Fusion

At the crux of the report is the role the U.S. will play in ITER, an international experimental fusion facility currently under construction in France. Some U.S. politicians have denounced ITER, arguing that the U.S. should pull out of the project.

But the National Academies report argues that the U.S. should remain involved with ITER, which will use a donut-shaped tokamak reactor that’s currently scheduled to go online by 2030 to produce energy.

Future Vision

At the same time, according to the report, the U.S. should boost its spending on fusion research by $200 million per year and construct its own experimental reactor. The report points to the multidisciplinary scientific insights a prototype fusion power plant could grant, from energy to vacuum technologies and “complex cryonic systems.”

“We listened very carefully to the community, especially some of the younger scientists who are very active in the field, and what we heard from the scientists is a desire to get on with fusion energy,” Michael Mauel, a co-chair of the committee that released the report, told Science. “We’re not just studying this thing, we’re trying to see if it really does work.”

READ MORE: Final Report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research [National Academies]

More on fusion: China’s “Artificial Sun” Is Now Hot Enough for Nuclear Fusion

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MIT Figured out a Way to Shrink Objects to Nanoscale

Birth of an Idea

A new nanotech breakthrough comes courtesy of a material you’d likely find in any nursery.

A team from MIT has figured out a way to quickly and inexpensively shrink objects to the nanoscale. It calls the process implosion fabrication, and it all starts with polyacrylate — the super-absorbent polymer typically found in baby diapers.

Size Matters

According to the MIT team’s paper, published Thursday in Science, the first step in the implosion fabrication process is adding a liquid solution to a piece of polyacrylate, causing it to swell.

Next, the team used lasers to bind fluorescein molecules to the polyacrylate in a pattern of their choosing. Those molecules acted as anchor points for whatever material the researchers wanted to shrink to the nanoscale.

You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors, researcher Edward Boyden said in an MIT news release. It could be a quantum dot, it could be a piece of DNA, it could be a gold nanoparticle.

The researchers then dehydrated the polyacrylate scaffold using an acid. That caused the material attached to the polyacrylate to shrink in an even way to a thousandth of its original size.

Shrink Away

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of implosion fabrication is its accessibility — according to the MIT press release, many biology and materials science labs already have the necessary equipment to beginning shrinking objects to the nanoscale on their own.

As for what those researchers might shrink, the MIT team is already exploring potential uses for implosion fabrication, including in the fields of optics and robotics. But ultimately, they see no limit to the technique’s possible applications.

“There are all kinds of things you can do with this,” Boyden said. “Democratizing nanofabrication could open up frontiers we can’t yet imagine.”

READ MORE: Team Invents Method to Shrink Objects to the Nanoscale [MIT News]

More on nanotech: Australian Scientists Have Developed a New Tool for Imaging Life at the Nanoscale

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MIT Figured out a Way to Shrink Objects to Nanoscale

For the First Time, a Startup Grew a Steak in a Lab

Israeli startup Aleph Farms has unveiled what appears to be the world's first lab-grown steak, a cut of meat produced from cells taken from a live animal.

High Steaks

An Israeli startup appears to have achieved a landmark accomplishment in the fake meat industry: lab-grown steak.

On Wednesday, Aleph Farms announced that it had grown a steak in a lab using cells extracted from a living cow. In a video shared alongside the announcement, a chef cooks up what looks like a regular beef steak, albeit one on the smaller side.

“The initial products are still relatively thin,” Aleph Farms CEO Didier Toubia acknowledges in a press release, “but the technology we developed marks a true breakthrough and a great leap forward in producing a cell-grown steak.”

Fresh Meat

It’s been five years since the public reveal of the first lab-grown hamburger. Since then, researchers have been able to dramatically improve upon the process of growing meat. What they haven’t been able to do is replicate the texture and structure of the specific cuts you’d find at a butcher.

“Making a patty or a sausage from cells cultured outside the animal is challenging enough,” Toubia said. “Imagine how difficult it is to create a whole-muscle steak.”

But that’s what Aleph Farms has seemingly done.

The key was finding a nutrient combination that would encourage the extracted animal cells to grow into a tissue structure comparable to that found in an actual cow. The company managed this using a bio-engineering platform co-developed with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

The Real Question

In an interview published by Business Insider on Wednesday, Toubia revealed that a steak like the one highlighted in Aleph Farms’s video takes two to three weeks to grow and costs about $50.

He also answered the question no doubt on the mind of anyone who watched the video of his company’s lab-grown steak sizzling in a skillet: whether it tastes good.

“The smell was great when we cooked it, exactly the same characteristic flavor as a conventional meat cut,” Toubia said. “It was a little bit chewy, same as meat. We saw and felt the fibers when we cut it with a knife.”

READ MORE: An Israeli Startup With Ties to America’s Most Popular Hummus Brand Says It Made the World’s First Lab-Grown Steak — a Holy Grail for the Industry [Business Insider]

More on lab-grown meat: We’re About to Get Many More Meat Alternatives

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For the First Time, a Startup Grew a Steak in a Lab

Porsche and BMW’s New EV Chargers Are 3x Faster Than Tesla’s

BMW and Porsche's new 450 kW

Who’s in Charge?

Driving an electric car (EV) saves money and helps the environment. But charging it is a pain — almost like back when every cellphone needed a different charger.

There are a bunch of different charging standards, power outputs, and EV battery types. Charging at home can take forever, and charging at a roadside stop — if you can even find a compatible station — can take hours.

But Porsche and BMW’s brand new charger could be a game-changer. The FastCharge charger could provide enough juice for 62 miles (100 km) of range in just three minutes. That’s not that much slower than filling up a gasoline tank at the pump — and it’s up to three times faster than Tesla’s Supercharger network.

Ultra Charger

Tesla’s Supercharger network only charges at speeds of up to 145 kW — although in many areas it’s a lot slower than that. Other “rapid” — or Type 2 — chargers provide between 43 and 120 kW. To reach 450 kW, Porsche had to develop a special cooling system to make sure every cell remains at an efficient, operable temperature.

It’s not the only charger of its kind: in April, Swiss company ABB Group launched what it called the “world’s fastest” EV charger — a 350 kW charger that can extend your range by 120 miles (193 km) in just three minutes. Bear in mind that ABB likely arrived at those figures by considering different EV battery voltages than Porsche. Futurism has reached out to Porsche to clarify how it arrived at FastCharge’s charging time estimate.

And Tesla’s Superchargers might also get an upgrade to speeds of up to 250 kW some time next year, Electrek reports.

A Charger Near You

So far, only two prototypes of Porsche and BMW’s “FastCharger” exist in Germany.

It’s hard to say whether similar chargers will ever become commonplace at gas stations near you. But if they ever do, EVs could start looking a lot more practical to potential buyers.

READ MORE: Porsche plugs into 450 kW EV charging station [The Verge]

More on EV chargers: EV-Charging Roads Have Arrived. Here’s Why We Do (and Don’t) Need Them.

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Porsche and BMW’s New EV Chargers Are 3x Faster Than Tesla’s

Biologists Engineered An Assassin Virus to Kill Bacteria on Command

Listening In

Different viruses attack different types of cells. A flu virus, for example, attacks lung cells, while the HIV virus attacks immune-system cells. Some viruses, known as phages, attack bacteria — and, it turns out, they don’t all do so randomly.

A team from Princeton has discovered that some phages actually “listen” to the conversations that take place between bacteria to identify the ideal time to strike — and we might be able to use this discovery in the battle against antibiotic resistance.

Tiny Spy

We’ve long known that bacteria can communicate through the release of molecules. In a paper published in the journal Cell on Thursday, the Princeton researchers describe a finding that builds on that mechanism: a virus called VP882, which “listens” for those molecules in order to know when there are enough bacteria around to justify attacking, a process that involves creating many replicas of itself.

This eavesdropping is a survival technique — if there aren’t enough bacteria around, the VP882 virus and its replicas will all die after the attack. It turns out, VP882 isn’t unique, either. The Princeton team discovered that other viruses also spy on bacteria in various ways to determine when to strike.

“It’s brilliant and insidious!” researcher Bonnie Bassler said in a press release. It’s also the first known example of such radically different organisms listening to one another’s communications.

Assassins Freed

Once the Princeton team figured out VP882’s eavesdropping ability, it set out to use that ability against bacteria. By re-engineering VP882 in the lab, graduate student Justin Silpe was able to get the virus to attack when it sensed any input he chose, not just the communication molecule that naturally set it off.

And VP882 itself is unique in that it can infect multiple types of cells, unlike the flu and HIV viruses mentioned above. In tests, Silpe manage to get VP882 to attack cholera, salmonella, and E. coli — three very different types of bacteria.

The medical community already knew it could use some phages to treat bacterial diseases. Now that we know we can turn a least one phage into an assassin, we might be able to find a way to use it against the antibiotic-resistant bacteria currently threatening global health.

READ MORE: Biologists Turn Eavesdropping Viruses Into Bacterial Assassins [Princeton University]

More on antibiotic resistance: A World Without Antibiotics? The UN Has Elevated the Issue of Antibiotic Resistance

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Biologists Engineered An Assassin Virus to Kill Bacteria on Command

A Waymo Rider Talked Publicly About the Service — Even Though He Wasn’t Supposed To

Contract, Schmontract

Michael Richardson is one lucky guy.

In mid-September, self-driving car company Waymo accepted the technologist and entrepreneur into its early rider program in Phoenix, Arizona.

Like all riders, Richardson signed a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), a legal contract forbidding him from talking about his experience as a Waymo rider. Now he’s getting away with violating that contract, and what he had to say answers several key questions about the service — while leaving many others unanswered.

Good Guy Waymo

On Wednesday, Richardson agreed to an interview with Ars Technica, telling the publication that Waymo had freed him from his NDA. It turns out he was mistaken — Richardson was still legally bound to keep quiet about the rides he’d taken in the company’s autonomous vehicles.

Nevertheless, Waymo agreed to let Ars run its story. And in a move that surely caused Richardson to breathe a huge sigh of relief, it also promised it wouldn’t pursue legal action against him.

First Impression

That bit of goodwill on the part of Waymo should temper some of the not-so-positive news in the Ars story.

As part of the early rider program, Richarson took two round-trip rides with Waymo: one on September 28 and another on October 6. During his interview, the Waymo rider noted multiple limitations with the service, including a small coverage area, a higher cost than Uber and Lyft, and restricted pick-up and drop-off locations. He also claimed his vehicles took longer routes than necessary to avoid a freeway and a tricky left turn.

Perhaps most troubling, he also initially told Ars that he saw safety drivers take control of the vehicles on multiple occasions. According to Waymo’s records, however, a safety driver only took over once, and Richardson later admitted that he may have misremembered.

More to Come

Of course, if Richardson got one part of his story wrong, there’s a chance the rest of it isn’t airtight. He also hasn’t ridden with Waymo since it launched its commercial service, Waymo One, meaning the company could have already worked out some of the kinks he noticed two-plus months ago.

Waymo does plan to lift the NDA restriction on riders who transition to Waymo One, so we should be getting a wider range of views on the company’s vehicles in the near future.

Still, this is our first look inside one of Waymo’s cars from the perspective of a Waymo rider, and it certainly wasn’t all negative.

“I’m impressed by what the vehicle can do and how well it gets around,” Richardson told Ars. “It’s very, very impressive.”

READ MORE: We Finally Talked to an Actual Waymo Passenger—here’s What He Told Us [Ars Technica]

More on Waymo One: Waymo Has Officially Launched a Self-Driving Taxi Service

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Scammers Sent Hoax Bomb Threats Worldwide Demanding Bitcoin

This week, scammers have started emailing hoax bomb threats to schools and hospitals, demanding bitcoin payments in exchange for not setting off explosives.

Bomb Threats

Ransomware that demands cryptocurrency payments in exchange for releasing infected computers is an old phenomenon.

Now that practice has a dark new twist. This week, scammers have started emailing bomb threats to hundreds of schools, hospitals, businesses and other public and private institutions in multiple countries, demanding bitcoin payments in exchange for not setting off seemingly made-up explosives. The threats caused mayhem. Entire blocks were shut down in several cities — a dark testament to the power of online anonymity.

No Terrorism Here

Emergency responders were dispatched in multiple cities across North America to investigate the threats — including a dozen threats in DC alone. Not a single bomb has been found at press time, leading authorities to believe the threats were an elaborate bluff.

The advice from the U.S. government: tell the FBI, and do not pay the ransom of $20,000 U.S. in Bitcoin.

The cryptic emails demanded that victims send the payment to a bitcoin address.

“If you are late with the transaction,” the email says, “the bomb will explode.”

Hitting Bitcoin While It’s Down

The value of Bitcoin took a substantial hit in the wake of the bomb threats. That’s bad news, since Bitcoin was already slouching. Bitcoin Cash also fell 13 percent, and many other major cryptocurrencies followed.

The takeaway: advocates have long predicted that blockchain technology is about to go mainstream, but to date the technology hasn’t strayed far from its early roots in crime and drug sales. Only time will tell whether the tech will eventually shed that identity.

READ MORE: Bitcoin scammers send bomb threats worldwide, causing evacuations [The Verge]

More on bitcoin: Here’s The Conspiracy Tearing Bitcoin Crypto Communities Apart

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Richard Branson: Future of Work Is “Three and Even Four Day Weekends”

In an interview with CNBC's Making It, billionaire Richard Branson said that three or four day weekends could be a reality for

Work Hard, Play Hard

British billionaire Richard Branson — the Virgin CEO who drove a tank through New York City and crossed the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle — thinks we’re all working a bit too hard.

If we all worked “smarter, we won’t have to work longer,” he tweeted Wednesday. In an accompanying blog post, he argued that innovations like self-driving cars and drones will cause more jobs to be taken over by robots.

“Could people eventually take three and even four day weekends?” he wrote. “Certainly.”

Billionaire Club

Branson isn’t the only one who believes the future of work will be less demanding. Google co-founder Larry Page has also called for the end of the 40-hour work week.

“The idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is not true,” Page told Vinod Khsola, a billionaire venture capitalist, as quoted by Computerworld in 2014.

All Work and No Play

Other big names take a darker tone about automation. Elon Musk has repeatedly warned of automation and the future of employment.

“A lot of people derive meaning from their employment. If you’re not needed, what is the meaning? Do you feel useless?” he told an audience at the World Government Summit in Dubai back in 2017. One option: universal basic income — the concept of distributing a basic income to every citizen of a nation. In fact, he argues, it would be a necessity.

But just because our billionaire overlords think it’s a great to axe hours and give us more holidays, it’s still pretty unlikely that will happen any time soon.

READ MORE: Billionaire Richard Branson: The 9-to-5 workday and 5-day work week will die off [CNBC]

More on job automation: Robots Are Coming for Service Jobs

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Richard Branson: Future of Work Is “Three and Even Four Day Weekends”

New Rules Takes the Guesswork out of Human Gene Editing

Researchers have identified two rules that they believe ensure the effects of human gene editing are less unpredictable and random.

Not So Random

There are many good reasons to criticize Chinese researcher He Jiankui for reportedly gene-editing two human babies — not only did his actions violate several accords within the scientific community, but he also undertook the project without proper transparency and oversight, working mostly in secret.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that He’s edits could affect the twin babies in unexpected ways. We don’t yet know how to ensure that CRISPR edits in humans do exactly what we want them to do — but that could be starting to change.

“The effects of CRISPR were thought to be unpredictable and seemingly random,” Francis Crick Institute researcher Paola Scaffidi said in a news release, “but by analysing hundreds of edits we were shocked to find that there are actually simple, predictable patterns behind it all.”

Two Simple Rules for Editing My Genes

In a paper published in the journal Molecular Cell on Thursday, Scaffidi and his Crick colleagues describe a set of simple rules they believe take some of the guesswork out of human gene editing.

The first of those rules involves the region a researcher instructs CRISPR to target. If a certain genetic letter (G) is in a certain place (fourth letter from the end of the target sequence), the edit will likely result in many imprecise deletions. The solution: avoid targeting those regions.

The second involves the target DNA’s degree of “openness” during the CRISPR edit. The team discovered that the use of compounds that forced DNA to open up resulted in more efficient editing.

“We hadn’t previously appreciated the significance of DNA openness in determining the efficiency of CRISPR genome editing,” researcher Josep Monserrat said. “This could be another factor to consider when aiming to edit a gene in a specific way.”

Guiding Hand

While these rules may have arrived too late to protect the twin babies on the receiving end of He’s CRISPR edits, they could put us on the path to a future in which we can edit the genes of humans without worrying about unintended consequences.

“Until now, editing genes with CRISPR has involved a lot of guesswork, frustration, and trial and error,” Scaffidi said, later adding, “This will fundamentally change the way we use CRISPR, allowing us to study gene function with greater precision and significantly accelerating our science.”

READ MORE: Scientists Crack the CRISPR Code for Precise Human Genome Editing [The Francis Crick Institute]

More on human gene editing: Chinese Scientists Claim to Have Gene-Edited Human Babies For the First Time

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New Rules Takes the Guesswork out of Human Gene Editing

This Neptune-Sized Exoplanet Is Being Melted Away By Its Star

A newly-discovered planet, orbiting a distant star, is approximately the size of Neptune — but the red dwarf it orbits is boiling it away.

Melted Away

A newly discovered gas planet, orbiting a distant star, is approximately the size of Neptune — but it’s so close to the red dwarf it orbits that it’s literally boiling away.

“This is the smoking gun that planets can lose a significant fraction of their entire mass,” Johns Hopkins planetary scientist David Sing, who helped find the exoplanet, said in a news release. He added that it’s “losing more of its mass than any other planet we seen so far; in only a few billion years from now, half of the planet may be gone.”

Nature Is Metal

The planet, which is called GJ 3470b and described in a new paper in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, is what’s known as a “hot Neptune.” That means that it’s a gas giant, like our own solar system’s Neptune or Jupiter, but it’s far closer to its host star than either of those planets.

GJ 3470b is so close to its star, in fact, that it’s boiling away into space. To make matters worse, it’s not a very heavy planet, meaning that its gravitational pull on its own atmosphere is comparatively weak.

Mysteries of the Cosmos

The rapidly vanishing GJ 3470b could provide an important clue about the nature of gas planets outside our solar system. Though the Kepler mission has found many smaller “mini-Neptunes” sprinkled throughout the galaxy, hot Neptunes are rare. The new theory: we’re not finding as many hot Neptunes because, like GJ 3470b, they tend to boil away into mini-Neptunes.

“It’s one of the most extreme examples of a planet undergoing a major mass-loss over its lifetime,” University of Geneva astronomer Vincent Bourrier, another researcher on the hot Neptune project, said in the same news release. “This sizable mass loss has major consequences for its evolution, and it impacts our understanding of the origin and fate of the population of exoplanets close to their stars.”

READ MORE: Astronomers Have Detected a Planet That’s Actually Evaporating Away at Record Speed [Science Alert]

More on hot Neptunes: Researchers Found a Treasure Trove of Planets Hiding in Dust

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This Neptune-Sized Exoplanet Is Being Melted Away By Its Star

NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Could Assist Commercial Missions to the Moon

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that launched in 2009 could assist future commercial and international lunar landers.

Lunar Helper

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launched in 2009. And it’s still orbiting the Moon to this very day — almost ten years later.

And it still has a decent amount of fuel left in its tank — about 44 pounds (20 kilograms) worth according to LRO project scientist Noah Petro. “That may not seem like a lot, but we don’t go through much fuel on an annual basis,” he said at last month’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) meeting, as quoted by SpaceNews. In fact that remaining fuel could be enough for the next seven years of operation, according to Petro.

Moon Assistance

On November 29, NASA announced it is planning to buy space on board commercial landers for future scientific missions.

NASA is also offering to use the LRO to assist those landers — and other international missions to the Moon as well.

For instance, it could help identify safe landing sites, and help out during landing. “We want to observe the plumes as the landers land and kick up dust and disturb the environment,” says Barbara Cohen, LRO associate project scientist, at the announcement, as quoted by SpaceNews.

Off to the Moon

And the LRO is already on standby. It will observe the landing of two upcoming (non-commercial) lunar landers: the Israeli SpaceIL lander, and India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander, SpaceNews reports. Both missions are slated to land on the Moon early next year.

The move could build a lot of trust between the flourishing commercial, and international space exploration sector. But why China’s space agency was absent from the discussions remains to be seen.

READ MORE: NASA lunar orbiter now supporting commercial and international missions [SpaceNews]

More on lunar landers: China to Land First-Ever Rover on Dark Side of the Moon

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Breathing in Moon Dust Could be Even More Toxic Than We Thought

A new study from scientists at Stony Brook University found that moon dust particles could react with human cells — and potentially lead to cancer.

Uninviting Environment

Space agencies are working hard to get humans back to the surface of the Moon. But it’s not exactly the most inviting place.

Astronauts during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 may not have had any health incidents while they were gleefully bouncing around on the lunar surface, as a NASA mission report from the time points out. But they knew that lunar dust wasn’t their friend — it could irritate their lungs, cause their Moon buggies to overheat — it even started degrading their spacesuits.

Hydroxyl Radicals

And now, scientists have collected even more evidence that Moon dust could be really terrible for us. By studying samples of dust — or regolith — from the lunar surface, scientists at Stony Brook University in New York found that it could react with human cells to create so-called “hydroxyl radicals” — highly reactive particles that have have been linked to lung cancers in the past, New Scientist reports.

“It’s a major health concern for future astronauts,” Donald Hendrix, leader of the study at Stony Brook University, tells New Scientist.

Lunar Cancer

And it gets worse. A different study has found that lunar dust could cause damage to cells’ DNA, which could eventually lead to cancer. The study exposed mouse brain cells, and human lung cells to simulated lunar soil. The results were discouraging: 90 percent of human lung cells and mouse neurons died, according to Universe Today.

The toxicity of lunar dust is going to be a big problem for any human planning on wandering around on the surface of the Moon in the future. “Dust is the number one concern in returning to the Moon,” says Apollo astronaut John Young, as quoted by New Scientist. But it likely won’t hold us back completely.

READ MORE: Breathing in moon dust could release toxins in astronauts’ lungs [New Scientist]

More on Moon dust: Scientists Are 3D Printing Fake Moon Dust Into Useful Objects

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Breathing in Moon Dust Could be Even More Toxic Than We Thought

All New Public Buses in California Have to Be Electric by 2029

California became the first state to mandate that all new mass transit buses have to be electric by 2029. All buses will have to electric in 2040.

Electric Fleet

California became the first state to require all new homes to offset their electricity needs with solar energy earlier this month. And it’s planning to tackle emissions from public transit vehicles next.

By the year 2029, all new mass transit buses in the whole state will have to be fully electric, according to a new rule adopted unanimously by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) yesterday — a powerful arm of the Californian government dedicated to maintaining healthy air quality since 1967. All mass transit bus fleets will have to be electric by 2040.

“[A zero-emission public bus fleet] dramatically reduces tailpipe pollution from buses in low-income communities and provides multiple benefits especially for transit-dependent riders,” says CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols in an official statement.

Say No to the Pump

But there’s another advantage that could help motivate the roughly 200 mass transit agencies to adopt exclusively electric buses in the future: significant savings from switching from expensive gasoline to electricity. “Putting more zero-emission buses on our roads will also reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases, and provides cost savings for transit agencies in the long run,” Nichols goes on to say.

The move could massively reduce carbon emissions in the state, despite the fact that many of the largest transit agencies are already in the process of switching to electric buses — although, the transition has only begun. Only about 150 buses are electric out of 12,000 in the state, according to the New York Times.

A Steep Hill to Climb

So far, the transition has been a little rough. The LA Times reports that many electric buses in California’s largest city are plagued by “stalls, stops, and breakdowns.” San Francisco city officials are worried that electric buses might not have enough oomph to get a full load of passengers up its famously steep hills.

Despite these roadblocks, switching to exclusively electric buses has a ton of benefits — from cleaner air, much quieter streets, and savings in fuel costs.

READ MORE: California Requires New City Buses to Be Electric by 2029 [New York Times]

More on electric buses: By 2019, There Will be Electric School Buses

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