The Secret History of the Future

The Secret History of the Future
From Slate and The Economist

S2E8: Salvation In The Air
Aug 21 • 37 min
At the dawn of the 20th century, chemists dreamed of extracting nitrogen from the air and turning it into a limitless supply of fertiliser. Sceptics thought they were crazy — it was possible in theory, but it was unclear if it could be done in practice.…
S2E7: A Bug In The System
Aug 14 • 36 min
The first ever computer program was written in 1843 by Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who hoped her far-sighted treatise on mechanical computers would lead to a glittering scientific career. Today, as we worry that modern systems suffer from “algorithmic…
S2E6: Dots, Dashes, and Dating Apps
Aug 7 • 36 min
In the 19th century, young people wooed each other over the telegraph. But meeting strangers on the wires could lead to confusion, disappointment, and even fraud. Do modern online dating apps have anything to learn from telegraph romances?
S2E5: Mars on Earth
Jul 31 • 38 min
Polar exploration was the Victorian equivalent of the space race. Major powers vied to outdo each other, funding expeditions to the most inhospitable parts of the world as demonstrations of their supremacy over nature and each other. Today, the resulting…
S2E4: Meat and Potatoes
Jul 24 • 39 min
The potato seemed strange and unappetizing when it first arrived in Europe. But it grew into a wonder food that helped solve the continent’s hunger problems. Can its journey tell us what to expect from current efforts to replace animal meat with…
S2E3: Unreliable Evidence
Jul 17 • 31 min
In the early 20th century a new forensic technique—fingerprinting—displaced a cruder form of identification based on body measurements. Hailed as modern, scientific, and infallible, fingerprinting was adopted around the world. But in recent years doubts…
S2E2: Second Wind
Jul 10 • 33 min
For thousands of years we sailed our cargo across oceans using zero-emission, 100 percent renewable wind. Then we switched to ships that run on oil, creating a global maritime fleet that pumps greenhouse gases into the sky. Could we go back to…
S2E1: A Familiar Tune
Jul 3 • 43 min
The 19th century invention of the phonograph left composers worried they might not be paid for recordings. The 20th century proliferation of digital sampling outmoded old copyright laws. Can these previous tech disruptions of the music business teach us…
Season 2 Trailer
Jun 26 • 2 min
What can 19th century polar exploration teach us as humans plan missions to Mars? Do modern online dating apps have anything to learn from romances over the telegraph wires? Dig into the past, and you’ll find surprising lessons about what’s next for our…
S1E10: Infinite Scroll
Nov 7, 2018 • 38 min
The Renaissance scholars couldn’t keep up with new information (“Have you read the latest Erasmus book?” “I don’t have time!”) and needed a better way to organize it. Thus came the invention of tables of contents, indexes, book reviews, encyclopedias, and…
S1E9: A Little Less Conversation
Oct 31, 2018 • 30 min
Some people thought the laying of the transatlantic cable might bring world peace, because connecting humans could only lead to better understanding and empathy. That wasn’t the outcome, and recent utopian ideas about communication (Facebook might bring…
S1E8: VR or It Didn’t Happen
Oct 24, 2018 • 32 min
In the Victorian era, plaster casts became a way to preserve important artifacts in 3-D. Now, virtual reality promises to preserve places and experiences. But who decides what gets preserved? And is the technology an accurate recreation of the experience,…
S1E7: A Clock in the Sky
Oct 17, 2018 • 34 min
In 1714, British parliament offered a huge cash prize to anyone who could find a way to determine longitude at sea. And it worked, sort of … several decades later. Are modern contests (DARPA challenges, the X Prize) offering riches and glory an effective…
S1E6: From Zero to Selfie
Oct 10, 2018 • 37 min
In 1969, an anthropologist introduced photographs and films to people in Papua New Guinea who’d never seen themselves represented in media before. It changed their conception of the world. In modern society, social media floods us with imagery at a pace…
S1E5: Human Insecurity
Oct 3, 2018 • 30 min
The French telegraph system was hacked in 1834 by a pair of thieves who stole financial market information — effectively conducting the world’s first cyber attack. What does the incident teach us about network vulnerabilities, human weakness, and…
S1E4: The Fault In Our Cars
Sep 26, 2018 • 33 min
The first pedestrian killed by a car in the western hemisphere was on New York’s Upper West Side in 1899. One newspaper warned that “the automobile has tasted blood.” Today, driverless cars present their own mix of technological promise and potential…
S1E3: Fork Fashions and Toilet Trends
Sep 19, 2018 • 28 min
It took a long time for the fork to go from weird curiosity to ubiquitous tool. How long will it take for current technologies — like the Japanese-style bidet toilet, or heads-up displays such as Google Glass — to go from oddities to everyday necessities?…
S1E2: The Body Electric
Sep 12, 2018 • 35 min
We’ve used electricity to treat our brains for thousands of years, from placing electric fish on our heads to cure migraines to using electroconvulsive therapy to alleviate depression. But over time, our focus has shifted from restoring health to…
S1E1: The Box That A.I. Lives In
Sep 5, 2018 • 35 min
In the 18th century, a device called the Mechanical Turk convinced Europeans that a robot could play winning chess. But there was a trick. It’s a trick that companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook still pull on us today. Guests include: Jaron Lanier,…
Season 1 Trailer
Aug 6, 2018 • 2 min
Examine the history of tech to uncover stories that help us illuminate the present and predict the future.