• March 23, 2019, 6:42 a.m.

    Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur releases new episodes every Thursday. Each episode is packed with great content, covering a broad range of scientific concepts and speculation. If you want to share your thoughts on the newest of episodes, express great interest in a particular futurism fact or if you have questions about specific details discussed in those episodes, feel free to post here. This thread can also be used for episode suggestions.

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  • March 29, 2019, 4:52 a.m.

    Episode idea: Communication.

    How do you send a message to a colony ship 10 light years away? Do you send it directionally (assuming we're using EM radiation, instead of, say, quantum entanglement), or omni-directionally (with a lot of power)? Do you aim the signal at where you hope the ship will be in 10 year's time? If it is a small ship, can it even reply back?

    How about farther out? Imagine a mission asked for help from the home world. Do you reply, "It has been 500 years since your ancestors sent this question, and we hope you resolved the problem centuries ago, but we, long dead now ourselves, advise course of action X. We hope that was a detailed enough explanation so that you don't have to ask for further information"

    From a technical point of view, since an acknowledgement/negative acknowledgement message is impractical, do you send a message multiple times? Do you put some sort of redundancy into the information so that if large parts of it are lost, the rest can be reconstructed?

    If you were to try to send a message to an observer travelling relative to you at relativistic speeds [towards or away from you], what sort of complications does that add? Do they need to record in, say, microwave frequencies, and shift the signal? Or do you need to do, I don't know, modulate the signal at the source?

    Would we envision a network of satellites to facilitate long-distance communication (perhaps in the way e-mails used to be buffered and resent every few days)?

    How about synchronous communication over links with latency. Talking to someone on Mars would mean minutes between sending information and receiving it back; presumably asynchronous communication would be the way to go. How close does someone need to be to have a viable synchronous communication? (How about to the moon from earth?)

    It'd be interesting, too, to hear about some of the proposals for an interplanetary internet (or, heck, why not think big -- this is SFIA -- what of an interstellar or intergalactic internet?) I can't image how that'd be useful without, well, heavily caching outdated information or people having an experiencing an altered flow of time.

    If a crew was in stasis, is there computer supposed to record thousands of years worth of messages? (Talk about getting back to your e-mail to find a full inbox!) Should it wake people up under specified conditions?

    Is there such a thing as 'secured channels'? [Yes, we have encryption, but surely it becomes an arm's race -- more advanced systems can decode the messages, but more advanced systems can encode messages better -- and, oh, I hope a solar flare didn't prevent you from receiving the latest protocol update so you can decode our future messages!]


  • April 5, 2019, 9:49 p.m.

    Seeing the Amish in the Techno-Primitivism Episode reminded me of something I used to wonder years ago: Will the super-religious dominate the world in a few hundred years?

    To show the power of compound growth, the Amish population in the United States in 1920 was 5,000 and today it is about 350,000. So they've grown 70-fold in one century. And that actually understates their birth rates because various estimates have 10-20% of their children leaving the community to join "our" modern society. So they have higher birth rates than indicated above. There's apparently no stigma to that either; children are given the free choice to remain in the community or move out, with the vast majority electing to remain. There are similar Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites and Hutterites with slightly different, but mostly similar beliefs. They live all throughout the Americas including Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico and Canada and their birth rates are high everywhere. If their combined world-wide population is approximately 1 million today and they double their population every 20 years then the Anabaptists will surpass 4 billion people in the mid-23rd century. I always thought that was a ridiculous & unrealistic number until I saw the Ecumenopolis episode!

    Normally when people make long-term demographic predictions they turn out to be very wrong because the world is always changing. For example, people used to think Catholics would dominate the United States because of their no-birth-control rules but the very low birth rates today in USA, Spain, Italy, Poland, says that people aren't really following that anymore. And a lot of those countries have aging populations.

    So how does this play out in the future? Do the super-religious "techno-primitive" societies dominate the Earth in the future? Possible arguments against this:

    (1) Future technology makes life so easy that most Anabaptists decide to join the mainstream society. This seems reasonable except that they currently reject modern society because they believe hard work is essential to a strong character. I'm not sure if even more advanced technology will make them change their minds.

    (2) They decide to embrace birth control to keep their numbers down. Again, this seems unlikely because it violates their core beliefs. And if one sect embraces birth-control they'll simply be outnumbered by those that continue to reject it.

    (3) They're more vulnerable to catastrophe. Maybe some event in the future will greatly reduce the human population, but disproportionately towards primitive societies. It couldn't be a famine though as we would simply help them out. And this one doesn't seem likely either because most of the population-collapse scenarios I can think of would disproportionately affect a high-density, high-tech urban population and, thus, wipe us out rather than them. I think a low-tech rural population is quite resilient against catastrophe.

    (4) Life Extension technologies will disproportionately benefit the mainstream societies and offset some of their exponential growth. Interestingly, though, they can still theoretically out-populate us by a wide margin even if we become immortal and they do not.

    (5) Expensive farmland. This is what I think will ultimately hold down their populations. As the rest of the world grows exponentially wealthy many people will want to buy large rural estates. Low-tech religious communities will find it difficult to compete for these lands and will eventually run out of suitable land for their lifestyle.

    TL;DR: I do think that super-religious "techno-primitive" societies will become a large proportion of the Earth's future population but they cannot completely dominate because they will run out of farmland and will not be able to out-compete wealthy urbanites that wish to buy expensive land in the countryside. However, my guess is that this won't happen until they achieve populations in the hundreds of millions, or possibly billions.

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  • April 6, 2019, 8:13 a.m.

    GregM, I think it is inevitable for religions and ideologies will change over the millennia, typically to match the environment that they find themselves in and to encourage more participants. While such sects like the Ammish are certainly regressive in this sense, they have changed over the history of their existence. The same will be true for the future, and religions of the world will need to either adapt or become extinct in the rapidly changing technological and sociological landscape. It is also entirely possible that in the future new forms of philosophy and religion could arise as consequences of the new world order. Transhumanism itself could be taken as one such emergent example, as it has plenty of potential within its worldview to become a religion to some (in a sense, it already has). Like religions, it was built upon older theories and ideologies (Humanism, Russian Cosmism etc) and furthermore, it has already fractured into several semi-distinct currents that already have the promise of becoming separate sects.

  • Aug. 29, 2019, 4:17 a.m.

    Hello, I have an episode suggestion. I always imagined how airports would have been so different if vertical propulsion was farther developed, how the airport typology would be different, how the land that the airport occupies could be used differently, how the implementation of an vertical airport could allow airports to be more connected with the city since currently airports are placed far from cities. This is a link for a design competition entry that I entered last year that deals with this topic. www.evolo.us/lax-2-0-the-vertical-airport/ Let me know know if interested, I have farther research on the topic with diagrams and a quick animation of the structure. My email Jonathortega3@gmail.com. Thanks


  • Dec. 23, 2019, 6:52 a.m.

    Episode suggestion: Timekeeping in the future

    I've been searching the web for articles and videos about this, but can't seem to find anything relevant. Recently I've been wondering how people on Earth, people living on the Moon, Mars, Titan, Proxima Centauri B, various space colonies, etc., will keep time in terms of clocks, calendars, and years.

    How will one second be defined by each colony? How many hours per day? Days per year? How long will "one year" be defined?

    Will each colony throughout the galaxy have their own local timekeeping system (and thus...local time and date) , plus a "universal" one that everyone in the galaxy uses to keep everything synched up?

    Obviously, every local timekeeping system will constantly have to be modified, due to slight changes in the planet's (or moon's) rotation speed -- affecting the length of the solar day. On Earth, for example, our own definition of 1 second is constantly being changed, in order to maintain the designation of "24 hours, 0 seconds" as the length of day. And after hundreds of years, this tiny difference will add up, and will begin to creep into the calendar...necessitating the omission of calendar days in order to keep the March equinox occurring on March 20th (plus or minus one day).

    On Mars, one solar day is about 24 hours, 40 minutes. So future Martians locally will define "one second" differently than Earthlings, so that a day on Mars comes out to exactly "24 hours, 0 seconds" in their timekeeping system. (On the calendar, this would amount to a one-day difference from Earth's every 36 days.)

    So the Martian calendar would have to be a lot different, not to mention the fact that a Martian year is about two Earth years.

    On Titan, a solar day is about 16 Earth days, and about 28 Earth days on the Moon. So those colonies' local timekeeping systems would be quite interesting, as well.

    And how about space colonies that are just floating in space and orbiting the sun (or another star)...that never, ever have any nighttime? How would they keep time?

    Anyway, I think "Timekeeping in the Future" would be an awesome episode.

  • Dec. 23, 2019, 2 p.m.

    Some further ponderings about timekeeping in the future:

    The "universal time" that everyone in the galaxy would use in common (like a temporal lingua franca) might initially be the same as "Earth time."

    However, as more people move away from Earth, and as Earth's intelligent-being population becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of the galaxy's, then eventually, most non-Earthlings will start demanding a Universal Time that's simple, is permanently consistent with an unchanging algorithm, and that isn't dependent on what happens to Earth.

    What if colonists live 1,000 light years from Earth, and the Earthlings decide to quickly implement changes to their Gregorian calendar in the year 3600? The distant colonists would have to wait 1,000 years until getting the update.

    Or, what if a small asteroid hits the earth (that the Earthlings can't or won't stop), and it abruptly slows Earth's rotation by 5 seconds per day? The Earthlings would have to immediately implement radical changes to their timing algorithms (and calendar) in order to cope with it, even though it shouldn't directly affect the rest of the solar system or galaxy.

    So, perhaps this agreed-upon Universal Time -- decoupled from Earth Time -- would always have exactly 360 days per year, exactly 30 days per month, and its definition of "one second" would be permanently set in stone, and would never be modified.

    If this kind of Universal Time were established...say...in the year 3600, then every date in the history books would also have to be changed retroactively to fit the 360-days-per-year calendar, as well. So, for example, the founding of the United States might be listed as both July 4th, 1776 CE-Earth, and then maybe also as something like February 30th, 1745 CE-Universe.

    (The narrator in this episode could then insert a joke about reluctant people who've said, "I'll do it on February 30th!" to give the audience a little chuckle.)

    Oh well...take this episode suggestion for what it's worth....

  • Dec. 23, 2019, 8:07 p.m.

    Well, I just can't stop thinking about this time stuff. Here's a bit more that I conjured up:

    When the first settlers land on Mars for the purpose of permanent residence, they can establish that date as the first Martian day of the first Martian year. Each month would have approximately 55-to-56 Martian days. (If Mars' orbit around the sun is more elliptical than Earth's, then some months would need to have significantly more days than others.)

    The designated length of a Martian second would be about 2.8% longer than an Earth second, so that each Martian day could be exactly 24 hours, 0 seconds, under this local timekeeping system. It would be one day-length different from Earth about every 36 days.

    If they land within a short interval of time before the northern solstice on Mars occurs, then their arrival date would be called June 1st, 1. The northern solstice would happen sometime in June, the southbound equinox in September, the southern solstice sometime in December, and the northbound equinox would happen in March. The final day of the year (i.e., Martian New Year's Eve) would be something like May 56th. The next day would be June 1st, 2.

    Now, instead, if the pioneers first arrive on Mars about halfway between the time of the southbound equinox and the southern solstice, then they could call that date November 1st, 1, which would be the first day of the year, instead. The solstices would still occur in December and June, the equinoxes would still be in March and September, but in this case, the Martian New Year's Eve would take place on October 56th, or so. The next day would be November 1st, 2.

    Whatever longitude the first permanent settlers land at would be deemed the prime meridian, and the 24 Martian time zones would flow from there.

    So that's what I thought of about how "local time" on Mars will work. Fun to ponder.

    However, this kind of local calendar system won't be very practical on Pluto, since each month would need to have about 7,000 days. (ha)

    Same for any exoplanet that orbits its dwarf star every 15 days...as each calendar month would just have 1 or 2 days.

    So an alternate calendar scheme would need to be devised for cases like these.

    Also, 24 hours for a solar day won't be very practical if the planet (or moon) rotates very slowly, such as Venus, Titan, or the earth's moon. And especially not so if it's tidally locked to its star, which Proxima Centauri B might be.

    So the experts would have to figure out an hourly time frame that could work for these worlds, as well.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Jan. 25, 2020, 8:26 p.m.

    I expect that interplanetary clocks would be sequenced to the time used in particular "capital" locations (such as Greenwich England) and (the "Capital" of Mars) such that the local capital would have the same time as the interplanetary capital (1 am at both places).

    I expect that local Mars time will simply have 25 hours per day, and 687 days per year. I doubt that they would want any given month to be greater then ~34 days in length, thus they will likely have 21 (Plus or minus 1) months in their year. I also expect that "local time" and "interplanetary time" would be tracked with computers for the convenience of travelers, thus only travelers would have to bother to figure out how their daily schedule will change as they go about their travels.

    Trying to "force" "interplanetary time" onto "locals' will never work. The "locals" will always utilize a "local time" suitable to their life-style.

  • Feb. 22, 2020, 8:01 a.m.

    Episode suggestion: Off-Grid / anti-urban Enablers

    What factors drive humans to live in dense cities, despite many or most of us saying we'd prefer to live in a more natural setting if only we could?
    And what technological changes might reverse those urbanizing forces?

    For example:

    Most people want really good internet, but living 'off-grid' or even just 'rural' would often sacrifice that currently. But StarLink may soon negate that reason for staying urban/suburban.

    Many of the best paying and most interesting jobs are in urban areas, where people can quickly and naturally interact face to face. But VR and AR are improving rapidly, and once they achieve some level of critical mass (analogous to early hobby personal computers getting good enough, widely available, and having some key office applications), might enable secure virtual offices that offer most of the value of physical office space at far less cost to companies. Anyone with good internet would be able to do most officework jobs from anywhere. One big barrier will be getting management to accept it - when email was common but still fairly new, managers in large high tech companies still wanted PAPER memos for anything that couldn't be handled face to face or over the phone.

    Many city dwellers love having a wide variety of conveniently available and good quality food choices - both restaurants and large supermarkets (as well as ethnic markets). But inexpensive drone deliveries of could extend the range of take-out food and 'meal kit services'. We may not be too far from having a robo-chef that could prepare properly packaged meal kits.

    What else?

  • March 4, 2020, 7:23 p.m.

    Has Isaac done one on how high-quality telerobotics could change civilization?

    Everything from first responders, space construction, war and terrorism, your daily commute, romance and intimacy, gender/attractiveness, etc.

    Bear wrestling, mouse rodeos, bird riding...

  • May 22, 2020, 1:02 p.m.

    Isaac said at 14 minutes in that "this is not a particle physics lecture". I have watched countless hours of YouTube physics lectures... and yet there was more information on particle physics laid out in those 14 minutes than I'd expect from hours by others. Described in such an unusually clear and concise manner that I was taken aback enough to come here and sign up to post this. And it was all just for the sake of getting ground work laid for his ever optimistic futurism!

    Isaac - Kudos to you, sir. You have an amazing talent for communicating big concepts so any subject you focus on benefits greatly. I personally hope you put your physics background directly to use more often in the future!

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  • June 9, 2020, 12:07 p.m.

    Hey guys, Isaac made a video in 2016 about the technological singularity: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXYcvxg_Yro
    I can't help myself but to disagree with him on this one. Here is my argument in a nutshell, I can expand on any point if you guys want:
    I am a CompSci BSD and I believe that the current hinderance on developing an SI has nothing to do with the hardware. Hell, we ALREADY have computers with the same calculation/minute capacity as the average human brain, we just do not know how to teach them efficiently. The argument for the Technological Singularity is that once we learn better ways to create neural networks, and eventually self sustaining ones, this process will decrease in time drastically.
    In contrast, you seem to be pointing at the fact that an SI won't be able to create better versions of itself faster than we could, at least not that much faster. I agree that although getting there will probably be harder than what people currently seem to believe, since ML and AI are not growing at an Exponential rate in contrast to hardware and other technological developments, once we do get there the leap will be monumental. I can say this because having studied Neural networks they seem to learn tasks at a MUCH faster speed than a human brain and in MUCH MUCH MUCH more depth.
    Given, today's neural networks are dedicated to specific tasks and I see that point, but my argument doesn't stem from the material that the computer is learning, more so from the WAY it learns things. It does so much more efficiently than us, and there is no argument about that (Alpha Go, Alpha Go Zero, and newer ones).
    Also, your argument about the time it takes BOB to create CHUCK and etc... doesn't really hold ground IRL since we would definitely have a teaching plan designed for the algorithm, and although it may not be foolproof, we have a better starting point than just telling it "get smarter my guy". Ideally, we would study in depth how the network makes connections and relate it to the human brain, letting the computer see certain things before other ones. This is the most important thing bout teaching Neural Nets, since once it starts to learn a subject or topic, it would achieve superhuman mastery in that particular topic, at superhuman speeds. Machines are ALREADY doing that. The succecor of this machine would do this even faster, and so on.
    I think you are underestimating computers a little bit, and we would do good to be VERY scared of where this thing will go. I am not talking about a century from now, I am talking mere decades from 2020.
    I also don't think you touched on human-machine merged systems enough, since they are going to happen very soon. Neuralink will release its first comercially available product before 2030, and the productivity enhancements on this thing are monumental. No typing, ever anymore.
    Another point to consider is quantum computing. We already have a 64 Qbyt computer, and one with only 4X the power of that could calculate some INCREDIBLY accurate things. Who knows what will happen when we merge Quant. Computers with AI and ML.
    I love your videos btw, and you. I just couldn't help myself but to disagree on this one. I think we have the capability to reach a singularity before the end of the century, and it is something we must prepare for extensively.

  • June 10, 2020, 12:23 p.m.

    A comment on Arthur's episode 'Parallel Universes'. A hundred years ago, HG Wells wrote a novel: Men Like Gods, and in chapter 4, Section3, he suggested a way of looking at parallel universes. Imagine the pages in a book, each page being a two dimensional universe in a three dimensional higher universe. Each universe is next to two other universes. The inhabitants of each universe know nothing about the other universes.

    Now move up one dimension, so a stack of three dimensional universes are stacked next to each other in a four dimensional space, that is each three dimensional universe is a 'surface' in 4 space.

    This ties in with the idea of branes, short for membranes, stacked next to each other.

    Men Like Gods is not one of Wells' best novels. In the novel the hero, and a few other people, are diving along a road in southern England when the road suddenly changes, as does the surrounding countryside. They had driven through a gap between two universes.

  • July 29, 2020, 1:53 p.m.

    How about a 'Making Of' episode?

    I'd love to see a video of how Isaac and his collaborators research, write, and film/edit an episode.

    A focus on the graphics and artwork would be really interesting too. Who decides their content? How are they made? A few words from an artist or two would bring it to life.

    What hardware/software do they use and like best?

    Every episode may be a unique case, but just one example would be enlightening.

  • Oct. 1, 2020, 3:37 a.m.

    Episode Suggestion: Festivals, celebrations, and holidays

    I was contemplating a science-fiction play, and smiling at the incongruousness of the captain being summoned from the bridge to join in the annual harvest festival, complete with square dancing. And on a generational ship, why not?

    It seems like holidays on earth are typically related to:
    - the harvest, planting, or agrarian cycle
    - remembering the end of wars of births of nations
    - holidays commemorating religious events
    - the arbitrary start of a year

    Similarly, we celebrate birthdays, marriages and anniversaries, and people graduating from school, or retiring from work. It's a bit of a stretch, but I suppose funerals could be considered a celebration too, if only in that it is something more important than day-to-day events that people will pause to honour.

    What sort of things would civilizations celebrate in the future, and how might they do it? Almost all of our holidays are based on a solar year (with a few odd ones based on a lunar year, and fewer still that happen in larger periods like 7, 50, or 100 years). Does a harvest festival make sense if you live in an asteroid? If you are on a generational ship, do you choose to have seasons (perhaps for some sort of psychological benefit, or maybe to keep the flora and fauna happy?)

  • Aug. 1, 2021, 7:15 p.m.

    5 is the real threat to the Amish. We already see the Amish relocating because of high land prices which itself has a push pull function. Pull My sons can’t buy enough farmland to live our lifestyle. Push, those English land developers just offered me $5 million for the farm, and With that much money I could buy enough land for all my sons in Wyoming, Maine, Mexico, or wherever and pay for us to all move there. So the larger communities are creating “colonies” in places that aren’t traditionally Amish already. The flip side is many of their communities allow people to take jobs using technology, and I have to think this sort of exposure probably increases leaving the community especially if you are a young single man who can see he’ll never be able to establish a farm or business within the community.

    Primitive technology movements are something of an unusual problem though. If your neighbors all start using rifles, and use these rifles to attack you and take your stuff, you have a massive incentive to build your own rifles even if you believe the smooth bore musket has intrinsic unquantifiable qualities that make it superior. To choose not to use technology, you need to have a living situation that doesn’t make this suicidal.

    Now as for birth rates overall, it seems likely they will go up after crashing if things continue. The people who don’t want children are not reproducing. Whether it is genetic or memetic the coming generations will be more disposed to having children because they’re most of the people having children nowadays.

  • Aug. 1, 2021, 7:24 p.m.

    One thing I don’t think Isaac has covered is the historically revealed preference women have for “civilized” areas as opposed to frontier areas. Specifically, how this would apply to settling other planets, especially outside the solar system/in the farther future, where Travelling to a “civilized” area is relatively easy to do. How does one settle a planet when the outflow of the native female population significantly outnumbers the inflow of new female settlers? When one considers that historically these incoming women tended to already be married, you would seem to end up with planets where most men have no real hope of marriage or family, which would prompt them to also leave, or else create a huge population of unattached mean with no real way to buy into society which has historically been a huge destabilizing factor whenever it occurs.

  • Aug. 3, 2021, 6:14 a.m.

    Your prediction, birth rates will likely go back up after crashing, assumes being disposed to have many children is a trait that is heritable. I don't believe that assumption should be taken as given. Human beings are pre-disposed to seek the dopamine hit making babies gives them. For most of our history that pre-disposition would be enough to ensure we reproduced in sufficient numbers to carry on the species.

  • Aug. 22, 2021, 4:08 p.m.

    Couple of suggestions:
    With SpaceX lowering the cost of space transportation, many new options become viable. I like the idea of mass drivers on different solar system objects sending stuff to other places. We can even move large objects over thousands of years such as Mercury with rail guns. Given a million+ firings of rail gun we can push Mercury further away from the Sun. Eventually we could make Mercury a moon of Venus.

    Venus is hot because it has a dense atmosphere. Venus atmosphere is 160 miles deep, while Earth is 62 miles deep. If Earth had an atmosphere of 160 miles deep, Earth would be similarly hot as Venus. This suggest we can cool Venus by removing atmosphere. Analogy: the higher you go up, the colder it gets.

    Lets take hydrogen from Jupiter, ship it to Venus and convert Venus carbon dioxide to water. Water will reduce the amount of atmosphere, thus cooling at surface.

    Another option is with Mercury as a Moon of Venus, scoop up carbon dioxide and send it to Mars using the railguns.

    We can increase the mass of Mars by sending mass to it from all over the solar system. We can even send large objects like moons to Mars over the long run. With increased mass, Mars can hold a thicker atmosphere. With a thick atmosphere, Mars will get warm.

    Second suggestion:
    3D mega cities. We can connect sky scrapers with neighboring buildings with bridges. Bridges can carry traffic. This would alleviate traffic and elevator issues.