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Cosmology Article in Scientific American

My article on a recent and important mathematical proof regarding the beginnings of our universe was published at Scientific American today. While it may seem odd that a futurist is writing about something that happened 13.8 billion years ago, in fact I think it’s both justified and applicable. Our understanding of the origins of our universe tells us quite a bit about its future and its eventual end. As we refine our models and they become increasingly accurate, our predictions about other cosmological phenomena also improves. Not to mention it’s great fun!

A Window on the Universe’s Distant Past and Future

Today’s announcement of the detection of primordial gravitational waves is huge. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics gave a news conference in which it described the first ever detection of these waves which provides a window onto the very earliest stages of our universe. Gravitational waves were the last untested prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Using a specialized telescope, the research group on the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) project at the south pole gathered data which should only be observable from an event as massively violent as the Big Bang.

These primordial gravitational waves would’ve been generated a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, during a period known as cosmological inflation. The inflation period would’ve expanded the nascent universe many, many times faster than the speed of light and led to an extremely, yet not perfectly, smooth and uniform cosmos.

This evidence isn’t only a direct window onto the very earliest stages of the formation of our universe, it gives us new tools for studying it. Additionally, it provides major support for what’s known in physics as the Standard Model. This indicates our understanding of the cosmos is very much on track, even though there is still much for us to learn.

So why is this important to futurists? After all, this all occurred an unfathomably distant time in the past. But because this evidence allows us to more accurately model our universe’s past, it will also let us better understand it’s most distant future. As a result of today’s discovery, the evolution and ultimately the fate of our universe can be far better anticipated than ever before. It’s a discovery that many consider worthy of a Nobel prize.

(I explore the BICEP2 project and cosmic inflation in greater detail in my upcoming article, “Making Waves in the Cosmos” in the July-August 2014 issue of The Futurist Magazine.)
 

Future Stories

The Emotional Machine and You

Continuing on the topic of affective computing, I’ve cross-posted a piece at Psychology Today and on my World Future blog. “The Emotional Machine and You” examines the issues we may face when dealing with a technology that can read, act upon and manipulate our most basic human emotions. Such devices could
become capable of eliciting responses that lead to emotional bonding without any hope of reciprocation. Such a “relationship” would leave us open to easy manipulation — whether for commercial, political or other types of gain. How do we deal with such a threat without excising our most human traits?

Affective Computing and the Future of Marketing

My new article “How Your Computer Will Read You Like A Book – And Then Sell You Stuff” is up at Fast Company’s Futurist Forum. In it, I talk about ‘affective computing‘ – systems that read, interpret and even simulate human emotion. This is going to change our relationship with technology in ways you’ve probably never imagined. To my mind, one of its more interesting applications will be in the field of marketing. As human beings, we communicate volumes of information to each other via nonverbal cues – facial expressions, posture, gestures, gait. Yet for the most part, these have been inaccessible to computers. Until now. Imagine what will happen to marketing when your response
can be instantly, accurately interpreted, allowing ads to be altered on the fly, targeting you as never before? Get ready for a Brave New Shopping Experience.

The Naked Future (Review)

“The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?” by futurist and science writer, Patrick Tucker, comes out this week and I highly recommend it. As long-time deputy editor of The Futurist magazine and director of communications for the World Future Society, Tucker has many great insights about the world Big Data is rapidly creating around us. In my recent review of ‘Naked Future’, I’ve tried to convey the depth and breadth covered in this very readable book. Read it today so you can know more about the world tomorrow.

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