Hello Flash Forward friends! This is a bit of a recap post, as Season 3 of Flash Forward just ended. So below you’ll find some data about the season, a bit of reflection, some future plans, and a big list of all the news that broke on all the futures we’ve covered.
SEASON 3 NUMBERS
Gender ratio of those experts*: 40% men 60% women (I feel good about this)
Racial diversity of those experts*: 70% white 30% POC (I would like to get better about this)
* these IDs are assumed by me, based on what I know of the guests, I did not ask each of them to self-ID their gender or race.
I want to take a minute to pause on the last two stats there, about source diversity. These are crude ways to measure, but I care a lot about source diversity so I do keep track of who I’m talking to both per episode and on a whole season level. And I want to show you how the show has changed over the three seasons.
I’m happy with how the gender balance has played out on the show. I want to strive to get better about racial diversity. My goal for next season is to try and include to at least 40 percent experts of color over the course of the whole season. To me, one of the things that makes Flash Forward different from a lot of other tech and future related shows is that I try to focus on perspectives that don’t come purely out of a single white, straight, able-bodied, cis, male worldview. The future is for everyone, and white men aren’t the only ones who are building it. In fact, I’m convinced they’re the least interesting ones building it. I’m committed to featuring more diverse voices in future seasons, to highlight the people you haven’t heard of, but should absolutely know about. So I think it’s important to be transparent about my numbers here, and I hope you all hold me accountable next season for this.
Every episode of Flash Forward includes a ton of research, hours of interviewing, and even more writing, rewriting, fact checking, and editing. To give you a glimpse of some of the research I do for the show, here are all the books I read this season to prep for episodes. (I read other books to get ideas and think about the future, but these are the ones that were specifically related to individual episodes of the show.)
- America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation by Elaine Tyler May
- The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking by Brooke Borel
- Farm Worker Futurism by Curtis Marez
- Vacation Guide to the Solar System: Science for the Savvy Space Traveler! by Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich
- Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
- Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
- Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly & Zach Weinersmith
- Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them by Paige Embry
- Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal by Erik Vance
- Seeking Soulmate: Ditch the Dating Game and Find Real Connection by Chamin Ajjan
- Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel
- The American Census: A Social History by Margo J. Anderson
- Nexus by Ramez Naam
- Crosstalk by Connie Willis
- The Invention of Telepathy by Roger Luckhurst
- Telepathy and literature : essays on the reading mind by Nicholas Royle.
- Phenomena : the secret history of the U.S. government’s investigations into extrasensory perception and psychokinesis by Annie Jacobsen
Shoutout to the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library who both provided many of these books for me to read.
I also wanted to take this opportunity and reflect on what the show has done so far. This season, we’ve traveled to futures far and wide. What happens if California secedes? What happens if all the bees die? What happens if we start dating based on brain waves? I talked to an incredible set of people for these futures, who were all so kind and fun and willing to go down strange roads and do weird thought experiments with me.
As Flash Forward marched on, so did time. Here’s an incomplete list of what happened over the last year in regards to all the futures we’ve covered on the show:
The Most Dangerous Game (contact sports are banned): Scientists are getting closer to understanding chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and in July of this year researchers from Boston University released a huge study that looked at the brains of 202 dead football players, finding evidence of CTE in 88% of them. And, crucially, they found a correlation between the number of years a player was active, and how bad their CTE was.
The Day the Internet Broke (we abandon the internet): Perhaps we’ll look back and say that December 14th, 2017 was the day the internet broke in the United States. That’s the day the FCC, despite even its own members pushing back, decided to end net neutrality. What happens next is a lot of lawsuits.
The Supernova Next Door (a nearby supernova goes off): 2017 saw a lot of cool space explosions. None of them were close enough to hurt us, and most of them were far enough away that they were really hard to see. Here’s a list of the best ones.
The Bodybuilders (human augmentation becomes common): We continue to march onward towards cyborgdom. If you want to keep up with that world, a good place to start is the folks behind BodyHacking Con. I can’t go this year, but I’ve been impressed by how they’ve started to include women in the programming. Although it is still overwhelmingly white.
Grounded (commercial flight is banned): In 2015 the EPA started to look at regulating commercial flights and their carbon emissions. This year, we saw a huge rollback in what the EPA was willing to do, particularly surrounding climate change. The best reporters to follow on the EPA and climate change beat are Zoe Schlanger at Quartz, Arielle Duhaime-Ross at VICE News Tonight, and Kendra Pierre-Louis at the New York Times.
Winded (airborne wind turbines alter the climate): Sadly really nothing is happening on this front, as far as I can tell.
Face to Face (facial recognition technology becomes common): Facial recognition is booming and this year was a huge year for this kind of tech. From paying for things with your smile, to Facebook being able to find you in any picture, anywhere, to tracking customers as they shop (hey, remember how that was in the future scene for this episode?). Most recently, the folks at the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University Law released a report on a program that the U.S. government is piloting that scans your face at airports.
Sunward Bound (the Earth falls into the sun): Still very, very unlikely.
Eternal Life in Prison (longevity technology can keep prisoners alive for hundreds of years): There were some really interesting pieces about living forever, and the folks behind longevity technologies this year. This story in New York Magazine is incredible. And this profile of “extensionists” in Marie Claire is really fascinating if terrifying.
A Drone of One’s Own (everybody with a smartphone also has a drone): Did you get a drone for Christmas? Someone you know probably did. This year there was a movie about being a drone pilot (called, uncreatively, Drone) and the little devices are becoming more and more common. ESPN is even showing drone racing on TV these days.
Caged (all critically endangered animals live only in zoos): A sad year for endangered animals, 2017 was. We have basically lost the vaquita. There are three northern white rhinos left in the world. And scientists worry we’re speeding towards more extinctions, not less.
The Empathy Machine (a device that can transmit emotions): This was an interesting year for empathy as a concept. The idea of empathy is more popular than it has ever been, put forward as a panacea to our political divides. But some are arguing that it’s not the best way to think about improving our world.
Greetings (a Voyager-like probe shows up in our solar system): No aliens this year, sadly, but there were several interesting blips of news about extraterrestrial life. A former U.S. government program that investigated UFO’s was revealed, and SpaceX launched a rocket that really looked like aliens if you didn’t know what they were up to.
Unseen (invisibility cloaks are real): No progress here, sadly.
The Climate Gene (people decide to genetically modify humans to cope with climate change): CRISPR, the gene editing technology, has had quite the year. In August scientists announced that they had used CRISPR to fix a mutation that causes abnormalities in the heart in human embryos. And researchers have managed to edit genes that cause hearing loss in mice. Some people are already talking about moving beyond CRISPR, to a new method.
Bye Bye Binary (nobody cares about gender anymore): Big year for this one! Which is great! The conversation around gender not being a binary has progressed slowly but surely. California legally recognized “non-binary” as an option instead of “male” or “female.” Teachers are starting to ask students what their preferred pronouns are. This is all very good, in my opinion. Let there be even more.
Crossing (all border crossing is dealt with by a global agency): Border crossing was, as usual, a big issue this year. The US banned people from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Chaos ensued. The chances that the US would accept an outside organization handling its borders, grew smaller.
Love At First Sexbot (you can buy a sex robot): Oh boy so much sex robot “news” this year but so little actual news. Once again, don’t believe really any of the headlines about sex robots. If you want to follow folks who actually know what they’re talking about, check out the work of Kate Devlin and the folks at the Fembot Collective.
The Ultimate Swatting (humans make mosquitos extinct): A few years back Google got into the mosquito game. And this year, their “Debug Project” started releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes into the Fresno area.
Micro But Mighty (your microbiome is used in medicine): The microbiome is still a super hot area of research, which also means that there are lots of companies trying to capitalize on the little we know and sell you things. Stay skeptical, my dear listeners! We don’t know that much about the connections between our microbes and our health, and most of the stuff people are trying to sell you in that vein is bogus! The best person to follow on the microbiome front is Ed Yong, who wrote the book I Contain Multitudes, all about microbial life.
My Everything Pal (a totally quantified life): Lots of new products here, but my best advice on this future is to read Angela Chen’s column at Catapult about living a quantified life. Angela is a great writer and approaches everything with the perfect mix of skepticism, whimsy, and openness. Plus she’s a great writer.
Unpawful (pets are outlawed): This future doesn’t seem to be moving forward really, which is good for me because I will die to keep my dog.
Tree Free (a world without paper): Nothing sexy to report here aside from the slow march away from paper which continues at about the same rate as it did when we did this episode.
Rude Bot Rises (a world with conscious AI): Oh boy did we have some fun fights about conscious AI this year! Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg got into it this summer over whether or not we should actually worry. Musk says we should. Zuckerberg says he’s a loser who should shut up and stop being so darn pessimistic. I tend to side with Ted Chiang on this one, who recently expanded the point he made on this episode (ahem, patting myself on the back here) in a great piece for Buzzfeed in which he argues that it’s not AI we have to worry about, it’s runaway capitalism. Looking at you two, Elon and Mark.
Swipe Right For Democracy (America goes to a direct democracy system): America will probably never be a direct democracy, but here’s a kind of funny and interesting argument that blockchain technology could push us towards something more like a direct democracy.
Popnonymous (all pop stars are avatars): It’s not just pop stars who might be computer generated in the future. We now have an Instagram star who is (maybe? probably? Nobody actually knows, which I love) computer generated. Meet @LilMiquela.
The Altered State (all drugs are legal): In the United States some states have moved closer to legalizing some drugs (mostly weed). But remember that even in states where marijuana has been legalized, black men are still more likely to get hit with drug charges. And white people are capitalizing on these changes, while black folks are stuck in jail.
Revenge of the Retweet (future politicians have online lives): This episode may have held up worse than any other episode of Flash Forward?
Where’s the Beef? (meat is banned): No ban coming, but the companies working on meat replacements have been really active this year. The so called “impossible burger,” fake meat made in a lab, had quite the year. And beyond meat, Modern Meadow is growing leather in a lab without cows. But some people have some questions about this lab meat, like, why is this vegetarian holy grail still using fetal cow blood to grow the meat? And there’s no evidence yet that cultured meat would be less environmentally damaging than slaughtered meat.
The Witch Who Came From Mars (an AI written future): No witches have arrived from Mars yet, but computers are making more and more art. This year researchers showed humans art made by an algorithm, and art made by “real” human artists at Art Basel. The computer generated art actually rated more “real” by the subjects than the Art Basel work.
How is Babby (Not) Made (perfect contraception): The U.S. is battling over access to contraception right now, as the Trump administration wants to allow any business to refuse to cover contraception for virtually any reason.
Extra! Extra! (fake news takes over): Good lord this episode has stayed relevant. What is there to say about fake news other than it’s both everywhere, and a convenient excuse that people hide behind when they don’t like the real news? The question of how much of the fake news from the election cycle was generated in Russia is an open one. Some argue that attacking the media has strengthened it. I personally feel like crawling into a hole and never coming out.
Robocrop (farming is done by robots): This is another future that is chugging along. Here’s a cool piece in WIRED about robots with water knives. And in September a farm in Shropshire, England completed the first harvest done by solely robots.
Greetings from Paradice (the Arctic becomes a tourist destination): More and more people are headed to the Arctic on vacation, as this episode predicted. And not just in the West either, Russia’s national park Frans Yosef Land, saw a 20 percent increase in visitors this year.
California Dreaming (California secedes from the United States): Secession was a hot topic this year for CA. The two main groups pushing for the break fought with one another, and the California attorney general came out against the split. But they found an unlikely ally in one Utah lawmaker who wants CA to go, as punishment.
Unreel (anybody can make a video of you doing anything): This is happening and it’s terrifying. The University of Washington released a new tool that can take audio files and graft them onto realistic mouth movements. Take this along with the Fake News episode, and you have… I don’t even know.
Robocop (a future without human police): An animal shelter in San Francisco was using security robots to harass homeless people. Apparently they can have endless compassion for animals, but not for humans in just as awful situations? The animal shelter eventually stopped using the robot.
Mons Voyage (a future where tourists can visit Mars): Elon Musk is still working on getting us to Mars on his Big Fucking Rocket. But the exact details of how this is going to work remain a bit unclear.
Love on the Brain (matchmaking by brain waves): So far no EEG Matchmaking services on the market yet, but I’m ready for it.
After Life (life on Earth is wiped out): Good news! This one isn’t happening any time soon.
Piraceuticals (people start pirating pharmaceuticals): Here’s a profile of an anarchist trying to teach people how to make DIY epi-pens. More importantly, here’s a very good joke I heard recently. What’s a pirate’s least favorite letter? A cease and desist.
Easy Bake Organs (printable replacement organs): This is one of those futures that continues to march on and make progress incrementally. Dean Kamen recently got into the game, and he’s putting his money on turning Manchester, New Hampshire, an old mill town, into “the Silicon Valley of human organ manufacturing.”
There’s No Great Future in Plastics (all plastics are banned): Boston just banned plastic bags. But more impactfully, China recently banned “foreign waste” from coming into the country, which means that the U.S. recycling system is in complete chaos. Turns out, a ton of American recycling facilities ship their recycling to China.
Countless (the 2020 census fails): ProPublica recently uncovered the troubling news that Trump is going to push for a citizenship question on the 2020 census. “This is a recipe for sabotaging the census,” Arturo Vargas, a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Census and the executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, a Latino advocacy group, told ProPublica.
You’ve Got Brainmail (humans invent telepathy): Nissan is going to show off new technology that will enable “brain-to-vehicle” communication this year at CES. In other words: could you drive a car with your brain?