We can have the future we want—but we have to work for it. Soonish brings you stories and conversations showing how the choices we make together forge the technological world of tomorrow. From MIT-trained technology journalist Wade Roush. Learn more at soonishpodcast.org. We're a proud member of the Hub & Spoke audio collective! See hubspokeaudio.org.
This Is How You Win the Time War
Clock time is a human invention. So it shouldn’t be a box that confines us; it should be a tool that helps us accomplish the things we care about. But consider the system of standard time, first imposed by the railroad companies in the 1880s. It constrains people who live 1,000 miles apart—on opposite edges of their time zones—to get up and go to work or go to school at the same time, even though their local sunrise and sunset times may vary by an hour or more. And it also consigns people like me who live on the eastern edges of their time zones to ludicrously early winter sunsets. For over a century, we've been fiddling with standard time, adding complications such as Daylight Saving Time that are meant to give us a little more evening sunlight for at least part of the year. But what if these are just palliatives for a broken system? What if it's time to reset the clock and try something completely different?
What if a technology company becomes so rich, so powerful, so exploitative, and so oblivious that that the harm it's doing begins to outweigh the quality and utility of its products? What if that company happens to run the world's dominant search, advertising, email, web, and mobile platforms? This month's episode of Soonish argues that it's time to rein in Google—and that individual internet users can play a meaningful part by switching to other tools and providers. It's half stem-winder, half how-to, featuring special guest Mark Hurst of the WFMU radio show and podcast Techtonic.
Fusion! And Other Ways to Put the Adventure Back in Venture Capital
Venture capital is the fuel powering most technology startups. Behind every future Google or Uber or Snapchat is a syndicate of venture firms hoping for outsize financial returns. But the vast majority of venture money goes into Internet, mobile, and software companies where consumer demand and the path to market are plain. So what happens to entrepreneurs with risky, unproven, but potentially world-changing ideas in areas like zero-carbon energy or growing replacement human organs? If it weren't for an MIT-born venture firm called The Engine and a tiny handful of other venture firms tackling "Tough Tech," they'd probably never get their ideas to market.
Hope for Ultra-Rare Diseases
We’ve spent decades trying to understand human biology, health, and illness at the level of our genes. For people with extremely rare genetic conditions, that work is finally starting to pay off. Thanks to the emerging field of hyper-personalized medicine, and the work of new organizations like the N-Lorem Foundation, we're entering a future where diseases linked to rare mutations don’t always have to be lethal.
Technology and Education After the Pandemic
Have online and remote learning been effective as alternatives to in-person teaching during the pandemic? (Not really.) Have designers of massive open online courses taken into account the latest discoveries from cognitive scientists and neuroscientists about how students learn best? (Sort of.) And after the pandemic, how should K-12 schools and universities continue to use technology to meet the growing demand for high-quality learning experiences? (The possibilities are endless, enticing, and also perilous.) In this episode we talk through those questions with Sanjay Sarma, vice president of open learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT is one of the founding members of edX and a supplier of hundreds of the world’s most popular MOOCs. Last August, Sarma and co-author Luke Yoquinto explored the successes and failures of 21st-century education in Grasp: The Science Transforming How We Learn, and in this conversation Sarma and I worked through the book’s main arguments.
"We've Needed Something to Bring Us Together"
In honor of the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden—a day of long-awaited endings and new beginnings—I'm republishing my Season 2 opener, "Shadows of August," which I first released a little more than three years ago, in the fiery early months of the Trump presidency.