Soonish

By Wade Roush

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The future is shaped by technology—but technology is shaped by us. Every month, Soonish brings you stories 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.

Episode Date
Making Moonrise
00:43:34

Fifty years after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins went to the moon, it’s hard to shake off the afterimage of the Saturn V rocket rising into the sky on a column of flame, and remember that the astronauts' bold adventure was also the product of decades of work by engineers, politicians, propagandists, and even science fiction writers. That’s the gap Lillian Cunningham of the Washington Post set out to fix in her podcast, Moonrise. And she’s here with us today to talk about how the show got made, what she thinks the Apollo story can teach us about the power of imagination, and how the stories we tell help us to write the future.

Cunningham has been at The Washington Post for nine years, and in addition to creating Moonrise, she produced and hosted the limited-run podcasts Presidential and Constitutional. She spoke with Soonish from the Post's studios in Washington, D.C., on October 29, 2019, and in this episode we're sharing a version of the conversation that's been edited for length and clarity.

See the episode page on the Soonish website for full show notes. And for an even deeper dive, including a chat about Lillian's writing process, the music for Moonrise, and the new Apple TV+ series "For All Mankind," check out this bonus segment at our website.

Chapter Guide

0:00 Hub & Spoke Sonic ID

01:31 Soonish Theme

01:45 The Golden Age of Limited-Run Podcasts

02:48 A World-Changing Podcast about the Moon Race

05:08 Welcoming Lillian Cunningham to Soonish

05:45 Lillian’s Journey to Podcasting

08:53 Why Make a Show about the Moon Race?

12:21 Beginnings: Why Start the Moon Story in 1933?

17:58 The Role of Science Fiction and Futurism in the Moon Program

20:52 The Soviet Side of the Moon Story

24:10 Midroll Message: Recommending Words To That Effect

26:07 What Makes an Expert an Expert?

31:14 The Story Never Stops

35:19 Will We Ever Go Back to the Moon?

39:14 End Credits and Patreon Thank-Yous

41:38 Promoting Hub & Spoke Newest Show, Subtitle

The Soonish opening theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay.

Additional music is from Titlecard Music and Sound.

If you like the show, please rate and review Soonish on Apple Podcasts / iTunes! The more ratings we get, the more people will find the show.

Listener support is the rocket fuel that keeps this whole ship going! You can pitch in with a per-episode donation at patreon.com/soonish.

Give us a shout on Twitter and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.

Please check out Subtitle from Patric Cox and Kavita Pillay. It's the newest addition to the Hub & Spoke audio collective. The premiere episode Not So Anonymous is about the remarkable power of forensic linguistics software to unmask writers who'd probably rather stay unknown.

Nov 14, 2019
Election Dreams and Nightmares
00:35:23

The moment in the voting booth when you put your pen to your ballot (or put your finger to the electronic touchscreen, as the case may be) is democracy distilled. It’s the act that makes America a republic. But while the casting your vote is critical, it’s everything that happens before, during, and after that moment that makes up the larger election system. And these days there are whole armies of people working to influence and disrupt that system—and opposing armies working to protect it and make it safer and more accessible.

In this special Halloween 2019 edition of Soonish, we look at the scary vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system that were exposed after the 2016 presidential election, and we meet a company working to make it possible for everyone to vote securely on their smartphones. 

We hear from a retired U.S. Air Force major general who’s deeply worried about the lack of good “cyber hygiene” within state election agencies, and national security experts who fear the 2020 presidential vote could once again be manipulated and distorted by social media misinformation and disinformation. 

And we meet a science fiction author who says democracy is always a work in progress, but argues there’s an urgent need now for better media literacy and clearer thinking about how to strengthen the key beliefs, norms, and institutions behind democracy.

Check out the complete show notes, including a full episode transcript, at soonishpodcast.org

Chapter Guide

00:00 Hub & Spoke Sonic ID

00:13 Opening Theme

00:22 A Scary Story from the Senate Russia Report

02:49 E-Voting Machines Without Paper Trails

03:38 The Nightmare Scenario

04:28 Maj. Gen. Earl Matthews on Cyber Hygiene

06:33 More Money for Election Security

07:23 The Big Question: Can We Achieve Fair Elections?

07:52 The Anti-Sikh Riots of 1984

09:47 Nimit Sawhney at SXSW

10:58 The Founding of Voatz

13:58 How to Vote on Voatz

22:03 Baby Steps and Criticisms

24:19 Meet Centenal Cycle Author Malka Older

27:58 Elections as Systems, and the Dangers of Disinformation

30:59 Adapting to New Communications Platforms

32:32 The Fragility of Legitimacy

33:45 End Credits, and a Shout-Out to Open Source

Notes

The Soonish opening theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay.

Additional music is from Titlecard Music and Sound.

Episode logo photograph by Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

Sound effects / foley from Freesound.org.

If you like the show, please rate and review Soonish on Apple Podcasts! The more ratings we get, the more people will find the show.

Listener support is the rocket fuel that keeps this whole ship going! You can pitch in with a per-episode donation at patreon.com/soonish.

Give us a shout on Twitter and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.

Please check out Open Source, one of the newest additions to the Hub & Spoke audio collective. Try the episode Do we want democracy or two-day shipping? with Matt Stoller from the Open Markets Institute.

Oct 31, 2019
The Great Blue Hill Heist
00:06:43

In this short bonus episode, hear the bizarre story of a college student who scaled a New England weather tower on a dare, stole a curious scientific instrument as a trophy, and inadvertently disrupted a series of climate observations going back more than 130 years.

I made this four-minute, non-narrated piece in 2018 as part of the 24-Hour Radio Race from KCRW’s Independent Producer Project.

To view the show notes, a photo gallery, and a full transcript visit soonishpodcast.org/307-the-great-blue-hill-heist

The Soonish opening theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay.

Additional music is from Titlecard Music and Sound.

If you like the show, please rate and review Soonish on Apple Podcasts / iTunes! The more ratings we get, the more people will find the show.

Listener support is the rocket fuel that keeps this whole ship going! You can pitch in with a per-episode donation at patreon.com/soonish.

We need your ideas to make the show better! Please take a few minutes to fill out our listener survey at soonishpodcast.org/survey.

Give us a shout on Twitter and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.

Aug 19, 2019
I Have Seen the Future of Displays
00:28:42

Apple used the opening keynote presentation at its annual World Wide Developers Conference in San Jose in June to roll out the usual array of software updates and new computer hardware. But tucked into middle of the keynote was one the event's most consequential and underappreciated pieces of news: For the first time in more than three years, Apple will offer its own LCD computer monitor, the Pro Display XDR.

It's a serious piece of gear, with 20 million pixels and new techniques for handling light and heat that deliver extremes of brightness, contrast, and color. And it comes with a serious price tag: $4,999. But it delivers image quality on par with professional "reference monitors" that typically cost tens of thousands of dollars, meaning it could put ultra-high-quality imaging capabilities into the hands of many more film and TV producers, graphic designers, photographers, and other professionals. (And—eventually—consumers. "All of the things that are in the Apple Pro Display XDR that make it unique right now are going to eventually become standard features five to 10 years from now, in displays that are going to be at Best Buy," veteran video engineer Michael Isnardi told us.)

Soonish was there to cover the conference. And today's episode argues that when the Pro Display XDR goes on sale this fall, it could be one of those moments—similar to the introduction of HDTV in the late 1990s or Retina screens in 2010—when innovations in image-reproduction technology converge to alter the way we see the world.

For the complete show notes please visit https://www.soonishpodcast.org/306-i-have-seen-the-future-of-displays

Chapter Guide

00:00 Hub & Spoke Sonic ID
00:08 Content Warning
00:24 Soonish Opening Theme
00:44 The Principle of Good Enough
01:46 The Ceiling and the Floor
02:22 A Very Deep Dive into Displays
02:59 WWDC 2019
04:02 Announcing the Pro Display XDR
05:51 Spoiled by the Garage Door Opener
07:13 Resets in Visual History
07:39 Color and Light and Pixels
10:51 The Future’s So Bright
14:11 Roy G. Biv
16:28 The Battle of Winterfell
19:32 Hollywood Is Leaving You Behind
21:23 Picture Optimization Mode
22:29 What Would Walter Benjamin Say?
24:38 A New Art Form
26:01 End Credits and Acknowledgements
26:44 Culture Hustlers
27:32 Thank You to Our Top Patreon Supporters

The Soonish opening theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay.

All additional music is by Titlecard Music and Sound.

Listener contributions are the rocket fuel that keeps this whole ship going! You can support the show with a per-episode donation at patreon.com/soonish.

Give us a shout on Twitter and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.

Aug 07, 2019
How to Fix Social Media
00:34:24

Earlier this year Soonish took on social media in an episode called A Future Without Facebook. In that show I explained my own decision to quit the troubled platform and talked with friends and colleagues about their own reasons for staying or going.

But the story of how these platforms are confounding earlier hopes for social media—and are instead blowing up our democracies—was never just about Facebook. In today’s special follow-up episode, I speak with national security expert Juliette Kayyem and former Twitter engineer Raffi Krikorian about the challenges spanning all of our social media platforms—Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, and many others.

Algorithms designed to serve personalized content and targeted ads, for instance, have ended up fueling political polarization, aggravating radical-fringe resentment, and accelerating the spread of misinformation and disinformation. “The aspect that's different now is…the extent to which the guy sitting alone, who has these horrible thoughts, is able to find a community or a network to radicalize him and give a sense of community for that anger,” Kayyem observes. YouTube’s autoplay feature, which can lead viewers down rabbit holes full of conspiracy-theory videos, “might be one of the most dangerous features on the planet,” Krikorian comments.

How can we fix it? Both Krikorian and Kayyem say what’s needed is a combination of citizen pressure, technical and business-model changes, education for individuals (so they’ll know how to judge what they see on social platforms), and legislation to make information sources more transparent and hold platforms liable for the harassment they facilitate.

My chat with Kayyem and Krikorian was recorded at Net@50, a celebration of the 50th birthday of the ARPANET (the precursor to today’s Internet) organized by the World Frontiers Forum and Xconomy. Thank you to both organizations for permission to share the session.

For more background and resources, including a full episode transcript, check out the episode page at the Soonish website.

Chapter Guide
0:00 Hub & Spoke Sonic ID
00:08 Special Announcement: The Constant Joins Hub & Spoke
01:59 Soonish Opening
02:15 Audio Montage: Social Media in the News
03:43 The Problem Is Bigger than Facebook
05:29 Meet Guests Juliette Kayyem and Raffi Krikorian
06:04 Question 1: How Did You Get Interested in the Problem of Social Media?
12:39 Question 2: Shouldn’t We Have Noticed This Earlier?
16:22 Question 3: Micro or Macro Solutions?
22:54 Question 4: Can Individuals Make a Difference?
24:42 Audience Question: What’s Really New Here?
27:59 Audience Question: Should We Eliminate Anonymity on the Internet?
29:17 Audience Question: Making Us Smarter
31:21 Final Credits
32:14 Check Out the “Plymouth Rock” Episode of Iconography
33:35 Thank You to Our Patreon Supporters

The Soonish opening theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay.

All additional music is by Titlecard Music and Sound.

If you like the show, please rate and review Soonish on Apple Podcasts / iTunes! The more ratings we get, the more people will find the show.

You can also support the show with a per-episode donation at patreon.com/soonish. Listener contributions are the rocket fuel that keeps this whole ship going!

We need your ideas to make the show better! Please take a few minutes to fill out our listener survey at soonishpodcast.org/survey.

Give us a shout on Twitter and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.

Jul 24, 2019
The Art that Launched a Thousand Rockets
00:34:12

The adjective “visionary” gets thrown around a lot, but it’s literally true of Chesley Bonestell and Arthur Radebaugh, the two illustrators featured in this week’s episode. Both men used their fertile visual imaginations and their artistic skills to create engaging, influential depictions of human space exploration and our high-tech future. Their work was seen by millions of magazine and newspaper readers throughout the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s—boosting public support for space exploration and industrial R&D at a critical time for the U.S. economy. Now, both men are the subjects of documentary films.

Chesley Bonestell was born in San Francisco in 1888, survived the earthquake and fire of 1906, and went on to become an accomplished and high-paid architect, artist, Hollywood matte painter, and illustrator of book and magazine articles. From the mid-1940s onward, he specialized in painting stunning views of space vehicles and views other otherworldly locations like the Moon, Mars, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. He lived to see humans set foot on the Moon in the 1960s and visit the gas giants via robotic probes in the 1980s, finally passing away in 1986.

Arthur Radebaugh lived from 1906 to 1974 and built on his early career as an illustrator for Detroit-based advertising agencies to become a “funny-pages futurist,” producing the syndicated Sunday comic strip Closer Than We Think for the Chicago Tribune—New York News Syndicate from 1958 to 1963.

In this episode we meet Douglas M. Stewart Jr. and the other producers of Chesley Bonestell: A Brush With the Future, a 2019 documentary about Bonestell, as well as Brett Ryan Bonowicz, maker of Closer Than We Think, a 2018 documentary about Radebaugh. And we hear from veteran science journalist Victor McElheny, who lived through (and documented) the era when Bonestell and Radebaugh were creating their visions of space and the future.

The episode argues that futurist art, done well, can become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. It can teach consumer and citizens what to want and expect—whether that’s moon bases or self-driving cars or talking refrigerators—and it can inspire at least few people to become the scientists and engineers who actually go out and build those things.

For more background and resources, including images by Chesley Bonestell and Arthur Radebaugh and a full transcript of the episode, check out the full show notes at soonishpodcast.org.

Chapter Guide

0:21 Under the Golden Gate Bridge
1:18 A Glimpse Into the Future
3:56 How Come I Never Heard of Chesley Bonestell?
4:37 Meet Arthur Radebaugh
6:45 Round Table Interview with Douglas Stewart, Christopher Darryn, and Kristina Hays
9:43 Mars as Seen from Deimos
11:50 Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future Trailer
13:30 Destination Moon
15:13 Working with Wernher von Braun
17:03 Commercial Instinct
18:03 Romantic Rockets
20:20 Midroll Announcement: Support Soonish on Patreon
22:09 Brett Ryan Bonowicz
25:12 Influencing the Jetsons
26:21 Extremely Fast and Incredibly Closer Than We Think
29:54 Imagining Catastrophe
31:21 Conclusion: Competing Styles of Visual Futurism
32:45 End Credits and Announcements

The Soonish opening theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. All additional music is by Titlecard Music and Sound.

Soonish is a proud founding member of Hub & Spoke, a Boston-based collective of smart, idea-driven nonfiction podcasts. Learn more at hubspokeaudio.org.

If you like the show, please rate and review Soonish on Apple Podcasts / iTunes! The more ratings we get, the more people will find the show. See https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/soonish/id1185234753?mt=2

You can also support the show with a per-episode donation at Patreon. For a limited time, contributors who sign up at the $5-per-episode level or above get a Soonish coffee mug! But act now, because after June 8, 2019, the coffee mug will only be available at the $10-per-episode level or above. Listener contributions are the rocket fuel that makes this ship go, so get on board now!

We need your ideas to make the show better. Please take a few minutes to fill out our listener survey at soonishpodcast.org/survey.

Give us a shout on Twitter at @soonishpodcast and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.

May 14, 2019
A Future Without Facebook
00:44:08

Every technology has its growing pains, but Facebook, at age 15, has matured into a never-ending disaster. Here at Soonish, I'm fed up, and I'm closing my accounts. In this episode, you’ll hear how I reached this point, and how other Facebook users are coming to grips with the chronic problems at the social network. You might just come away with some ideas about what to do to limit Facebook’s power over your own life!

The first signs that something was seriously wrong at Facebook surfaced in—well, when?

  • Was it 2014, when the company acknowledged it had experimented on users by altering the content of the news feed to see how it would affect their moods?
  • Was it 2015, when misinformation about alleged Muslim attacks on Buddhists in Myanmar spread on Facebook, leading to anti-Muslim riots?
  • Was it 2017, when evidence began to emerge that Russian hackers had influenced the US presidential election by promoting divisive content designed to mobilize Trump voters and demotivate Clinton voters in swing states?
  • Was it 2018, when the world learned that Facebook had allowed the British political data firm Cambridge Analytica to acquire Facebook data on 87 million users in the U.S.?
  • Was it last week, when a white-nationalist gunman in New Zealand live-streamed his terror attack on Facebook, and hundreds of thousands of copies of the video ricocheted around the network for hours?

No matter when you start the clock, we’ve now had plenty of time to perceive Facebook’s failures in all their depth and breadth. And we’ve been able to pinpoint some of the root causes—including a fundamental disregard for user privacy and a fixation on a business model that surveils users and manipulates the content of the news feed to foment outrage and maximize opportunities for targeted advertising.

Some Facebook users, like me, have decided that enough is enough. Many others are staying, but unhappily. Should you keep using Facebook, but more advisedly? Cut way back? Walk away? All of these are valid strategies that will send a message to Facebook and make your own life happier. Doing nothing probably won’t. This episode is designed to help listeners make a more conscious choice.

Thanks to all of of this episode's featured guests: Tova Perlmutter, Rudi Seitz, Kip Clark, Tamar Avishai, Peter Fairley, Nick Andersen, Mark Hurst, Ashira Morris, Victor McElheny, and Deborah in Minneapolis.

For more background and resources, including a full episode transcript, check out the episode page at the Soonish website.

CHAPTER GUIDE

0:07 Cold open (audio montage)
1:27 Soonish theme and introduction
1:51 An unwise choice at Ford
4:06 The Ford Pinto of the Internet
7:53 Meet our special advisory panel
9:44 Facebook does have its uses
13:48 A community designed to encourage dependency
15:14 Constant surveillance
20:00 Waiting for more data
23:55 Leaving is painful
26:14 Ex-Facebookers who never looked back
29:53 Exit strategies
32:03 Conscious unfriending
33:52 The reducetarian approach
35:40 We don't have to wait for Facebook to fix itself
36:47 Sensing intrusion
39:35 The opposite of Facebook
40:12 End credits and announcements

The Soonish opening theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. All additional music is by Titlecard Music and Sound.

Soonish is a proud founding member of Hub & Spoke, a Boston-based collective of smart, idea-driven nonfiction podcasts. Learn more at hubspokeaudio.org.

If you like the show, please rate and review Soonish on Apple Podcasts / iTunes! The more ratings we get, the more people will find the show. See https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/soonish/id1185234753?mt=2

You can also support the show with a per-episode donation at patreon.com/soonish. Listener support makes all the difference!

We need your ideas to make the show better! Please take a few minutes to fill out our listener survey at soonishpodcast.org/survey.

Give us a shout on Twitter and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.

Special thanks to Kip Clark, Joseph Fridman, and Mark Pelofsky for reviewing drafts of this episode.

Mar 22, 2019
The Track Not Taken
00:25:22

The Meigs Elevated Railway—one of the world’s first monorail systems—looked like something out of a Jules Verne novel. But it was very real. In this week’s episode, hear how nineteenth-century Bostonians missed their chance to build a steam punk utopia.

The monorail system was the brainchild of Joe Meigs, a Civil War veteran and tinkerer who had political and financial backing from Massachusetts governor Benjamin Butler. Meigs envisioned a system that would soar above the streetcar traffic clogging Boston’s streets. Beginning in 1884, thousands of people boarded his distinctive cylindrical train cars for 20-mph rides around a test track in East Cambridge, MA. The system was a technical success, and eventually Meigs obtained a charter to build miles of monorail track around Boston. But a fateful attack one winter night in 1887 dashed his hopes—and proved that the best technology isn’t always the one that wins widespread adoption.

Featured guest: Charles Sullivan of the Cambridge Historical Commission. Charlie also provided key historical perspective in Soonish 1.09, A Tale of Two Bridges.

Featured voice: Charles Gustine, producer, Iconography

To browse an extensive gallery of images of the Meigs monorail, check out our show notes.

A full episode transcript is available in the Extras section of the Soonish website.

Related episode: Soonish 1.02, Monorails: Trains of Tomorrow?

We need your ideas to make the show better! Please take a few minutes to fill out our listener survey at soonishpodcast.org/survey.

CHAPTER GUIDE

0:55 Opening

1:58 The Unknown Railway

2:49 Monorail Fanboy

3:37 225 Bridge Street

5:42 Readings from The Meigs Railway

6:42 Untangling the Streetcar System

8:32 Light and Air

10:10 Who Was Joe Meigs?

11:42 One Little Problem

12:18 Building the Demonstration Track

13:09 Four Wheel Drive

14:20 Sausage on a Stick

15:58 Two Ways of Moving People

16:37 Foul Play

18:05 A Stubborn Guy

20:01 Parallel Universe

21:49 How We Choose the Future

22:22 End Credits and Announcement

The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music from Titlecard Music and Sound. For complete details on this episode go to soonishpodcast.org/302-the-track-not-taken.

Soonish is a proud founding member of Hub & Spoke, a collective of smart, idea-driven nonfiction podcasts. Learn more at hubspokeaudio.org.

Don't forget to fill out our listener survey at soonishpodcast.org/survey.

If you haven’t already, please rate and review Soonish on Apple Podcasts / iTunes! The more ratings we get, the more people will find the show. See https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/soonish/id1185234753?mt=2

You can also support the show with a per-episode donation at patreon.com/soonish. Listener support makes all the difference!

Give us a shout on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.

Nov 09, 2018
When Minds and Machines Converge
00:30:38

Can thought-power control the world outside our heads? Thanks to new brain-machine interface technology, the answer is yes. But the real question is whether it can it help us control the world inside our heads. In the Season 3 opener of Soonish we meet Ariel Garten, co-founder of Interaxon, a Canadian startup that’s one of the first to offer a consumer neurofeedback device. Interaxon’s Muse headband reads brainwaves to help people with the sometimes vexing task of meditation. It points toward an era when may be able to control our brain states and share our thoughts directly with our computers, and with each other. And there are startling implications—not just for our capabilities as humans, but also for our privacy and individuality.

Featured guests: Ariel Garten, Sam Langer, Mary Lou Jepsen.

CHAPTER GUIDE

0:00 Opening

0:33 Meditating by the Lake

3:06 Introducing Muse and Interaxon’s Ariel Garten

3:56 Electroencephalography

4:24 Interaxon Goes to the Winter Olympics

8:22 Measuring Brainwaves with EEG

11:36 An Introduction to Meditation, with Sam Langer

14:51 Using Muse to Strengthen the Muscle of Attention

17:02 The Consciousness Club Tries Muse

18:12 A Controlled Study of Muse

18:59 Thinking Through Brain-Machine Interfaces

22:18 The Coming Wave of Neural Interfaces, with Mary Lou Jepsen

25:09 The Center for Responsible Brainwave Technologies

26:28 Extending Our Agency

27:37 End Credits and Announcements

The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music from Titlecard Music and Sound. For complete details on this episode go to soonishpodcast.org.

Soonish is a proud founding member of Hub & Spoke, a collective of smart, idea-driven nonfiction podcasts. Learn more at hubspokeaudio.org.

If you haven’t already, please rate and review Soonish on Apple Podcasts / iTunes! The more ratings we get, the more people will find the show. See https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/soonish/id1185234753?mt=2

You can also support the show with a per-episode donation at patreon.com/soonish. Listener support makes all the difference!

Give us a shout on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and sign up for our email newsletter, Signals from Soonish.

Oct 01, 2018
Making Music with Machines
00:40:27

We can’t predict what kind of music people will want to make or hear in the future. But based on the sounds coming out of today's studios and clubs, it's a good bet that the tunes of tomorrow will be heavily mediated by digital technology.

This week’s show asks how software has changed the way composers and performers make music, and how our tools for creating music will evolve in the near future. You’ll meet people using technology on different scales to create scores for film, television, and podcasts, classical canons, and electronic dance music. And you’ll learn about a project at Google to build “generative music” software that can jam alongside human performers.

We’ve come a long way from the days of analog music engineering. More people than ever have access to advanced music-creation tools—but to make the best use of them, we’ll always need to bring our own creativity to the table.

Guests include composers Joel Roston, Andrew Willis, and Rudi Seitz, EDM producer and DJ Biyeun Buczyk, music educator David Day, and Google senior research scientist Douglas Eck.

The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Original score composed by Joel Roston and produced by Titlecard Music & Sound. Guest music from Rudi Seitz and Biyeun Buczyk aka DJ Beyun. For full episode details and music credits visit http://www.soonishpodcast.org

Jul 27, 2018
Tomorrow, Today with Ministry of Ideas
00:39:27

The way we picture the future is still based, in large measure, on the visions brought to life at the world’s fairs and international expositions that swept the globe between the 1850s and the 1960s—especially the New York World’s Fairs of 1939-40 and 1964-65, the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962, and Disney World’s EPCOT Center (which is, in essence, a permanent World’s Fair). But the fairs were about much more than technology: they were also about a specific vision of Western dominance, one that treated people from colonized or developing countries as little more than zoo specimens. In this special crossover episode we present “Tomorrow, Today,” a recent story from our sister Hub & Spoke show Ministry of Ideas. Host Zachary Davis tells the story of the world’s fair movement, and of the unexpected critiques and challenges that surfaced within it. Listen to the end for a conversation between Davis and Soonish host Wade Roush.

More information at https://www.soonishpodcast.org/episodes/2018/7/2/209-tomorrow-today-with-ministry-of-ideas. Subscribe to Ministry of Ideas at http://www.ministryofideas.org

Music in this episode is by Graham Gordon Ramsay, Tim Beek, and Joel Roston and Andrew Willis of Titlecard Music in Boston.

Jul 02, 2018
Sci-Fi That Takes Science Seriously
00:39:00

The golden era of “hard” science fiction that respects the rules of actual science lasted from the 1940s to the 1960s. In the 1970s, demand for hard sci-fi fell off a cliff, with a big push from the first Star Wars movie in 1977. But for the last year and a half, Soonish host Wade Roush has been part of a project to revive this underappreciated genre. This week’s episode is all about Twelve Tomorrows, the new short-story anthology Wade edited for MIT Technology Review and the MIT Press. The episode outlines the book’s mission and origin story. And four of the eleven authors who contributed stories to the book weight in on the differences between hard science fiction, fantasy, and other sci-fi sub-genres.

Soonish listeners can get 30% off the book's list price by calling 1-800-405-1619 or writing to orders@triliteral.org and using the discount code SOONISH30. And now through July 31, listeners who become new Soonish patrons at Patreon at the $5 per episode level or above will get a free autographed copy of the book! To sign up go to patreon.com/soonish.

The full video of the Twelve Tomorrows launch event, including readings by Elizabeth Bear, Lisa Huang, and Ken Liu is at https://www.soonishpodcast.org/extras/2018/6/21/video-meet-three-of-the-twelve-tomorrows-authors

Music in this episode by Graham Gordon Ramsay and Titlecard Music. Full episode details: https://www.soonishpodcast.org/episodes/2018/6/18/208-sci-fi-that-takes-science-seriously

Jun 18, 2018
The Future Is Clear
00:35:55

Episode 2.07: What's ubiquitous but invisible, versatile yet temperamental, goopy when it's hot yet brittle when it's cold, as old as civilization yet as new as the screen of your smartphone? The answer is glass. This week on Soonish, we ask what glass really is, where it comes from, who's using it in interesting ways today, and how it will fit into our world in the future. We visit the world capital of glass—Corning, New York, home to both Corning, Inc., and the remarkable Corning Museum of Glass—and we spend time with master glassblower Josh Simpson and the directors of the glass labs at MIT and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In their stories, glass emerges as an adaptable and promising material that still isn't fully understood, but continues to present artists and engineers with new surprises.

The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. All additional music in this episode by Titlecard Music of Boston. For more information see https://www.soonishpodcast.org/episodes/2018/2/17/205-the-future-is-clear

Feb 17, 2018
Looking Virtual Reality In The Eye
00:36:21

Episode 2.06: The immersive, 3D environments of virtual reality aren’t science fiction any more, and they aren’t just for video games. In this episode Wade visits “The Enemy,” a groundbreaking VR exhibit about the psychology of war. The creation of photojournalist Karim Ben Khelifa, it introduces visitors to hyper-realistic avatars based on six real fighters from Israel, El Salvador, and the Congo. It offers a vivid reminder that all conflict is grounded, to some extent, in stereotypes and misperceptions. It also demonstrates that VR has arrived as a powerful new storytelling medium. But could that power be misused for mischief? Music in this episode is by Graham Gordon Ramsay, Titlecard Music, Javier Saurez, and Lee Rosevere. Logo photo by Karim Ben Khelifa. For more information visit http://www.soonishpodcast.org.

Jan 05, 2018
A Space Shuttle Isn't Cool. You Know What's Cool? A Space Elevator (Soonish on Soonish)
00:55:14

Episode 2.05 of Soonish, the podcast, is all about Soonish, the book! Host Wade Roush interviews Kelly and Zach Weinersmith, the husband-and-wife team behind the new book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything. Kelly Weinersmith is a parasitologist at Rice University and co-host of the podcast Science…Sort of, and Zach Weinersmith is the creator of the wildly popular Web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Their book is a funny, fast-paced, loving-but-skeptical look at coming engineering advances that could transform domains like space travel, robotics, and medicine. The episode also features a story about Space Shuttle Atlantis, performed live by Wade at a December 9 storytelling showcase event in Boston. Music in this episode is by Graham Ramsay and Tim Beek. For more information visit http://www.soonishpodcast.org.

Dec 15, 2017
Back To The Futurists With Tamar Avishai
00:39:42

Episode 2.04 is a special crossover show featuring Tamar Avishai's The Lonely Palette, one of the founding shows in our new podcast collective, Hub & Spoke. In this episode Tamar focuses on Italian Futurism, a pre-World War I art movement fueled by a heady mix of diesel and testosterone. The Futurists consciously aimed to use painting, sculpture, and photography to celebrate speed, power, industry, and all of the exhilarating ways technology was changing the world. What they couldn't represent—because it hadn't happened yet—was the ruin and destruction technology would bring to Europe as soon as the war began. After the war, artists developed more ambivalent and nuanced ways of representing technological change, but Futurism still stands out as art's first bold embrace of modernity. Theme music by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music by Javier Suarez / Betterwithmusic.com. For more details on this episode, visit soonishpodcast.org and thelonelypalette.com. Soonish is a proud member of Hub & Spoke, a Boston-based collective of smart, idea-driven podcasts. Check out all of our shows at hubspokeaudio.org.

Nov 08, 2017
Mapping the Future with Tim O'Reilly
00:47:24

Episode 2.03: For a sane, humane, and skeptical perspective on what’s happening to Silicon Valley and why our high-tech economy seems to be failing us, there’s no better source than Tim O’Reilly, master trend spotter and founder of computer book publisher O’Reilly Media. Soonish’s in-depth conversation with the admired entrepreneur, investor, and author focuses on his new book “WTF: What’s The Future and Why It’s Up to Us,” published October 10. In the interview—and in the book—O’Reilly shares the mental maps he uses to make sense of emerging technologies and their impact. And he argues that if we want to avoid the worst side effects of AI and automation and learn the lessons of networked platforms like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Uber, and Lyft, we’ll have to rewrite the hidden algorithms behind government, business, and the financial system. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music by Javier Suarez, aka Jahzzar, www.betterwithmusic.com For more information about this episode, go to www.soonishpodcast.org. To support the show, please sign up as a regular donor at www.patreon.com/soonish.

Oct 24, 2017
Introducing Hub & Spoke
00:18:02

Episode 2.02: Big news! Soonish is a founding member of Hub & Spoke, a Boston-centric collective of smart, idea-driven podcasts. Together with the art history podcast The Lonely Palette and the new philosophy-and-culture show Ministry of Ideas, we’re celebrating independent audio storytelling and the power of art, science, arguments, and ideas to change the world. In this episode you’ll hear the Ministry of Ideas pilot, “The Shape of History,” hosted by Zachary Davis and produced by Nick Andersen, Pallavi Kottamasu, and Virginia Marshall. To subscribe to Ministry of Ideas, visit ministryofideas.org or search Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcatcher. And for more information about Hub & Spoke, visit hubspokeaudio.org. Music in this episode is by Graham Gordon Ramsay and Lee Rosevere.

Oct 13, 2017
Shadows Of August: The Eclipse Road Trip Edition
00:46:09

Episode 2.01: The conflict in Charlottesville in August of 2017 showed that Americans are having a hard time figuring out how to represent the country’s past, let alone how to fix the present or plan for the future. But sometimes a stunning natural event like a total solar eclipse can bring us back together—if only for a few minutes. For the Season Two premiere of Soonish, host Wade Roush went on a road trip across 10 states, visiting the place with more Confederate monuments than any other place in America (hint: it’s not in the South); a virtual ghost town whose very name once stood for hope and the future; and a village in Illinois where the total solar eclipse lasted longer than anywhere else in the country. Special guest star Tamar Avishai, host of The Lonely Palette Podcast. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music by Tim Beek and Lee Rosevere. For more information about this episode, including an eclipse video and road trip photos, check out www.soonishpodcast.org. To support Soonish, go to patreon.com/soonish.

Sep 14, 2017
Washington, We Have A Problem
00:31:15

Episode 1.10: Just in time for Independence Day 2017, it's a special politics edition of Soonish! With his attacks on judges and journalists, his attempts to quell inquiries into his campaign’s Russia ties, his early-morning tweetstorms, and so much more, Donald Trump has breached every norm of presidential conduct. And he’s testing the constitutional separation of powers in ways the nation’s founders could never have anticipated. In this episode, we try to understand Trump’s impact on government—and what his presidency might mean for America’s future—using a metaphor from the aerospace business: gimbal lock. It’s one of the perils that haunted the astronauts on the star-crossed Apollo 13 moon mission, and it may be a useful way to understand what happens when a single powerful figure undercuts the founders’ system of checks and balances, or what journalist and biographer Walter Isaacson has called our “constitutional gyroscope.” Featured guests include Amy Shira Teitel, Yascha Mounk, and David Eaves. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music by Lee Rosevere and Tim Beek, timbeek.com. Find more information about this episode at www.soonishpodcast.org. To support Soonish, please go to patreon.com/soonish.

Jul 03, 2017
A Tale Of Two Bridges
00:36:40

Episode 1.09: When Boston’s elegant Longfellow Bridge opened in 1907, it was innovative example of classical European bridge architecture adapted for a busy American city. But over the next century, officials allowed the bridge to rust to the point of near-collapse. And recently, a futuristic new cable-stay bridge, the Zakim Bridge, was built across the Charles River just a mile downstream, displacing the Longfellow as an icon of the city and proving that Bostonians still have a taste for modernity. Now the Longfellow Bridge is being painstakingly restored and recreated, down to the last rivet. But for the price of fixing it, the state could have built at least two Zakim-scale bridges in its place. This week Soonish asks: Why go to all that trouble? When should we preserve the parts of our urban environments that connect us to the past? When should we boldly remodel our cities to support growth and innovation in the future? And how can we balance the two impulses? The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music by Tim Beek, timbeek.com. More information about this episode at www.soonishpodcast.org. To support Soonish, please go to patreon.com/soonish.

Jun 08, 2017
Hacking Time
00:33:41

Episode 1.08: Why do "productivity" tools like email, to-do lists, and calendars make so many of us feel miserable and overburdened? Why hasn't anyone come up with a better way for us to manage our diverse commitments and our chronic information overload? This episode of Soonish looks at our personal futures and the tools we use to manage them. We talk with folks who are pursuing new technologies for keeping our lives organized. We look at the kludge-y but often brilliant productivity solutions people have hacked together for themselves. And we ask whether, in some way, we’re all missing the real point. Maybe in the rush to be productive, we’ve forgotten how to prioritize the things that truly make us happy. Music in this episode is by Graham Gordon Ramsay and Lee Rosevere. For more information about all the people and ideas in this episode, go to https://www.soonishpodcast.org/episodes/2017/5/11/108-hacking-time To become a supporter of Soonish, please visit http://www.patreon.com/soonish

May 11, 2017
Astropreneurs
00:32:43

Episode 1.07: More than 500 people have flown in space since Yuri Gagarin’s historic ride in 1961—and virtually every one of them has been a military officer or government employee. But now that’s changing. Jeff Bezos’s rocket company Blue Origin aims to begin commercial passenger flights to space in 2018, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX has announced plans to send two private citizens around the moon, also in 2018. Meanwhile, here on Earth, there’s a boom in space-related innovation and investment, not just at big aerospace companies but at dozens of smaller startups. This week on Soonish, we look at the new era of space entrepreneurship (#newspace for short) and ask who’s founding space startups, what progress these companies are making in areas like microsatellites and propulsion, and how new technology is giving enthusiasts around the world more ways to get involved in space exploration. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music this week by Podington Bear. For more information on this episode, visit https://www.soonishpodcast.org/episodes/2017/4/20/107-astropreneurs

Apr 20, 2017
Origin Story
00:19:40

Episode 1.06: After in-depth episodes about movies, monorails, museums, manufacturing, and meat, the show goes meta and I talk about Soonish itself. Hear how Carl Sagan and extraterrestrials helped to kickstart my science journalism career, how the Challenger disaster woke me up to technology’s double-edged nature, and how the New York World’s Fair of 1939 got me thinking about the world of the future. Also, I explain how you can now support Soonish directly through Patreon. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music in this episode by Podington Bear. For more details on this episode visit www.soonishpodcast.org/episodes/2017/3/29/106-origin-story.

Mar 29, 2017
Meat Without The Moo
00:33:22

Episode 1.05: We meet people working to promote a range of alternatives to meat from livestock--including a cricket farmer, a researcher studying ways to grow meat from muscle cells in the laboratory, and a startup founder commercializing jackfruit, a huge fruit from India with a meat-like texture. The logic behind their work is simple. In the coming decades, as the human population expands toward 10 billion people by 2050, we'll probably have to figure out how to replace a lot of the meat we currently get from pigs, chickens, cattle, and fish with other forms of protein. That's partly because we’re already running out of the land and water needed to raise more livestock. But on top of that, a big chunk of all greenhouse-gas emissions comes raising animals. So finding protein sources that don’t depend on traditional livestock agriculture is both an economic necessity and, possibly, a way to slow global warming. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music in this episode by Podington Bear and Lee Rosevere. For more information on this episode visit http://www.soonishpodcast.org/episodes/2017/3/8/105-meat-without-the-moo

Mar 08, 2017
Future Factories, With Workers Built In
00:33:40

Episode 1.04: Six million manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the U.S. since 2000, and you've probably heard economists and politicians say "those jobs aren't coming back." But that view isn't quite right. It doesn’t account for a cultural and technological revolution sweeping the United States—one that promises to redefine manufacturing, make it drastically more accessible, and create a ladder to new kinds of jobs for unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled workers alike. In this episode of Soonish, we visit TechShop, a maker space where craftspeople are using high-tech tools to come up with new products. We talk with a business strategist at the Xerox-owned Palo Alto Research Center, where programmers are inventing design software that can help people get their ideas to market faster. We tour 99Degrees, a company in an old Massachusetts mill town where one entrepreneur is creating a path to skilled high-tech employment for manual garment workers. And we meet Bill Taylor, an 88-year-old mechanical genius in Belmont, MA, who has an elaborate workshop in his basement and decades of perspective on the changing manufacturing scene in the U.S. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music by Lee Rosevere. For more background on this episode visit http://www.soonishpodcast.org/episodes/2017/2/22/104-future-factories-with-workers-built-in

Feb 22, 2017
Can Technology Save Museums?
00:32:33

Episode 1.03: Museum attendance declined steeply in the first decade of this century, according to a survey by the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA found that audiences were being siphoned away by the Internet, television, and other distractions. So, technology can be seen as a threat to museums—but maybe it's also a tool they can use to re-engage with the public. In this episode of Soonish, we visit museums in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston to see how some curators and educators are leaning on software, mobile devices, and digital media to get visitors excited about art. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music by Philipp Weigl and Kai Engel.

Feb 08, 2017
Monorails: Trains Of Tomorrow?
00:29:37

Episode 1.02: Monorails first captured the public imagination as the "trains of the future" here in the U.S., thanks to projects like the Disneyland monorail (1959) and the Seattle World's Fair monorail (1962). But today, it seems that new monorail systems are being built everywhere except America. Monorails have key advantages over competing forms of mass transit, such as buses, subways, and light rail—so what happened to the prospects for the technology in the U.S.? For the answer, Soonish went straight to the president of the Monorail Society, a 7,000-strong group with members around the world. And we traveled to Seattle to talk to the people who built—and who still run—the Seattle Center Monorail, and who tried to get a much larger monorail project off the ground in the early 2000s. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music by Blue Dot Sessions and Grant Fikes.

Jan 25, 2017
How "2001" Got The Future So Wrong
00:33:08

Episode 1.01: This inaugural episode of Soonish is about the boldest vision of the future ever put down on film: Stanley Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey." The movie came out in 1968, and it offered a detailed and inspiring forecast for life the early 21st century, including giant space stations, moon bases, thinking computers, and humans traveling to Jupiter. By putting the year in the title, Kubrick tied these forecasts to a very specific date. But by the time the actual year 2001 rolled around, very few of the film’s predictions had come true, and its optimism seemed almost naïve. In today’s episode we ask why we lowered our expectations so drastically—and what that means for our own future. The Soonish theme is by Graham Gordon Ramsay. Additional music by Kai Engel and Philipp Weigl.

Jan 11, 2017
Coming Soon
00:02:25

Episode 1.00: A preview of coming attractions from Soonish, a new podcast about the future hosted by technology journalist Wade Roush, PhD. Each episode tells a story about the technological choices we’re making today and how those choices could end up helping us, or hurting us, tomorrow. The first episode premiers Friday, January 13th. Find more info at soonishpodcast.org. Music by Kai Engel.

Dec 10, 2016