In which I predict the eventual downfall of mankind

By Phil Plait | October 28, 2010 12:18 pm

A couple of days ago I recorded a video interview with the Fourcast podcast, where four people sit around and predict the future. It was a lot of fun — we talked about beaming energy, world governments, Firefly, colonizing the Moon, and BBQs. Seriously.

You can download the MP3 directly, and they posted the whole video to YouTube.

Or you can watch it right here from the comfort of your monitor:

A few notes:

1) I’m not sure I was correct about Tesla coils, but they do seem to be a bad way to transmit energy.

2) It’s true, I still haven’t seen "Avatar".

3) Here’s the exoplanet advance I mentioned. I also mentioned Kepler.

4) I didn’t want to get into specifics on the religion topic (at the 24 – 27 minute mark) because this wasn’t the place, but if you take a look over at the Middle East and still disagree with me, well, I can’t help ya.

5) Yes, that’s Stewie on my wall. My wife gave me that poster a couple of years ago. Victory is mine!

My thanks to the guys at Fourcast for letting me spew unfettered misinformation* for an hour. It was fun!



* "Unfettered Misinformation" is my George Hrab cover band.

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Comments (56)

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  1. Astronews Daily (2455499) | October 29, 2010
  1. Chris

    Don’t ever watch Avatar – it’s a horrible, horrible movie that I was very glad not to have shelled out $12 to go see in thaters. Two hours of your life you will never get back.

  2. Wayne on the plains

    Wow, the first post is a slam on Avatar? It may or may not turn out to be a game-changer in the sense of Star Wars or Jurassic Park, but it’s still a very enjoyable movie. I really miss Phil’s “Bad Astronomy” movie reviews, they used to be my favorite part of the site in the pre-blog days. It seems he hardly ever does those anymore, so I for one say GO WATCH AVATAR and write a review. I won’t even mind if you end up not liking it.

  3. DrFlimmer

    Only from the preview picture of YouTube:

    Phil, have you rearranged your room? IIRC one used to see two doors behind you and not one door and one window. 😉

  4. Doesn’t phil sometimes do reviews on Blastr of movies? Not quite with the same attention to detial that he did previously, which I too miss.

    Storyline aside, I found Avatar visually appealing.

  5. From the Texas BBQ war of secession:

    Dear Mary Sue
    Today we defended our last hundred grills. The greens tried to blow them up with a clean air bomb. Many were wounded. The horror many taking burning charcoal in the eyes, arms and torso. Billy charged all on his own, and the worst thing that could happen he was comverted.

    Billy Bob

  6. NAW

    Way to go man. Join the people who do not wish to see Avatar. Though I may watch it if I get the DVD for free and have gotten the RiffTrax for it.

  7. noen

    Avatar is not a great movie but I think it is still very enjoyable. It’s very beautiful and as a 3D artist I understand the incredible technological advances that made it possible. This video: Blue hippy cats my avatar review is by a guy who worked on the movie and showcases the kind of skills need to create Avatar.

  8. Michael Swanson

    Despite my own dislike of Avatar, I, too, want you to watch it just so I can read a good old-fashioned Bad Astronomy review.

  9. I hear there a going to be 2 sequels of Avatar.

  10. Nemesis

    I haven’t seen Avatar either and don’t think I will. I’d watch the vid but my work computer has no audio.

  11. I predict after next Tuesday we will not hear from Christine O’Donnell will be quiet for one day then she will run for as VP with Sarah Palin on a double Momma Grizzly ballet.
    There will be more spin offs of the Daily Show because there will be just to much material.
    Either the economy will recover or it will go in death spiral and all the sick will die because there won’t be any health care.
    As the United States and Mexico fight within there own borders Canada will become the dominate power in North America.
    A new nation called BBQland will can into the being in the southern states.
    The new nation will be brought back into the union only if they can BBQ at least twice a week.
    Bill O’Reilly will retire once the nation is they way he likes it, in other words no time soon.
    GWB son will be president and people will wonder where did he get the smarts from.

  12. Chris

    Wow – I was first(!) and misspelled ‘theaters’ *sigh*

  13. Re: Avatar – Avoid. It was awful. As has been pointed out many times, it’s just Disney’s Pocahontas in space, or Dances with Wolves, or any number of White Man Saves Noble Savages From Bad Other White Men, and Bangs the Chief’s Daughter.

    If you want to see a GOOD version of the White Savior film, watch Dune. Same basic idea but actually well done.

  14. The only way to watch Avatar is with the Rifftrax. I did that, and it’s *AWESOME*.

  15. i found the videocast disturbing for its lack of ‘Holy Haleakala’
    avatar was awesome, if you view it as humanity’s first disastrous encounter with a technologically superior civilization.

  16. Trebuchet

    Davidlpf: GWB has only daughters. His wife is almost certainly post-menopausal. That doesn’t rule out your prediction but makes it a tad less likely.

    I too, have never seen Avatar.

    Will have to wait to view Phil’s predictions until I return to the land of broadband.

  17. NAW

    @ 11. Davidlpf: Wow dude, that was Criswell level predictions there. Nice……. You just need to add the dark rainbows that suck away the air from the Earth and you will be gold.

    Really nice show. But now everytime I see Phil waist up I will be asking myself, “Is he wearing pants?”

  18. Oh, I do enjoy the prediction game. Here’s a few of mine.

    I predict:

    That the stock market and housing market will remain relatively stagnant for the next two decades as boomers cash in on their retirement nest eggs. As a result, it will seem to take the U.S. economy forever to recover. The end of the hydrocarbon era won’t help either.

    That Republicans and Democrats will keep trading back and forth congress and the presidency on every election as the level of incompetence among politicians spirals upwards.

    That we will solve the problem of climate change through technological innovation within the first half of the century (though a great deal of the problem will have gone away on its own due slowing population growth and increasing reliance on non-hydrocarbon energy)

    That China’s economy will crash…soon.

    That the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be seen as minor wars, and the threat of Islamic terrorists will amount to little more than a nuisance when viewed historically.

    Okay some more fun ones:

    That within the next century, Robotic Avatar Operator will be a common profession.

    That we will have attained immortality, that is, have discovered ways to prolong human life indefinitely, before we ever have a significant human presence outside of earth orbit.

    That, once we do leave earth orbit, we will prefer to colonize smaller celestial bodies such as asteroids and small moons rather than planets.

  19. Joe W.

    I personally thought Avatar was just a big anti-technology mess with good CG and 3D… I’d like you to see it though, Mr. BA, as I enjoyed the movie reviews you have posted on your old site.

  20. Oops, I forgot he had only daughters.

  21. Mitch

    Don’t feel bad, Phil. It is, after all, just a movie. There are thousands of movies you haven’t seen. Who cares?

  22. Gonçalo Aguiar

    “All planets in the solar system have moons, but Venus.”

    What about Mercury??

  23. Doc

    Great vid … but something about the sound on this vid made you sound exactly like Max Headroom.

  24. noen

    My sage prediction:

    Everything will keep going on pretty much as it always has….

    ….until it doesn’t.

  25. Jeffersonian

    Am I the only one who thought this post was going to be about the GOP taking the majority edge in the Senate?

  26. Zetetic

    1) I’m not sure I was correct about Tesla coils, but they do seem to be a bad way to transmit energy.

    IIRC Nikola Tesla lost a lot of money attempting to do this, but it was too inefficient and impractical. I recall reading about herds of horses panicking from electrical shocks to their hooves as their horseshoes picked up the broadcast EM. (The tests were performed in the country for safety reasons.)

    That is assuming that what I read was accurate, I know the part about researching it was accurate but I don’t know if the part about the horses was true.

    A more practical method for short range power broadcast would seem to be magnetic harmonic resonance. Commercial systems are being developed for such systems already, don’t know when/if they’ll ever make it to market though.

    As far as Avatar goes…great CGI, lousy and predicable story.

  27. In the upcoming Iron Sky movie they posit, I think, Jenna Bush as President for the moon nazi invasion.

  28. Richie

    I’m notoriously inaccurate re: predictions, but here’s some for the next 100 years:

    1) 2012 will come and go, Nothing happens until someone realizes they actually meant 2102, and we get subjected to all the same nonsense again for the next 90 years.

    2) Flying cars will not materialize in any commercial form. The closest we will get is emergency services adopting VTOL craft to avoid traffic jams.

    3) Fossil Fuel will run out within the next 60 years. A massive 11th-hour effort to convert to electric or biofuel will be undertaken and succeed barely. Oil CEO’s, their power now gone will be subjected to lawsuits for the next 40 years. Think tobacco x100.

    4) The middle-east will collapse shortly after the Oil Crash, only to rise again under an united Islamic theocracy. Things will get nasty until the theocracy realizes that poking it’s nose outside it’s own borders gets it whacked hard.

    5) There will a be a WMD deployment in a populated area. Shortly afterwards, the world will wise up and lock the remaining WMD’s up on a lunar base. Because we never learn without a serious incident to goad us into action.

    6) A second economy crash is coming in another 30-40 years. Greed will override caution once more and we will return to the uncertainty of last year. The two countries that best survive will be Greece and Iceland, as neither of them forgot what happened this time around.

    7) China and America will lock into a second cold war based around economics and innovation instead of nukes. It will end when China finishes it’s decades-long incredibly slow metamorphosis into a representative democracy. America won’t walk out of it too financially healthy either.

    8) Religion will begin slowly dwindling across the majority of the world as science and reason supplants it. Notable holdouts will be the Middle East, India and Southern USA.

    9) Lunar science bases will spring up before being abandoned as the Oil Crash hits. They’ll be revitalized during Cold War 2 as both sides vie for an advantage. Mars will become to CW2 what the Moon was to CW1.

    10) Extra terrestrial life is discovered. I’ll cover all my bases here and say that this counts equally if the Vulcans land or if we find alien plankton in Europa.

    So. Someone save this, just so they can revive my corpse in 2110 and yell at me just how wrong I was about everything. :)

  29. @Richie
    The two countries that best survive will be Greece and Iceland, as neither of them forgot what happened this time around.

    Nah. Everybody always forgets.

  30. Mike Saunders

    Yeah, for wireless power only works well for induction (otherwise you have to radiate power in an omnidirectional way, which is very inefficient), and the principle of induction requires you to keep everything close like Phil said, which totally kills the advantage of making things wireless in the first place! It will find (found) niche markets like the toothbrush, where you get things that sit in the same place a lot but get plugged in and out a lot. I worked on a wireless transmit project for a while and this was the conclusion that was reached, and the project dropped.

  31. Greg in Austin

    Rats, its already been said…

    You’ve seen Avatar… it was called Pocahontas.

    That being said, the eye candy is pretty cool. You should definitely watch it once, just to say you did.

    8)

  32. tacitus

    The one game changing event that would push all of humanity together (short of an impending asteroid strike) would be First Contact — and I don’t mean discovering that an alien civilization exists 1000 light years away (which would be cool in itself, but not a game changer) but, say, an ambassador from the Centauri-Sirius Commonwealth dropping in for a chat and a cup of tea with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

    We would suddenly be one civilization among many, which would change our perspective in the same way a large foreign invasion used to pull disparate tribes together in the face of a common threat. (It doesn’t necessarily have to be a violent encounter, where we have to pull together or die—we’d probably be dead either way if the aliens were hostile–but it would suddenly make all the differences we squabble over seem petty in the face of the knowledge that there are may other intelligent species spread throughout the galaxy.

    It would seem highly unlikely that this will happen in our lifetime, but if it did, the date would always be remembered as the day humanity’s future well and truly change forever — more so that any other date in history.

  33. John Paradox

    @Richie circa 28
    5) There will a be a WMD deployment in a populated area. Shortly afterwards, the world will wise up and lock the remaining WMD’s up on a lunar base. Because we never learn without a serious incident to goad us into action.

    A few years later, the WMD’s will explode, sending the Moon out of Earth orbit, with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain….. wait, that sounds familiar.

    J/P=?

  34. Induction power is definitely around, they have cell phone chargers that do it. I have to say, I’d leap at the chance to live on the moon.

  35. Monkey

    Full disclosure: I hate Star Trek and love Star Wars….

    That done with, I can move on to Avatar.

    Horrid.

    No plot, the entire movie is based on the technology of 3D and not on story line or character development. Weak in all areas other than the wretched 3D..

  36. Dave Mundt

    @ Monkey – I tend to agree, although I did derive a certain amount of enjoyment sitting there and noting what movies big chunks of Avatar were lifted from. For example, the evil troops and their machines were a direct pull from “Starship Troopers”. The idea of the entire world being a single, living entity? “Solaris” (a good book by Stanislaw Lem, poorly translated into movie form). Those are just a couple of instances that stick with me, and, I suspect if I were to think a bit more, I could bring up many more. I do not think there was an original plotline or twist in it…but the effects WERE pretty spiffy.
    By the by…I like MOST of the Star Trek franchise, and, liked the FIRST Star Wars movie, but, did not care for most of the sequals. But, then, I also liked Dune…
    Regards
    Dave Mundt

  37. Francois

    I’m just listening to the podcast, and the point on BBQ, I’ve actually thought about this, And if you are using wood or Charcoal to BBQ on you are only releasing the Co2 that got captured by the tree in it’s life time so you are not adding to the other all balance.

  38. So is this supposed to be a film of college freshmen “joshing” before they eat the Cheez-Its their mom sent them and then they go to bed?

  39. Why are you telling us to look to the Middle East for examples of dysfunctional religion? We’ve got plenty of that right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.!!

    I mean, it’s not like the first amendment covers separation of church and state or anything.

  40. ru

    re: wireless power, check out “resonant coupling”.

    it’s currently quite lossy and only has a range of a couple of meters. plus, there’s no way to stop your next door neighbour stealing your electromagnetism.

  41. The plague will take us.

    If you see a film like Avatar and don’t commit to suspending disbelief before the film begins, you will be very disappointed. On the other hand “Pocahontas on Alpha Centauri Prime” has more Good Science than I expected, yet an incredible amount of Bad Science as well. To whit:

    1) Six years to reach Alpha Centauri, hmm. Well that would be pricey, wouldn’t it? How will they protect a ship going that close to the speed of light from stray interstellar particles, aka, the galactic wind? A big iceball thanks to comet mining on the leading edge of the ship? Wishful thinking all around if you calculate the cost/gram of the energy required just to send a small probe.

    2) Adamantium, the “anti-gravity” mineral. Sheesh. Any time you see the words “anti-gravity,” run for the hills. You’re likely listening to an amateur who thinks they know Physics, but in truth have just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

    On the other hand, the idea that mining is an incentive to explore should not be lost on any of us. There’s silver, gold AND water in them thar Lunar hills? Well, there’s your incentive to build a lunar base then, right there. But shhh, don’t tell the fat cats there’s probably not enough of that stuff to make the trip profitable. Long term investment, lads. But Hawking was right, we have to get off this 8000 mile ball of rock or we’re doomed.

  42. Magrathea

    Don’t bother with Avatar, a friend brought it over and it was a yawnfest.

    Instead may I suggest Moon by Duncan Jones, that one was a killer movie.

  43. Lawrence

    Arthur C. Clarke had an interesting idea regarding protection against interstellar debris – in one of his books, the ship had what amounted to an “ice shield” that was held in front of the vessel & absorbed any stray particles that happen to be in the way. I believe that vessel was capable of 10% the speed of light.

  44. Aleksandar

    @Lawrence

    Yes, but good ship Magellan also used vacuum energy and thereby had infinite mass fraction and capability to move itself and the big huge ice disk.

    About Tesla wireless power.

    Tesla had ideas about using special stations to use electric field of Earth and the ionosphere to transmit power on global range. I think in the end it turned out that the ionosphere didn’t behave exactly as he assumed and entire system was unworkable, and most certainly unpractical.

    For any other wireless transmittions, you need optical visibility and you have crazy power loss if you are not using narowband and very coherent emissions, that’s why lasers and masers are best for that.

  45. noen

    Dave Mundt Says:
    “Solaris” (a good book by Stanislaw Lem, poorly translated into movie form).

    The film adaptation by Tarkovsky is great. I loved it.

  46. The Other Ian

    2) Adamantium, the “anti-gravity” mineral. Sheesh. Any time you see the words “anti-gravity,” run for the hills. You’re likely listening to an amateur who thinks they know Physics, but in truth have just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

    As I recall, its name was actually Unobtainium, and it was described as a room-temperature superconductor. I don’t remember anything about anti-gravity, but then I haven’t seen the movie since it was in the theaters.

    I would say that the 3 hours and $18 or whatever to see the film in 3D on an IMAX screen were well spent. I wouldn’t want to rent it, though. Without the great visuals, the film has very little going for it, as others in this thread have pointed out.

  47. mike burkhart

    A wile back I said how the world would end accordind to science. hear is the end according to the Catholic Church :1Chirst returns the second coming2 Before that the Anti Chirst comes he conquers the world leeds many astray (by the way the Antichirst is not the son of Satan as portrayed in the Omen films he is a man who Satan helps)3Christ defeets the Antichrist (there actully is no battle of Armagedion mention in the Bible)4Final judgement wicked are condemed 5Rightous are given new bodies 5New Hevens and New Earth Creation changed Righous live . One more thing many Protastent Churchs beleve in the Rapture that all good Chirstans will be taken to Haven before all this ocurs funny thing this is mention no where in the Bible

  48. mike burkhart

    I put this on as a idea and one prespective .I think to munch knowledge is not dangerious Knowledge is power

  49. @ Dave Mundt:

    You left out Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Word for World is Forest.” That + Pocahontas = Avatar.

    James Cameron’s ego will very shortly expand beyond the boundaries of the known universe. An apparent paradox, but entirely plausible in Hollywood.

  50. the dome fire will spread towards boulder until it consumes the NIST campus, and gains access to the atomic clocks there. this will give the fire sentience and access to time travel, which it will use to spread into the past, burning the entire world and causing a temporal paradox. the fallout of the paradox will be a small man, two copies of time magazine from 1963 and 2048, and a pair of broken dentures.

  51. Donovan

    You don’t have to see Avatar. Just watch Fern Gully and imagine that the only thing making that movie suck is the animation. I’m still mad I spent money to see Avatar, and regret that every time I see the word.

  52. QuietDesperation

    Momma Grizzly ballet

    I hear the Bolshoi will be performing it.

    Adamantium, the “anti-gravity” mineral.

    Unobtainium, or, as they called it in the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, Upsidaisium.

    Yes, it’s true. James Cameron was beaten to the punch by a 1960s cartoon.

  53. QuietDesperation

    2) Flying cars will not materialize in any commercial form. The closest we will get is emergency services adopting VTOL craft to avoid traffic jams.

    Yeah, some sort of VTOL emergency craft. We could call it, oh, I dunno, the “helicopter” or something.

    3) Fossil Fuel will run out within the next 60 years.

    Piffle. If you count oil shales and other (for the moment) non-economic sources, we have centuries of oil left- even more as we begin to transition away as has already started. There’s also the very good possibility of more finds like the fairly recent one in the Gulf Of Mexico.

    A massive 11th-hour effort to convert to electric or biofuel will be undertaken and succeed barely.

    We’ve already started. Biofeuls are a dead end, BTW. Nuclear (with heavy recycling) and pure electric is a better way. Want to spend on R&D? Look into extracting uranium from seawater. the Japanese are the only ones I can find doing this. If we perfect that, and get together some good, modern reactor designs, we have solved our energy problems *forever*.

    Oil CEO’s, their power now gone will be subjected to lawsuits for the next 40 years. Think tobacco x100.

    For what? The two situations are completely different. Enough with the bogeymen. And are the CEO’s immortal or something?

    The middle-east will collapse shortly after the Oil Crash, only to rise again under an united Islamic theocracy. Things will get nasty until the theocracy realizes that poking it’s nose outside it’s own borders gets it whacked hard.

    No, then it just gets nastier. Too many in the West still don’t grok that many of those folks want nothing more than to get whacked hard for the great Struggle. They get big, giant religious stiffies just at the thought of it. There’s also too many in the West without the fortitude to do any whacking at all.

    There will a be a WMD deployment in a populated area. Shortly afterwards, the world will wise up and lock the remaining WMD’s up on a lunar base.

    Yeah, because all possible WMDs have been built, and the bad guys can never, ever just make more. [facepalm]

    6) A second economy crash is coming in another 30-40 years.

    Oh, please. Not even professional economists and historians predict the economy that far out. It’s futile. Hey, I’m going to predict a major hurricane will devastate a segment of the US coastline in the next 30 to 40 years!

    Greed will override caution once more and we will return to the uncertainty of last year. The two countries that best survive will be Greece and Iceland, as neither of them forgot what happened this time around.

    Ha ha ha. People will learn? Ha ha ha haaa!

    7) China and America will lock into a second cold war based around economics and innovation instead of nukes.

    That’s not really a “cold war”. That’s just business.

    Religion will begin slowly dwindling across the majority of the world as science and reason supplants it. Notable holdouts will be the Middle East, India and Southern USA.

    Now you’re just dreaming.

    Lunar science bases will spring up before being abandoned as the Oil Crash hits.

    What do the two even have to do with one another? We going to switch to rockets powered by Mobil 89 octane?

    They’ll be revitalized during Cold War 2 as both sides vie for an advantage. Mars will become to CW2 what the Moon was to CW1.

    35 million miles versus 250,000.

    Here’s a book to read about the futility of trying to be a futurist:

    http://www.amazon.com/Wonderful-Future-That-Never-Was/dp/1588168220/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1288515630&sr=8-1

    It is almost impossible to predict the future beyond 10 years, or even 5. There’s too many variables, and you are trapped in the context of the present. Many futurists of the past predicted some of our modern gizmos, but their actual use by society was like nothing they ever imagined.

    Also, your neatly plotted trends *will* get broadsided by something utterly unexpected, probably on a yearly basis. Some new tech. Some new social trend. Something, lurking over the visible horizon from the now.

    As Mordecai Kaplan said, the past has a vote, but not a veto.

  54. Gary Ansorge

    I expect FTL(well, I actually HOPE) will remain impractical for the indefinite future however, it MAY be possible to use a quantum field oscillator to cause matter to transit into energy and back again(into the exact same pattern of mass/energy as the original). Rather like what happens when a 2.2 million electron volt gamma ray becomes a positron and electron, which then recombine into another 2.2 Mev gamma ray. No acceleration required, since energy always travels at the speed of light and no shielding required, since impacting debris would pass right thru the energy.( I ignore scattering effects here).

    See how easy that was? Light speed travel without acceleration. It would allow us to travel to the stars with time dilation to zero seconds perceived by the travelers.

    The only thing is, first you have to die(be converted to energy) then you get recreated. Not sure that would be all that much fun.

    Note: quantum field oscillator is (of course) pure invention but might make for a good story.

    Gary 7

  55. Dustin Hiser

    I loved Avatar. A scifi movie that put SOME thought into its science and it was just jaw droppingly gorgeous to look at. I can watch that scene where the bioluminescent forest reveals itself on repeat. It’s just so damn beautiful.

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