Talking Robots and Jobs with Google's Hal Varian, Wharton's Lynn Wu, and WPI's Mike Gennert

From 2014 to 2016 I volunteered for the MIT Alumni Association as the founding host of a program called Faculty Forum Online — Alumni Edition. It was a series of live video conversations meant to illustrate the diverse jobs and challenges that MIT alumni are tackling around the world. The forums were multicast on Google Hangouts, and my guests responded to chat questions coming in from audience members watching remotely.

This Monday, May 22, I reprised the moderator role for a special "FFO/AE" conducted with a live audience at Newbury Court, a beautiful retirement community in Concord, MA. The topic was "Robots & Your Job," an area I touched on in Soonish Ep. 1.04, Future Factories, With Workers Built In.

Dozens of MIT alumni joined the online audience to watch, and participate in, a chat with three experts on the impact of robotics, automation, and information technology on today's workplaces. Here's the video:

The Alumni Association rounded up a fantastic group of panelists for the talk, including:

  • Hal Varian, MIT '69, Chief Economist, Google; Professor Emeritus, University of California 
  • Mike Gennert, MIT '80, SM '80, ScD '87, Professor, Worcester Polytechnic Institute 
  • Lynn Wu, MIT '02, MNG '03, PhD '11, Assistant Professor, The Wharton School

As with any Web-based video conversation on a free platform like Google Hangouts, there were a few audio glitches. We overcame them—but I have to say that I'm really glad to be working as the host of an asynchronously produced podcast, not a live video show. It's stressful! I don't know how public media talk-show hosts like Tom Ashbrook, Michael Krasny, and Brian Lehrer juggle their guests, their callers, and their thoughts day in and day out. (Well, I do know—they're cool, consummate pros and they're backed up by very hard working producers.) Anyway, enjoy the video.

The Full Stever Robbins Interview

As a special bonus for all the productivity geeks out there, here's the full recording of my interview with Stever Robbins.

I spoke with Stever back on April 25, 2017, and I used a bunch of tape from this interview in Episode 1.08 of Soonish, Hacking Time.

I first met Stever probably eight or nine years ago after seeing him give a talk at a conference, and I've always been a big fan of his podcast, The Get It Done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More.

In addition to being a podcaster, Stever is an entrepreneur and a career coach, an author, a fellow MIT alumnus, and simply one of the smartest people I know around the big questions about productivity. Like, how to stay motivated in your work or your creative projects; how to stay organized around those projects; and how much technology is enough for staying organized, and how much is too much.

Stever and I are both big productivity nerds, although he's obviously thought and written about the topic way more than I have. So we talked about Stever's own systems for staying productive, and how he's experimenting with the Bullet Journal system as an alternative to his old digital calendar and to-do list systems. We also talked about different ways to manage email, and about some of the cognitive science principles you should think about as you design a productivity routine that will be effective for you.

Mentioned In This Interview

 SteverRobbins.com (website)

The Get It Done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More (podcast)

Nine Steps to Work Less and Do More (book)

Work Less and Do More: The Zombie Musical (video)

Grammar Girl (podcast and column)

The One Thing, by Gary Keller (book)

The Bullet Journal system (website)

Eudora, the 1980s-era email client

Kobo, the Canadian e-book seller and e-reader maker owned by Rakuten

Getting Things Done, David Allen's website

Delete, Then Rescue, Episode 325 of The Get It Done Guy Podcast

The 30/3 Rule (blog post by Stever)

The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab

The PalmPilot

Join Me on May 22 for an Online Forum on Robots in the Workplace

Big news! On May 22 I'll be hosting a live Google Hangouts discussion on "Robots in the Workplace: How artificial intelligence and automation are helping (and hurting) American workers." The event will feature Google's chief economist, Hal Varian, and scholars from the Wharton School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. All Soonish listeners are invited to join.

To get the link for the online-only Google Hangout on May 22, register here. It's free!

If you're an MIT alumnus and you'd like to attend the live taping of the session in Newton, MA, register here.

The event is part of the Faculty Forum Online series produced by the MIT Alumni Association. I'll be moderating a panel of MIT alumni that includes:

Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google and Professor Emeritus at the University of California

Mike Gennert, Professor, and Robotics Engineering Program Director for Computer Science and Electrical & Computer Engineering Departments, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Lynn Wu, Assistant Professor, Operations and Information Management, The Wharton School.

This will an audience-driven event. After introductions and a short initial discussion, I'll turn to questions sent in by Google Hangout participants. And I'll be counting on Soonish listeners to do their part to send in smart questions!

For more on the future of robots, jobs, and automation, check out Soonish Episode 1.04: Future Factories, With Workers Built In.

The Full Ariel Waldman Interview

Ariel Waldman speaking at TEDx San Francisco in 2016.

Ariel Waldman speaking at TEDx San Francisco in 2016.

One of my most fascinating interviews for Soonish Episode 1.07, Astropreneurs, was with Ariel Waldman, the creator of Spacehack.org, the global director of Science Hack Day, and the author of What's It Like In Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who've Been There.

Waldman has made it her personal mission to get more people involved in science, especially space exploration. Her talk at the New Space Age Conference at MIT's Sloan School of Management in March was part of what convinced me that I needed to make an episode about space entrepreneurship.

A designer by training, Waldman formerly worked at NASA's CoLab program, which tried to connect communities inside and outside the agency. Today she serves on a council of external advisors for the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which gives seed grants to innovators and entrepreneurs inside and outside NASA who have radical new ideas for space exploration. Waldman says she's made it her role on the council to find and fund people from outside the traditional space industry.

"I think most people, if you went up to them on the street and you said, 'Would you like a job at NASA?'—just as you are you don't need to change anything about yourself—most people would say, 'Hell yes,'" Waldman told me. "Most people would like to be able to do something with [space] if they just knew that it was accessible to them. And so that's really what set me on on the career path I have now. I'm trying to give other people this experience of either getting a job at NASA..or just knowing that there's a lot of other ways to get involved in space exploration."

 

How to Review Soonish on Apple Podcasts or the iTunes Store

If you enjoy Soonish, one of the most powerful things you can do to support the show is to leave a rating and a review of the show in the Apple Podcasts directory.

There are plenty of other ways to find podcasts these days. But I've looked at my own download statistics, and more than half of the folks who discover and listen to Soonish are doing it using the Apple Podcasts app on their smartphones.

That means Apple is still a key gatekeeper in the podcasting business. Every five-star rating and positive review greatly increases the chances that Apple will feature Soonish in search results, which helps the show reach more listeners. And who knows—someday maybe the Apple curators will even pick the show for their New and Noteworthy section.

So, you're fired up to write a review? Great! The thing is, it's a slightly tricky, 10-step process, and the steps are slightly different depending on whether you're using a smartphone or a computer. Not everyone is familiar with all of the steps. So, here we go:

On Your Smartphone

  1. Open the Apple Podcasts app (the purple one).
  2. Tap Search in the lower right corner.
  3. Type "Soonish" into the search bar and tap Search.
  4. In the area marked Podcasts, the podcast art for Soonish will appear. Tap that square.
  5. You'll see a bar with three tabs. Tap the middle one, "Reviews."
  6. Tap "Write a Review."
  7. Enter your iTunes password
  8. Tap the stars to leave a rating. (Five stars please!)
  9. Write a pithy title and leave a review. Short is okay.
  10. Tap "Send."

That's it! Here's a good summary of the process on iMore, with screen shots.

On Your Windows or Macintosh Computer

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. There's a bar below the Apple symbol that says Library, Unplayed, and Store. Click Store.
  3. There's a drop-down menu in the upper right of the screen. Select Podcasts.
  4. There's a Search bar in the upper right of the screen. Type "Soonish."
  5. In the area marked Podcasts, the podcast art for Soonish will appear. Click that square.
  6. You'll see a bar with three tabs. Tap the middle one, "Ratings and Reviews."
  7. Under Customer Reviews, there's a button that says "Write a Review." Click it.
  8. Tap the stars to leave a rating. (Five stars is awesome.)
  9. Write a title and a review.
  10. Click "Submit."

Here's a video that explains the whole process on a Mac or Windows machine, made by the producer of a podcast about microbreweries.

Thanks again for taking the time to leave a review of Soonish. It really does give the show a huge boost.

 

Chatting About Space, Robots, and Journalism with Fellow Podcaster Chris Revill

At a "Maker Mingle" event at the PRX Podcast Garage a couple of months ago, I made a new podcasting acquaintance: Chris Revill of Providence, RI. He makes an interview show called Let's Chat with Chris Revill and Friends. It's part of the Core Temp Arts podcast network.

Soon after the Podcast Garage event, Chris invited me to be a guest on the show, and last week he published the resulting episode, which you can hear here. The conversation was fun and wide-ranging. We talked about everything from why I started Soonish to the evolving culture and business of podcasting to the state of newspaper journalism, the rationale for human voyages into space, and whether we should worry about an AI apocalypse (spoiler: we shouldn't). Check it out!

The Full Natalie Rubio Interview

Winston Churchill wrote in 1931: "Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."

Churchill's prediction hasn't come true on the schedule he laid out. But people like Natalie Rubio are working as quickly as they can to bring about his vision of lab-grown meat, or what's now known as "cellular agriculture."

The ability to grow meat in a laboratory or factory environment wouldn't just sidestep the "absurdity" of raising whole chickens, turkeys, pigs, or cows just for their meat. It could also save energy and water and help the environment by stemming the release of greenhouse gases.

That's a vision that Natalie says has obsessed her ever since her undergraduate days at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Now she's pursuing it as a doctoral student in biomedical engineering at Tufts University, where she's part of David Kaplan's laboratory.

Kaplan is a professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Tissue Engineering Resource Center, an NIH-backed project studying all the components that will be needed in the future to grow cultured tissues: cell lines, "bioreactor" environments, scaffold materials, and growth media.

Natalie's particular interest is in finding a suitable scaffolding material, such as bioengineered silk or chitin, that could help coax animal muscle tissue into growing to edible size. Her work is funded by a research fellowship from New Harvest, a New York-based non-profit devoted to cellular agriculture. In fact, she's the first PhD student to win the New Harvest fellowship.

Natalie gave me a tour of the Kaplan lab, and then we sat down for the hour-long interview reproduced here. I condensed her story into a segment for Soonish Episode 1.05, Meat Without the Moo. Check it out!

The Full Adam Salomone Interview

Adam Salomone. Photo courtesy of The Food Loft.

Adam Salomone. Photo courtesy of The Food Loft.

Presented for your enjoyment: the full tape of Soonish's interview with Adam Salomone. 

In Episode 1.05 of Soonish, Meat Without the Moo, Adam shares some perspectives on The Jackfruit Company, the startup Annie Ryu founded to introduce jackfruit to Western consumers. But the truth is I could have done a whole show just around my conversation with Adam.

He has an amazingly rich background in the food business, first as the longtime associate publisher of the cookbook publishing company Harvard Common Press (now part of the Quarto Group) and more recently as the co-founder and CEO of The Food Loft, a collaborative workspace in Boston for food and tech companies.

At Harvard Common Press, Adam helped to run an investment fund that invested in several foodtech companies, including the recipe search service Yummly and the restaurant delivery service Caviar, which went on to be acquired by Square. In other words, he's been watching foodtech companies and working with foodtech entrepreneurs for years. 

I went to visit Adam at the Food Loft in early November 2016, and we talked about why food startups and food innovation are in the midst of such a big boom right now. We zeroed in on startups offering protein and meat-substitute products from sources other than livestock, But it was a very broad ranging conversation that should be of interest to anyone in the food tech market. 

What's On Wade's Podcast Playlist?

I listen to a lot of podcasts. A lot. If you've seen my past lists of podcast recommendations, like this 2015 Xconomy piece and this 2016 sequel and update, you know that my list of must-listen shows runs into the dozens.

Now there's an easier way for me to share shows and episodes that I especially like. It's the new personal playlist feature in the awesome podcatcher app from RadioPublic. I've used the feature to set up my own running playlist, which features great episodes that gave me new stuff to think about.

By the way, that's a "deep link" with special superpowers. If you have the RadioPublic app installed on your iOS or Android device, and you tap the link from that device, the app will open directly to my playlist. If you click it from a regular browser, you'll see a Web version of the page, with fewer cool features.

A few weeks back RadioPublic invited me to curate a Soonish-themed playlist, which we called News from the Future. That list still exists. But it was a custom job, built using RadioPublic's in-house tools. With their new personal playlist feature, which is part of a pending update to the app, anyone can build and share a playlist. That's what I've done, using a preview version of the updated app.

The playlist builder lets you add a short explanatory note when you add an episode to your list. So if you check out my playlist you'll get a sense of which recent episodes of my favorite shows have left the deepest impressions on me, and why. Here's the deep link again. Enjoy!

The Full Dan Woods Interview

TechShop CEO Dan Woods. Photo courtesy of TechShop.

TechShop CEO Dan Woods. Photo courtesy of TechShop.

My interview with TechShop CEO Dan Woods for Soonish Episode 1.05, Future Factories—With Workers Built In, was so fun and wide-ranging that I wanted to share the full version here on the site.

Woods has an academic background in aeronautics and business administration. At O'Reilly Media, Dan was the co-founder of the how-to magazine MAKE, overseeing sales, circulation, marketing, media relations, and community outreach.

Together with MAKE co-founder Dale Dougherty, he dreamed up the first Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA, in 2006. That's where he met Jim Newton, who would shortly go on to found TechShop. Years later, Woods would leave O'Reilly to go to work for Newton at TechShop, and in 2016, he became CEO.

Woods was seemingly destined by his upbringing to wind up at the center of the maker movement, which is in turn at the center of the trend toward faster, smaller-scale, more customized product design and manufacturing practices in the U.S.

"I grew up in Silicon Valley before it was Silicon Valley," he told me during our interview. "I’m  a Hewlett-Packard brat. So around my dining room table were a lot of really great discussions [with] scientists and engineers and inventors, who frankly didn't give a darn about about flipping companies and exit strategies—it was all about science and engineering and what you were making now. You know, outdoor speakers, or a new amplifier or something like that.

"And so I found Dale's notion of celebrating real people doing projects—not because they had to, or because it was part of their job, but because it was part of life and they couldn't help themselves—I found that really intriguing and strangely familiar to me."

Woods helped O'Reilly build MAKE and Maker Faire into a huge national brand. Now, as the leader of TechShop, he is tasked with increasing the company's footprint around the world. He says he spend a lot of his time traveling to cities where local makers, educators, and government leaders would like the company to set up shop. (Opening a new location can be a multi-million-dollar proposition, and most TechShops so far have emerged from public-private partnerships, Woods says.)

"Probably every community needs something like this" in the interest of both community-building and economic development, he says. "Whether it's a TechShop or not, they need an open access maker space." 

In these spaces, Woods says, "You'll find poets, you'll find engineers, scientists, homeless people, veterans. All walks of life. People that are richly diverse in backgrounds, aspirations, skills, knowledge, things they are able to share, things they need to learn. The magic is that rich mash-up of people with diverse backgrounds. That's what makes it that third place, [where] we get a serendipitous connection of wildly creative ideas."

 

The Full Tamar Avishai Interview

You might think that an audio program about the visual arts is a contradiction in terms. Every three weeks, Tamar Avishai proves that's wrong in her podcast The Lonely Palette

In each episode, Tamar picks a specific work of art, goes to the museum that owns it, and interviews visitors about their reactions. Then, drawing on her art-history training and her experience as a lecturer at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, she brings out threads within those reactions to weave a rich audio essay about the work's creator and the context of its creation. 

Tamar's very first regular episode was about my favorite painting at the MFA: Cezanne's Fruit and Jug on a Table. Cezanne was a visual philosopher and a bit of a weirdo—there's no way around it—and Tamar goes right to the core of his art when she explains that he was exploring what it means to look at something with subjective eyes in a subjective head. "Cezanne wanted to capture what looking looks like," Tamar says. "And as it turns out, it's wonky."

The recording above is my full interview with Tamar from late October of 2016, for Soonish Episode 1.03, Can Technology Save Museums? We talked about Tamar's studies in art history, how she got her gig at the MFA, how that helped to spawn the podcast, and how she uses both the show and her MFA lectures to wriggle out of the straitjackets imposed by traditional art history and museum education and demonstrate how art can be fun, accessible, and moving.

(If you need further proof that great audio storytelling is actually very visual, check out Tamar's recent RadioPublic podcast playlist, Look With Your Ears.)

 

Soonish Fan Art: A Collage that Looks into the Future

I'm awed and touched by this Soonish-themed collage made by Ellen Petry Leanse. Browse the scans, and continue reading below for the story behind this gorgeous piece.

Ellen is a startup coach and consultant based in San Francisco, and she's been a dear friend since 2010 or so. She flew all the way to Boston to attend the Soonish launch party and my 50th birthday party on the weekend of January 13-15, 2017. 

On the day after the launch party, Ellen and I met up for a tour of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and I showed her the fortune I'd gotten the night before, at an afterparty at Chang Sho in Cambridge, MA. It was a pretty awesome fortune, and she asked if she could borrow it and return it in enhanced form. Of course I said yes! 

A couple of days later, before Ellen went home to California, she presented me with the amazing collage booklet. It incorporates not just the fortune (on the third spread), but three varieties of the Soonish business card, glimpses of Piermatteo D'Amelia's Annunciation, and other references from our Gardner visit, such as the Calderwood auditorium and materials from the "Beyond Words" exhibit on incunabula. There's even a little door that opens up to show...a monorail!

Turns out that after our museum tour, Ellen had lingered at the Gardner's Education Studio and used materials there to complete the book.

What did my fortune say? "Put your mind into planning today. Look into the future."

A Silicon Valley veteran, Ellen was the first user evangelist at Apple and went on to work with Google and numerous other companies. Here's a TEDxBerkeley talk she gave in 2016 on "Happiness By Design." Thanks Ellen!

News from the Future: A Podcast Playlist on RadioPublic

Photo by Lucia Prosperi

Photo by Lucia Prosperi

Special Update, June 6, 2017: My "News From the Future" playlist is back in the featured rotation on RadioPublic this week! You can find it here. (The link works best from an iPhone or Android phone with RadioPublic already installed.)

Original Post, January 25, 2017: I've been working on something special with the fine folks at RadioPublic, a Boston-based startup that's creating new ways for people to find and hear great podcasts.

One of the unique features of RadioPublic's app (available for both iOS and Android) is a constant supply of fresh playlists curated by "tastemakers." I guess I'm one of those now! RadioPublic invited me to make a future-themed playlist for them, and I was thrilled to follow through.

Starting yesterday (January 24) and for the coming week, News from the Future is one of five featured lists within the app, alongside terrific lists from Gimlet co-founder Matt Lieber, radio producer Veronica Simmonds, The Audit (a podcast recommendation newsletter), and audio artist John Tjhia.

My list points to other shows that have inspired me as I've embarked on my own podcasting adventure. Within each show, I've singled out episodes that explore various aspects of the future.

To experience the playlist in its full glory, you'll need to download RadioPublic app to your iOS or Android device. Then, if you tap the link above from your device (here it is again), the app will open directly to my playlist.

The list includes a custom audio intro from yours truly, and then guides listeners to some of my favorite future-related episodes from 99% Invisible, Flash Forward, Imaginary Worlds, Inquiring Minds, Longform, Note to Self, Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Outside/In, and, naturally, Soonish.

Give it a whirl! And while you're at it, explore other areas of the app—there's a ton of great audio to discover. RadioPublic's Lauren Bacon has put together a compilation of all of RadioPublic's playlists so far. And for more about RadioPublic, you can listen to this intriguing episode of The Pub, Current's podcast about public media. Host Adam Ragusea interviews RadioPublic CEO Jake Shapiro and and chief product officer Matt McDonald about their thoughts on the podcasting ecosystem and their goals for the RadioPublic app.

A Trip to the Seattle World's Fair in "Century 21 Calling"

Calling all retro-futurism buffs! For your viewing pleasure, here's the full video of Century 21 Calling, the 1962 AT&T promotional film mentioned at the top of this week's episode, Monorails: Trains of Tomorrow?

The film was made for AT&T by Jerry Fairbanks Productions. (Fairbanks was a veteran Hollywood producer who invented of the Multi Cam sound synchronization system still used today to film TV sitcoms.)

The film follows an impossibly effervescent teenage couple as they ride the monorail to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair—also known as the Century 21 Exposition—and then spend some time at the Bell Systems pavilion learning about cutting-edge telephone technologies like pagers and call waiting.

The film has historical charm. But I fastened on it for this episode of the podcast because of the way the "reveal" in the opening sequence recreates the experience of actual fair-goers, eight million of whom arrived at the exposition on the monorail.

For a good laugh, check out the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the film, with all the trademark MST3K snark.

The Full Thom Ditty Interview

Thom Ditty, general manager of Seattle Monorail Services, at the Seattle Center Monorail maintenance facility. Photo by Wade Roush.

Thom Ditty, general manager of Seattle Monorail Services, at the Seattle Center Monorail maintenance facility. Photo by Wade Roush.

Here's the full recording from my visit with Thom Ditty, general manager of Seattle Monorail Services. Thom took a big chunk of time on October 12, 2016, to show me around the system and then to sit for an extended interview.

The first third of the recording covers our backstage tour of the Seattle Monorail Services maintenance facility, in the shadow of the Space Needle at Seattle Center. The middle third covers our trip on the monorail from Seattle Center to Westlake Center, a downtown shopping mall, and back. For the final third we sat down in Thom's office to cover some general questions about monorail technology and the Seattle Center Monorail's place in the city's culture and its future. 

The monorail, built in 1962 to carry passengers to the Seattle World's Fair, is one of the city's most iconic attractions and has been featured in numerous films and TV shows, including, most recently, Amazon's The Man in the High Castle. Two million people ride the system every year. Alongside the Las Vegas Monorail, which connects a number of hotels and convention facilities along the Las Vegas Strip, it's one of the only true urban mass-transit monorails in North America. Hundreds of commuters ride the system every day, right alongside the tourists. 

(All of the continent's other monorail systems are located at theme parks, zoos, and airports. To be fair, though, the Walt Disney World Monorail System is also a serious mass transit operation, carrying hundreds of thousands of people every day between the Disney parking lots, the Magic Kingdom, and EPCOT Center.)

Ditty's affection for the system he oversees was clear. Like many other Seattleites, he says he was sad about the collapse of the 1997-2005 Seattle Monorail project. But in a way, the failure of that effort simply helped to increase the luster of the Seattle Center Monorail and its two vintage, lovingly maintained Alweg trains. The trains were 54 years old as of 2016; when I asked Ditty if the system would still be operating 54 years from now, he said "There is absolutely no reason that these trains can't continue running for another 100 years."

More Resources

Seattle Center Monorail

The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair and Its Legacy at Amazon

"Seattle's Monorail: A history beyond the World's Fair," Seattle PI, August 11, 2016

The Full Kim Pedersen Interview

[Update, January 26, 2017: Yesterday, just hours after publishing Soonish Episode 1.02 and this supplementary interview, I received the sad news that Kim Pedersen had passed away after a long battle with cancer. My thoughts are with Kim's wife Carol and the whole family. I've recorded a new introduction to the full episode dedicating it to Kim's memory. And I'm leaving this interview here as my own small tribute to his work to help the world learn about monorail technology. —Wade]

There's probably no one in the world better versed on the history and varieties of monorail technology than Kim Pedersen, the founder and president of the Monorail Society. When he agreed to talk with me for Soonish Episode 1.02, "Monorails: Trains of Tomorrow?," I knew the story would turn out okay. The sound file above is the full recording of my October 2016 interview with Kim at his home in Fremont, CA.

Kim founded the society of monorail fans and monorail professionals—which has 7,000 members around the world—back in 1989. He's traveled the world to visit and ride monorails of every type. In fact, he and his wife Carol plan many of their vacations around destinations with monorails. Kim collects monorail memorabilia, and he's even an accomplished painter of futurist art, including, of course, cityscapes graced with monorails. 

In 2015 Kim distilled all this knowledge into a gorgeous, image-rich, 248-page book called Monorails: Trains of the Future—Now Arriving. The book became my bible on the history and engineering of monorails as I was doing the research for this episode.

In the interview, Kim talks about the origins of his interest in monorails; the birth of the Monorail Society; the inextricable ties between Walt Disney and monorail development in the US; his own efforts to help get a massive regional monorail project off the ground in Seattle; the boom in monorail construction in other countries; and the difficulties besetting the technology here in America.

Kim's house abuts the Fremont tracks of the Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority system, and he built a platform over the back fence where he and Carol can relax and watch the trains zoom past. That's where we finished up the interview.

More Resources

The Monorail Society

Monorails: Trains of the Future—Now Arriving at Amazon

Soonish Celebrates Launch Day at the PRX Podcast Garage

Friend and supporters of Soonish came out in force to help celebrate the release of the Soonish pilot episode last Friday, January 13, 2017. Slide show below!

The party featured a live performance of sections of the pilot by yours truly, along with a fantastic spread of food prepared by my wonderful mom, Patricia Bates Roush. Folks from all over the Boston podcasting, media, and university communities attended, including old friends from Xconomy, MIT, and the Boston Globe.

The kind folks at PRX let us hold the event at the PRX Podcast Garage in the Allston neighborhood of Boston, just across the Charles River from the Harvard campus. The Podcast Garage is a new recording studio and educational hub dedicated to promoting audio storytelling. I've attended numerous events there since they opened last August, and it's a fantastic resource for the local radio and podcasting community.

Thank you to everyone who came out to learn about the show. Spreading the word is the hardest part about getting a new podcast off the ground, and I now have an enormous head start.

The photos below are by Graham Gordon Ramsay and Paul Roush. All captions are in left-to-right order.

The Full Jason Pontin Interview

This bonus post is the full recording of my December 7, 2016, interview with Jason Pontin, the CEO, editor-in-chief, and publisher of MIT Technology Review. He's one of the stars of Soonish Episode 1.01, How "2001" Got the Future So Wrong.

Jason Pontin

Jason Pontin

Jason was editor of The Red Herring from 1996 to 2002 and of The Acumen Journal, a life sciences magazine, from 2002 to 2004. I got to know him in 2004 when he became editor-in-chief at Technology Review, where I was a San Francisco-based senior editor.

Jason is a big science fiction fan and an eloquent writer and speaker about technology and the future, which made him the perfect person to interview for the pilot episode of Soonish. That episode is ostensibly about the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it's really about how science fiction helps define our aspirations for the future, and what it means for society when we fall dramatically short of those aspirations.

Full disclosure: After this interview, Jason invited me to become the editor of the 2018 edition of Twelve Tomorrows, Technology Review's more-or-less annual science fiction anthology. I accepted, and the project is underway.

More Resources

Why We Can't Solve Big Problems, Jason's October 2012 Technology Review cover story

Can Technology Solve Big Problems?, Jason's 2013 TED Talk

SOLVE, MIT's business, technology, and innovation conference and community

Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys's 1960 "hard sf" novel about teleportation

Michaelmas, Budrys's 1977 novel predicting the Internet and a world-spanning AI

 

The Full Jamais Cascio Interview

As a piece of bonus content to go along with Soonish Episode 1.01, How "2001" Got the Future So Wrong, here's the full recording of my interview with Jamais Cascio.

Jamais Cascio

Jamais Cascio

Jamais is a professional futurist / foresight thinker / scenario planner / "prognosopher" (take your pick of labels) who consults for the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA, and other organizations. He’s the author of numerous magazine and journal articles as well the 2009 book Hacking the Earth: Understanding the Consequences of Geoengineering

I interviewed Jamais at the IFTF offices on October 19, 2016, a couple of weeks before the presidential election. We focused on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and how the futurism that Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke were doing in that movie turned out to be so wrong—or to put it the other way around, how the world we actually got by 2001 was so different from the one portrayed in the movie.

Jamais had some fascinating thoughts about all that, but we also talked about how he got into the profession of scenario planning, why he thinks this way of thinking can be helpful, and what consumers should watch out for when they hear people spinning scenarios for the future. Toward the end of the interview we also talked a little about the future of work and labor and manufacturing in an era of increasing automation, which is a topic that I’ll be coming back to in an upcoming regular episode of Soonish.

The recording is unedited.

Clarifications and Corrections

  • The racial slur used by U.S. Senator George Allen of Virginia, who failed in his 2006 re-election bid, was "macaca."
  • The fictional setting for the TV show Lost In Space was the year 1997, not the 1980s.
  • The ExoMars Schiaparelli lander did, in fact, crash on Mars on October 19 after its parachute apparently misfired.

More Resources

Tools For a Better World, Jamais's 2006 TED Talk

OpenTheFuture.com, Jamais's website

Second Earth, my 2007 MIT Technology Review article featuring comments from Jamais

The 50+5 List

As an alum at Xconomy I have the title "contributing editor" and a standing invitation to write guest columns. In December 2015 I wrote a piece called The Best Podcasts of 2015: A Guide for New Listeners, and last week the folks at the site called up to see if I wanted to update the list for 2016.

"Of course," I said, "as long as you'll let me plug one important up-and-coming podcast of 2017."

They agreed, and the new list is up. It's called 50 Podcasts You Should Be Listening To—And 5 New Ways to Find Them. The bonus 51st podcast is Soonish. I also included some information about the newest apps for discovering and managing podcasts, including 60dB, RadioPublic, Overcast, Castro, and NPR One.

I'm not arguing that these are the 50 best podcasts in existence, though many of them are at that level. In essence, the article is a rundown of my current subscription list in the iOS Podcasts app.

There are many great shows that don't fit my eclectic interests. I'm not a huge fan of comedy podcasts, how-to/motivational shows, or pure banter shows (with one exception). My tastes run toward longform, narrative-driven, storytelling shows. It's no coincidence that I want Soonish to be that type of show.

I hope you'll check out the whole list—and feel free to disagree or add your own suggestions.