technology of the future

“Imagine the earth to be a bag of rubber filled with water, a small quantity of which is periodically forced in and out of the same by means of a reciprocating pump, as illustrated. If the strokes of the latter are effected in intervals of more than one hour and forty-eight minutes, sufficient for the transmission of the impulse thru the whole mass, the entire bag will expand and contract and corresponding movements will be imparted to pressure gauges or movable pistons with the same intensity, irrespective of distance. By working the pump faster, shorter waves will be produced which, on reaching the opposite end of the bag, may be reflected and give rise to stationary nodes and loops, but in any case, the fluid being incompressible, its enclosure perfectly elastic, and the frequency of oscillations not very high, the energy will be economically transmitted and very little power consumed so long as no work is done in the receivers. This is a crude but correct representation of my wireless system in which, however, I resort to various refinements. Thus, for instance, the pump is made part of a resonant system of great inertia, enormously magnifying the force of the imprest impulses. The receiving devices are similarly conditioned and in this manner the amount of energy collected in them vastly increased.“

–Nikola Tesla

“Famous Scientific Illusions.” Electrical Experimenter, February, 1919.

[Fig. 1] — This Diagram Illustrates How, During a Solar Eclipse, the Moon’s Shadow Passes Over the Earth With Changing Velocity, and Should Be Studied In Connection With [Fig. 2]. The Shadow Moves Downward With Infinite Velocity at First. Then With Its True Velocity Thru Space, and Finally With Infinite Velocity Again.

“Consider now the process taking place in the transmission by the instrumentalities and methods of my invention. For this purpose attention is called to [Fig. 1], which gives an idea of the mode of propagation of the current waves and is largely self-explanatory. The drawing represents a solar eclipse with the shadow of the moon just touching the surface of the earth at a point where the transmitter is located. As the shadow moves downward it will spread over the earth’s surface, first with infinite and then gradually diminishing velocity until at a distance of about 6,000 miles it will attain its true speed in space. From there on it will proceed with increasing velocity, reaching infinite value at the opposite point of the globe. It hardly need be stated that this is merely an illustration and not an accurate representation in the astronomical sense.

“The exact law will be readily understood by reference to [Fig. 2], in which a transmitting circuit is shown connected to earth and to an antenna. The transmitter being in action, two effects are produced: Hertz waves pass thru the air, and a current traverses the earth. The former propagate with the speed of light and their energy is unrecoverable in the circuit. The latter proceeds with the speed varying as the cosecant of the angle which a radius drawn from any point under consideration forms with the axis of symmetry of the waves. At the origin the speed is infinite but gradually diminishes until a quadrant is traversed, when the velocity is that of light. From there on it again increases, becoming infinite at the antipole. Theoretically the energy of this current is recoverable in its entirety, in properly attuned receivers.”

“…It is perfectly practicable to recover at any point of the globe energy enough for driving an airplane, or a pleasure boat or for lighting a dwelling. I am especially sanguine in regard to the lighting of isolated places and believe that a more economical and convenient method can hardly be devised. The future will show whether my foresight is as accurate now as it has proved heretofore.”

–Nikola Tesla

“Famous Scientific Illusions.” Electrical Experimenter, February, 1919.

Dr. Tesla Discussing The Ether Space Wave Theory

“It was evident to me that wireless transmission of energy, if it could ever be accomplished, is not an invention; it is an art. Bell’s telephone, Edison’s phonograph, or my induction motor were inventions, but the wireless transmission of energy is an art that requires a great many inventions in combination.

“We are living on a planet that is rushing through space; this planet is partly conducting and partly insulating. If it were all conducting, or if it were all insulating, we could not transmit energy without wire. It is only because it is partly conducting and partly insulating that a glorious future for man is reserved through the application of this art.”

–Nikola Tesla

(From a pre-hearing interview with Nikola Tesla and his legal counsel in 1916 to protect his radio patents from the Guglielmo Marconi and the Marconi Company.)

[Fig. 1]:
“We are living on a planet of well-nigh inconceivable dimensions, surrounded by a layer of insulating air above which is a rarefied and conducting atmosphere. This is providential, for if all the air were conducting the transmission of electrical energy thru the natural media would be impossible.” –NT

[Fig. 2]:
“My early experiments have shown that currents of high frequency and great tension readily pass thru an atmosphere but moderately rarefied, so that the insulating stratum is reduced to a small thickness as will be evident by inspection of [Fig. 2], in which a part of the earth and its gaseous envelope is shown to scale. If the radius of the sphere is 12½”, then the non-conducting layer is only 1/64″ thick and it will be obvious that the Hertzian rays cannot traverse so thin a crack between two conducting surfaces for any considerable distance, without being absorbed.” –NT

“Famous Scientific Illusions.” Electrical Experimenter, February, 1919.

You’ve probably heard a lot about our future filled with self-driving cars. In fact, they are already cruising the streets today. And while these cars will ultimately be safer and cleaner than their manual counterparts, they can’t completely avoid accidents altogether. How should the car be programmed if it encounters an unavoidable accident? In our TED-Ed Lesson, The ethical dilemma of self-driving cars, Patrick Lin navigates the murky ethics of self-driving cars.

Here’s an example for you to think about:

Let’s say there’s a motorcyclist wearing a helmet to your left and another one without a helmet to your right. Which one should your robot car crash into?

If you say the biker with the helmet because she’s more likely to survive, then aren’t you penalizing the responsible motorist? If, instead, you save the biker without the helmet because he’s acting irresponsibly, then you’ve gone way beyond the initial design principle about minimizing harm, and the robot car is now meting out street justice. 

The ethical considerations get more complicated here. In both of our scenarios, the underlying design is functioning as a targeting algorithm of sorts.2:44In other words, it’s systematically favoring or discriminating against a certain type of object to crash into. And the owners of the target vehicles will suffer the negative consequences of this algorithm through no fault of their own. 

Could it be the case that a random decision is still better than a predetermined one designed to minimize harm? And who should be making all of these decisions anyhow? Programmers? Companies? Governments? Reality may not play out exactly like our thought experiments, but that’s not the point. They’re designed to isolate and stress test our intuitions on ethics, just like science experiments do for the physical world. Spotting these moral hairpin turns now will help us maneuver the unfamiliar road of technology ethics, and allow us to cruise confidently and conscientiously into our brave new future. 

Check out the lesson here for more ethical quandaries to ponder.

Lesson by Patrick Lin

Animation by the ever-incredible Yukai Du