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Soonish

Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything

By Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weinersmith
16-minute read
Audio available
Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weinersmith

Soonish (2017) explores transformative technologies that will emerge in the future, from space exploration to brain-to-computer interfaces, and the ongoing real-world efforts undertaken to make them a reality today. For each technology explored, Kelly and Zach Weinersmith consider its current status, the primary concerns and the effect each technology is likely to have on the world as we know it.

  • Students of science and technology
  • Science-fiction enthusiasts
  • Readers curious about theoretical science

Dr. Kelly Weinersmith works in the BioSciences department at Rice University, and is the cohost of Science . . . Sort Of, a top-rated science podcast. Her research has been featured in the Atlantic, National Geographic and BBC World.

Zach Weinersmith is the creator of the popular webcomic, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. His work has also been featured in a variety of publications, including the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, Slate and Forbes.

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Soonish

Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything

By Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weinersmith
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly Weinersmith and Zach Weinersmith
Synopsis

Soonish (2017) explores transformative technologies that will emerge in the future, from space exploration to brain-to-computer interfaces, and the ongoing real-world efforts undertaken to make them a reality today. For each technology explored, Kelly and Zach Weinersmith consider its current status, the primary concerns and the effect each technology is likely to have on the world as we know it.

Key idea 1 of 10

Developments in space exploration are hindered by the cost of getting to space.

Given that the first moon landing happened way back in 1969, you may feel disappointed that so little progress has since been made when it comes to getting humans further into space.

But the reality is, building rockets and launching them into space is an expensive business, which is why scientists are looking into cheaper methods of space exploration.

One such method is sort of like using a really big elevator. Imagine a giant cable stretching from a mobile sea platform on Earth all the way to a giant asteroid in orbit. It could be used to send cargo, passengers and spacecraft back and forth, eliminating the need for all that expensive and explosive rocket fuel.

Sounds good, right? However, there is currently no material that is both strong enough and light enough to make a space elevator a reality – though scientists are still eagerly looking into this idea.

Another potentially less expensive method is the spaceplane.

Spaceplanes would use two different kinds of engines. The first would use a combination of air and fuel to create a high-pressure force powerful enough to propel the plane out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Then, because there isn’t any air in space, the spaceplane would need to switch to a more traditional rocket engine that uses normal propellant. This would be cheaper than the current method where the rocket has to carry enough expensive oxidizer to power the rocket engine all the way into space.

Another important part of making space travel affordable could be asteroid mining. This has the potential to provide cheap materials that could be sent back to Earth, or used for building the settlements on other planets.

The US-based company Tethers Unlimited has already proposed a system for capturing asteroids. It essentially works like a space net, and they’ve called it “the Wrangler.”

It would allow us to trap an asteroid in a net, and then to use that asteroid as a base of operations for a settlement. We could also theoretically drag it elsewhere to create colonies in space or to mine its resources; from what we already know about the main types of asteroids, water, metal and oxygen can be extracted from them.

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