The Secret History of the Future

The Secret History of the Future

Journey into the past, and you'll discover the secret history of the future. From the world's first cyberattack in 1834, to 19th-century virtual reality, The Economist's Tom Standage and Slate's Seth Stevenson examine the historical precedents that can transform our understanding of modern technology, predicting how it might evolve and highlighting pitfalls to avoid. Discovering how people reacted to past innovations can also teach us about ourselves.... Show More

Episodes

May 27, 2020 21 min
Hey Secret History listeners! We'd like to introduce a new show from Slate, Thrilling Tales of Modern Capitalism. Each episode dives into the history of a brand that shapes the way we live and work. This first episode is about The Carnival Corporation, the biggest cruise company in the world. Carnival made headlines at the start of the covid-19 crisis when its ships harbored some of the world’s first coronavirus outbreaks. But ...
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December 16, 2019 37 min
Hello, Secret History fans! Here's an episode of another show we think you might like: Cautionary Tales from Pushkin Industries. Learning from our mistakes can be hard. Learning from other people’s mistakes...well, that’s a lot more fun. In Cautionary Tales, from Pushkin Industries, economist and journalist Tim Harford retells true stories of unexpected outcomes, from the development of tanks in modern warfare to the accidenta...
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November 26, 2019 22 min
Hey Secret History of the Future fans! We're excited to introduce you to another show we think you'll like. It's called What Next: TBD, and it's a weekly show about tech, power, and the future. Secret History's very own Seth Stevenson guest hosted this episode. Check it out, and then subscribe here: https://slate.com/podcasts/what-next-tbd or wherever you get your podcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Vis...
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September 4, 2019 42 min
Radio was originally a social medium, as early radio sets (each of which could transmit as well as receive) turned cities into giant chatrooms, populated by Morse Code-tapping enthusiasts. But the excitement of this democratic, digital platform did not last, and radio was tamed by corporate interests in the 1920s. The utopian dream of platforms that are open and meritocratic has been reborn in the internet era in the form of bloggi...
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August 28, 2019 36 min
The first mechanical clocks were made to summon monks to prayer. Ever since, timekeeping technology has often been about control and obligation. But underneath a mountain in Texas, a new kind of clock is being built that’s meant to alter the way we think about time. Can it force us to connect our distant past with our distant future, tick by tick? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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August 21, 2019 37 min
At the dawn of the 20th century, chemists dreamed of extracting nitrogen from the air and turning it into a limitless supply of fertiliser. Sceptics thought they were crazy -- it was possible in theory, but it was unclear if it could be done in practice. What happened next changed the course of 20th-century history, and provides inspiration to innovators pursuing a different dream today: sucking carbon dioxide out of the air to ave...
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August 14, 2019 36 min
The first ever computer program was written in 1843 by Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who hoped her far-sighted treatise on mechanical computers would lead to a glittering scientific career. Today, as we worry that modern systems suffer from “algorithmic bias” against some groups of people, what can her program tell us about how software, and the people who make it, can go wrong? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/...
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August 7, 2019 36 min
In the 19th century, young people wooed each other over the telegraph. But meeting strangers on the wires could lead to confusion, disappointment, and even fraud. Do modern online dating apps have anything to learn from telegraph romances? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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July 31, 2019 38 min
Polar exploration was the Victorian equivalent of the space race. Major powers vied to outdo each other, funding expeditions to the most inhospitable parts of the world as demonstrations of their supremacy over nature and each other. Today, the resulting tales of triumph and tragedy hold valuable lessons about what to do—and what not to do—as human explorers plan missions to Mars. Slate Plus members get bonus segments and ad-free p...
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July 24, 2019 39 min
The potato seemed strange and unappetizing when it first arrived in Europe. But it grew into a wonder food that helped solve the continent’s hunger problems. Can its journey tell us what to expect from current efforts to replace animal meat with societally healthier meat alternatives made from plants, insects, or cells grown in petri dishes? Slate Plus members get bonus segments and ad-free podcast feeds. Sign up now.  Learn more ...
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July 17, 2019 31 min
In the early 20th century a new forensic technique—fingerprinting—displaced a cruder form of identification based on body measurements. Hailed as modern, scientific, and infallible, fingerprinting was adopted around the world. But in recent years doubts have been cast on its reliability, and a new technique—DNA profiling—has emerged as the forensic gold standard. In assuming it is infallible, are we making the same mistake again? L...
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July 10, 2019 33 min
For thousands of years we sailed our cargo across oceans using zero-emission, 100 percent renewable wind. Then we switched to ships that run on oil, creating a global maritime fleet that pumps greenhouse gases into the sky. Could we go back to wind-powered ships by rediscovering a clever nautical innovation that we abandoned a century ago? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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July 3, 2019 43 min
The 19th century invention of the phonograph left composers worried they might not be paid for recordings. The 20th century proliferation of digital sampling outmoded old copyright laws. Can these previous tech disruptions of the music business teach us how to handle a 21st century onslaught of computers that can compose their own songs? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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June 26, 2019 2 min
What can 19th century polar exploration teach us as humans plan missions to Mars? Do modern online dating apps have anything to learn from romances over the telegraph wires? Dig into the past, and you’ll find surprising lessons about what’s next for our modern world. Season 2 of The Secret History of The Future drops July 03, 2019. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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November 7, 2018 38 min
The Renaissance scholars couldn’t keep up with new information (“Have you read the latest Erasmus book?” “I don’t have time!”) and needed a better way to organize it. Thus came the invention of tables of contents, indexes, book reviews, encyclopedias, and other shortcuts. What kinds of technological solutions might help us cope with the information overload we all experience today? Guests include: Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack;...
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October 31, 2018 30 min
Some people thought the laying of the transatlantic cable might bring world peace, because connecting humans could only lead to better understanding and empathy. That wasn’t the outcome, and recent utopian ideas about communication (Facebook might bring us together and make us all friends!) have also met with a darker reality (Facebook might polarize us and spread false information!). Should we be scared of technology that promises...
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October 24, 2018 32 min
In the Victorian era, plaster casts became a way to preserve important artifacts in 3-D. Now, virtual reality promises to preserve places and experiences. But who decides what gets preserved? And is the technology an accurate recreation of the experience, or does it fool us into thinking we’ve encountered the real thing when we’ve done nothing of the sort? Guests include: Jaron Lanier, VR pioneer; Nonny de la Pena, VR artist; Trist...
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October 17, 2018 34 min
In 1714, British parliament offered a huge cash prize to anyone who could find a way to determine longitude at sea. And it worked, sort of ... several decades later. Are modern contests (DARPA challenges, the X Prize) offering riches and glory an effective way to spur technological innovation? Guests include: Dava Sobel, author of Longitude. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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October 10, 2018 37 min
In 1969, an anthropologist introduced photographs and films to people in Papua New Guinea who’d never seen themselves represented in media before. It changed their conception of the world. In modern society, social media floods us with imagery at a pace we’ve never encountered before, and powerful video manipulation technology threatens to blur the line between real and fake. Are we the new Papuans, about to be overwhelmed by a who...
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October 3, 2018 30 min
The French telegraph system was hacked in 1834 by a pair of thieves who stole financial market information -- effectively conducting the world’s first cyber attack. What does the incident teach us about network vulnerabilities, human weakness, and modern-day security? Guests include: Bruce Schneier, security expert. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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