Truth is, I’ll be honest, I don’t adopt new podcasts very often. I like what I like, and it usually revolves around movies and telly, my two chief interests, and I tend to stick to what I know. Flash-Forward, recently, saw me break that rule.
Originally an off-shoot of Gizmodo called Meanwhile, in the Future…, Rose Eveleth’s podcast is a fusion of numerous aspects that tickle my podcast pickle – knowledge of subject matter I didn’t already know, interviews and conversations with interesting people, and a speculative, fun scenario. In this case, the aforementioned future, as each episode Rose jumps forward anywhere from 1 to 100 years into a possible future and examines what scenarios that to us are science-fiction now would be like if they, somehow, could exist and be science-fact.
Here are a few examples Eveleth herself presents on the website, flashforwardpod.com, as good entree episodes if you want to get stuck into the show:
The Ultimate Swatting — Mosquitos have worked hard to earn the nickname “deadliest animal on earth.” For comparison, snakes kill about 50,000 people a year. Humans kill about 475,000 other humans every year. And mosquitos, all told, kill 725,000 people each year. So what if we decided to get rid of them? We explore how hard that would be, and the arguments for and against it.
Eternal Life in Prison — What if “life in prison” could mean 100 or 200 or 400 years? Does that change the way that sentences are dolled out? What happens when a person gets out of prison?
Popnonymous — What if all pop stars operated through robots/cartoons/avatars/clones? We’ve seen what the kind of intense scrutiny and constant attention does to people (hello Britney Spears), so if they all opted out of the media circus in this particular way? Would fans connect to cartoons? Hatsune Miku is wildly popular. The Gorillaz had their animated personas, Deadmaus wears his mouse head, Sia even hides her face, but in a world of increased surveillance and pressure on could all artists do this? What do we gain and lose? Would it free talented artists who are afraid of the spotlight to actually become popular? What would this pop world be like?
Extra! Extra! — This week we travel to a future where there is so much fake news that nobody can tell what is real anymore. Are we already there? We explore what a post-journalism, post-fact world would actually be like, and how close we really are. One guest suspects we’ll wind up separating into regions with completely different truths — a vaccinated, science focused community butting up against an unvaccinated truther group. Another hopes that fact checking and critical thinking will save us. A third tells us about what we can learn from Rwanda, where they cracked down on journalism after a genocide.
California Dreaming — California has one of the largest economies in the world. So what would happen if it broke away from the United States? Could California ever go independent? If it did, what would that look like? We talk to the press secretary of the California National Party about how they see this whole idea playing out. We also talk about past secessionist movements like the Civil War, and The State of Jefferson in northern California. And we talk to a Native American legal scholar about what would happen to the sovereign native land within California if the state broke away.
The Witch Who Came From Mars — This episode is a weird one. For the season finale, instead of coming up with a future and then finding experts to talk about it, I asked an AI to write a future for us. And the AI apparently wants us to talk about space travel, witches, and the occult. Then I talked to mythology buffs, space experts, and sci-fi writers about how they interpret the story the machine wrote. Can machines be creative? And what the heck are these witches doing anyway?
Deceptible Me — At the center of this episode is a single question: if you could choose to turn off your ability to deceive yourself, would you? It might seem like a good idea: denial is a tricky thing, and can hurt us if we let it. But being able to fool ourselves is also a crucial coping mechanism. Without it, what would our lives be like?
Our Father Who Art in Algorithm — In this episode a tech mogul feeds a machine learning system all the religious texts he can find, and asks it to generate a “super religion.” Something that synthesizes all the religious traditions together in a harmonious, efficient and “neutral” way. The result it, very strange. But a following begins to grow. On this episode we discuss the text that came out of our own algorithm, what it might or might not say, and how this kind of methodology is flawed. Then we discuss the very real religion that worships a future AI godhead, currently being developed by Anthony Levandowski.
In other words, as you can see, the show is really quite varied in the discussions Eveleth undertakes, and while early episodes stretch to about 15 minutes or so, later ones are chunkier and more in-depth, all of them driven by the host’s cheery, questioning yet informative personality. Imagine a lighter-sounding, science-nerd version of You Must Remember This‘ Katrina Longworth (no shade going her way, btw, as that’s a great show), and you’re getting close to the money.
Flash-Forward is my new podcast crack, in all honesty. The concepts are fascinating. The presentation slick without being aware of its own hype, and I always come away having learned something. While also being utterly terrified about futures I probably will never live to see.
You can check out Flash-Forward on Apple Podcasts or your podcast app of choice (I recommend Pocket Casts, FYI)