Innovation

Turbo-Charging the Hunt for ETs: This Will Give our Decade a Shot at Cosmic Stardom

In the 3.5 billion-year history of life on planet Earth, a century seems barely mentionable and a decade seems insignificant—but the new revelation of a project involving a Russian billionaire, three UC Berkeley researchers and $100 million just may have laid the groundwork for this decade’s shot at eternal distinction. Read more about Turbo-Charging the Hunt for ETs: This Will Give our Decade a Shot at Cosmic Stardom »

Catching the Brain in a Lie: Is “Mind Reading” Deception Detection Sci-Fi—or Science?

Ever since the inception of our species, humans have wanted to peer inside each other’s minds. A major reason we want to do this is because we lie. We lie a lot, and on the whole, we are quite good at it. The capacity for deception is possibly one of the most significant cognitive gifts we received through evolution.

But it turns out that we lack an equal genius for spotting deception. Instead we keep trying to capitalize on technology—hoping it can do the detecting for us. Read more about Catching the Brain in a Lie: Is "Mind Reading" Deception Detection Sci-Fi—or Science? »

Fun with Fungi: Food Business is Still Mushrooming for Two Berkeley Grads

It was already their final semester at UC Berkeley, but Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez had never met. Both were sitting in a business ethics class when something the professor said caught their interest: It might be possible to grow gourmet mushrooms from used coffee grounds. Just a few weeks later, the two were practically best friends, brought together by an idea. Read more about Fun with Fungi: Food Business is Still Mushrooming for Two Berkeley Grads »

Rock On: A Student-Designed Rocking Chair Generates Energy to Charge a Cell Phone

If you’ve ever sat in a rocking chair, you understand why every grandparent seems to own one. The gentle rocking mimics the soothing motion of a crib. It’s an ingenious, old-fashioned piece of seating bliss.

Now imagine a rocking chair that even a Millennial might settle into: Not only does it relax you, but it charges your iPhone at the same time. Read more about Rock On: A Student-Designed Rocking Chair Generates Energy to Charge a Cell Phone »

Startup Wants University Endowments to Lend Money so Homeowners Can Go Solar

A new startup founded by two UC Berkeley Haas Business School students aims to give homeowners going solar the leverage to affect more than just the environment.

Window Street Financial—which emerged last fall from an idea generated by Johnny Gannon and Ben Purvis—wants to give them the option of taking a solar loan made up of capital from the endowments of universities, nonprofits and foundations. Read more about Startup Wants University Endowments to Lend Money so Homeowners Can Go Solar »

From Spider-Infested Digs, U.S. Company Devises Way to Spin Silk—Sans the Spiders

In the beginning, David Breslauer’s office was infested with spiders—lurking in the corners, hunkered down on their webs, crawling up his arms. “I had one right above my desk, and it pooed on my computer like a pigeon,” he says. And these were large, long-legged beasties, too: Nephila clavipes, an orb-weaving species commonly used in scientific studies. Read more about From Spider-Infested Digs, U.S. Company Devises Way to Spin Silk—Sans the Spiders »

Pedaling to Tomorrow: Could an Electric Bike Kick-Start the Future of Transportation?

Emerging from the San Jose train station on my superfast electric bike, I lean into the first turn, boosted by the latest in lithium-ion battery technology. I’m headed to a business meeting at the Hayes Mansion, eight miles south of the commercial heart of Silicon Valley.

And I am late. Read more about Pedaling to Tomorrow: Could an Electric Bike Kick-Start the Future of Transportation? »

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Speech Saver: Anticipating Upheavals, Project Aims to Preserve the World’s Languages

You’ve probably experienced that unique combination of loss and rage when your computer’s hard drive suddenly crashes, erasing years of work files, financial records, and precious photos in an instant. What if that happened, asks linguist Laura Welcher, of the nonprofit Long Now Foundation, on a civilizational scale?

“Over the span of millennia, you have to expect there to be upheavals in society, times when knowledge is lost,” she says. (Think the Library of Alexandria.) How do we safeguard human knowledge from these future upheavals? Read more about Speech Saver: Anticipating Upheavals, Project Aims to Preserve the World's Languages »

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Robots With Us, Or Against Us? Rethinking the Risks Posed by Artificial Intelligence

“We turned the switch and saw the flashes,” said physicist Leo Szilard, describing his 1942 experiment that created the first controlled nuclear chain reaction. “We watched them for a little while and then turned everything off and went home. That night, there was very little doubt in my mind that the world was headed for grief.” Read more about Robots With Us, Or Against Us? Rethinking the Risks Posed by Artificial Intelligence »

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Parts Department: The You that Survives into the Next Century May be Mostly 3D Printed

The future will be an exciting time to be alive, if for no other reason than it will be so much easier to survive.

We’ll have a bewildering variety of replacement parts for our organs and limbs. Stubborn diseases will be tamed by exotic treatments. New technologies will enable not just better living, but new ways of living. And the human body will reveal all of its secrets in response to our probings in… (dramatic pause) … the year 2000. Read more about Parts Department: The You that Survives into the Next Century May be Mostly 3D Printed »

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Going Chameleon: What a New Material that Changes Color as it Moves Means for Humans

We’ve all probably experienced a moment when we envied a chameleon’s ability to blend into the background—say, after a gaffe at the office holiday party. As it turns out, chameleons change their skin color in response to all kinds of stimuli: physical threats, temperature changes, and the animal’s moods. What if humans could harness that same ability? Read more about Going Chameleon: What a New Material that Changes Color as it Moves Means for Humans »

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

Line in the Sand: How Can We Protect a Shoreline from the Ravages of the Future?

When San Francisco’s Great Highway opened in 1929, some 50,000 people celebrated the coastal stretch of pavement with a parade and a 1,014-piece band. A magazine article from the time boasted of “a wonderfully constructed Esplanade of enduring concrete, which will render for all time the beach safe from the destructive effects of the ocean’s activities.” Read more about Line in the Sand: How Can We Protect a Shoreline from the Ravages of the Future? »

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

No One Gets Hurt: Why the Future of Crime May Be Less Violent and More Insidious

Among the various anxieties that currently plague affluent modern society, cybercrime surely ranks near the top. It makes sense; as data comes to define our lives to a greater and greater degree, the specter of some unseen hacker pilfering our information with impunity or emptying our bank account with the click of a mouse is justified cause for concern. But perhaps we should consider the alternative.

By way of illustration, consider two robberies of fairly recent memory—one old-school, the other new. Read more about No One Gets Hurt: Why the Future of Crime May Be Less Violent and More Insidious »

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

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