In the first half, Professor of History William Forstchen shared updates on the dangers of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack which could take down the power grid, as well as his research into building a space elevator, which could bring revolutionary changes to the planet. News reports are finally coming out on a sniper attack last year in San Jose, California which was obviously an intent to take down a regional power grid, and this points out the vulnerability of our infrastructure system, he commented. Forstchen also expressed concern about an Iranian warship approaching America's eastern coast, which he fears could be a practice run for an EMP strike against the continental United States.
Spending time at NASA, he researched various future technologies, including a possible space elevator, which he depicts in his new novel, Pillar to the Sky. Developed around a cable hung from high earth orbit and anchored at the equator, he suggested that such a technology could transform both how we travel to outer space, and what we bring back from it, such as a global Internet, and planetary energy via solar panels attached to the elevator. "The way steel transformed the world in th 19th century, carbon nanotubing will transform the world of the 21st century," enabling us to build towers that go all the way out to geosynchronous orbit, he remarked.
In the latter half, assistant professor of genetics at Baylor College, Erez Aiden, and associate scientist at Harvard University, Jean-Baptiste Michel, discussed a new tool they developed called the Google Ngram Viewer, which charts trends in human history across the centuries. They detailed the implications of this tool, as well as various ways that the digital age is affecting society. The Ngram Viewer uses a database of 5.2 million books digitized by Google to make a quantitative analyses of words or phrases, and show the frequency of how often they're used in books published between the years 1500 and 2000. As an example, Aiden noted that the word "Martians" could be traced to a start in the 1890s, which was connected with Percival Lowell's interest and observations of the Red Planet and its "canals,"-- thought at the time to indicate the presence of life. H.G. Wells' book The War of the Worlds came out shortly after this discovery.
The Ngram Viewer will offer the ability to understand global dynamics of trends at many different scales, Michel said, while Aiden suggested that the Viewer is a harbinger of new ways to perform quantitative studies of human history, which will become far more extensive as we proceed in the digital age. Further, he observed that we're entering an era where all human activity could be recorded such as with Google Glass, or shared in a public way via a social network, and people may be losing not only their privacy, but their ability to forget, which could have negative or unforeseen consequences. For more, check out a video of their presentation at TedXBoston.