Why we should all stop worrying about future generations


Children have a lot to learn, but so did older generations at one time. (David Mercer/AP)

Here’s a look at five ideas that impact the way we live, work and play. 

1. The kids are — and always will be — all right. Prof. Steven Pinker explains our unwarranted skepticism of young people to the Harvard Gazette:

People often confuse changes in themselves with changes in the times, and changes in the times with moral and intellectual decline. This is a well-documented psychological phenomenon. Every generation thinks that the younger generation is dissolute, lazy, ignorant and illiterate. There is a paper trail of professors complaining about the declining quality of their students that goes back at least 100 years. … I know a lot more now than I did when I was a student, and thanks to the curse of knowledge, I may not realize that I have acquired most of it during the decades that have elapsed since I was a student. So it’s tempting to look at students and think, “What a bunch of inarticulate ignoramuses! It was better when I was at that age, a time when I and other teenagers spoke in fluent paragraphs, and we effortlessly held forth on the foundations of Western civilization.” Yeah, right. … We backdate our own knowledge and sophistication, so we always think that the kids today are more slovenly than we were at that age.

2. SEME: search engine manipulation effect. Google results can impact elections, as The Post’s Craig Timberg explains:

The research team was able to shift votes by an average of 12.5 percent to favored candidates by deliberating altering their rankings in search results, [psychologist Robert] Epstein said. There were also increases in the likelihood of voting and in measurements of trust for the preferred candidates, and there were decreases in the willingness to support rivals. Fewer than 1 in every 100 participants, meanwhile, detected the manipulation in the results.

“It confirms that in a real election, you can really shift voter preferences really dramatically,” said Epstein, now a senior research psychologist for the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, a nonprofit group based in California, which conducted the study.

3. The next step for laptops. Via the Wall Street Journal:

What I really want to come out of the envelope one day is a piece of hardware that pushes both Airs together without compromise. Yes, that means a super-slim machine with a touch screen, some sort of keyboard, 4G connectivity and multi-day battery life. But I want other features, too, that can liberate us from the ways we interacted with computers in the PC era.

How about Siri, managing email on our phones and laptops? Gesture control to manipulate on-screen objects with a wave of the hand? Wireless or even solar power, so I can ditch the charger? Connection ports disappearing altogether, as everything goes wireless and up into the cloud?

4. Killer robots. For better or worse, machines may do most of the fighting for us. Via Foreign Affairs:

The Samsung Techwin security surveillance guard robots, which South Korea uses in the demilitarized zone it shares with North Korea, can detect targets through infrared sensors. Although they are currently operated by humans, the robots have an automatic feature that can detect body heat in the demilitarized zone and fire with an onboard machine gun without the need for human operators. The U.S. firm Northrop Grumman has developed an autonomous drone, the X-47B, which can travel on a preprogrammed flight path while being monitored by a pilot on a ship. It is expected to enter active naval service by 2019. Israel, meanwhile, is developing an armed drone known as the Harop that could select targets on its own with a special sensor, after loitering in the skies for hours.

5. Text your neighbors anonymously. The app Shortwave lets you message anonymously with anyone within 70 feet of you. It could prove especially interesting in crowded areas such as concerts, sporting events and conferences. The app relies on Bluetooth — the technology behind beacons — to find those closest to you.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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