Tag Archives: Soonish

Episode 64 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series: Dr. Judy Illes on Neuroethics

Hello, and welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

The last technology we discuss in Soonish are brain-computer interfaces (BCI). BCIs record what’s happening in the brain, and then respond in some way. For example, BCI’s can be used to help folks who get seizures. Seizures tend to start in one part of the brain, and then spread out into other parts. BCIs can detect these seizures starting, deliver a dose of electricity to that region, and (for reasons we don’t quite understand) this can stop the seizure.

There are lots of ethical issues that need to be addressed for BCIs. For example – if a machine is collecting data on your brain, who has the right to use those data? Should your employer be able to use those data to be sure you’re focusing on your job? And what if your BCI gets hacked?

In today’s episode Kelly interviews Dr. Judy Illes to learn more about the latest work being done addressing the ethics of brain-computer interfaces. Dr. Illes is the Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics, and Director of Neuroethics Canada at the University of British Columbia.

For folks looking for links to the paper’s discussed in today’s episodes:

Here is a link to the paper on the responses of 7 folks who received BCIs that alerted them to the impending onset of an epileptic seizure and here is a link to the paper.

Here is a link to the paper that gathered up claims made by companies selling wearable brain technologies to the general public, and found that most of the claims were not substantiated by peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Episode 62 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series: Dr. Jordan Miller on Bioprinting

Hello, and welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In chapter 10 of Soonish we talk about Bioprinting. In particular, we talk about folks who are using 3D printers in an attempt to create organs that can be implanted into people.

This is an important problem to solve. As of May 26, 2019, the United Network for Organ Sharing reports that 113,749 people are currently in need of an organ transplant. While some of these organs will be donated, folks who don’t get a donated organ need to wait for someone who is a biological match and is an organ donor to pass away.

Unfortunately, not everyone on the list is going to get an organ in time. Also – those who do get an organ have a lifetime of being on immunosuppressive drugs in front of them. Since those organs probably aren’t a perfect biological match to what they had before, their immune system could attack the organ and drugs are needed to keep the body from doing that.

So bioengineers are trying to find ways that we can recreate human organs using the exact cells of the person who needs the organ. That should cut down on organ wait times, and remove the need for a lifetime of immunosuppressive drugs.

But as we discuss in the book it’s not an easy problem to solve. In fact, just figuring out how to keep cells alive while you print an organ is a difficult problem. Cells in your body need to be close to blood vessels so they can get oxygen and nutrients, and so they can get rid of waste. So figuring out how to create blood vessels that can later be incorporated into things like livers is an important and hard problem to solve.

One person who is working on the vasculature problem is Dr. Jordan Miller. If you’re a long-time Weekly Weinersmith listener, you may remember that back in 2012 we interviewed Dr. Jordan Miller about how he was using 3D printers to create vasculature. Specifically, he was using 3D printers to create structures made of sugar, which he would then grow blood vessels on. The sugar structure could then be washed away, leaving vasculature behind.

At the time, he was a postdoc  at the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to start the Physiologic Systems Engineering and Advanced Materials Laboratory at Rice University, where he is now an Assistant Professor.

Jordan and his collaborators recently published a paper where they use a gel that hardens in response to light to create structures that are non-toxic, and so should be compatible with the human body. The paper made the front cover of Science! Check out the podcast to learn more, and check out this awesome video featuring his work:

Episode 61 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series: Rosario Ballesteros-Casas on VRAmericas

Hello, and welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In Chapter 7 of Soonish we discuss Augmented Reality (AR). In AR systems, virtual elements are overlaid on the real world. Pokémon Go recently brought AR into the mainstream, and when most folks think about AR they typically imagine game or art-related uses for this tech.

But other folks are imagining how AR can be used to train and assist our workforce. AR can train workers under safe and life-like conditions, can go with workers on the job to help improve their accuracy, and can identify certain types of problems that may be hard for humans to see.

In this week’s episode, Kelly interviews Rosario Ballesteros-Casas, the Chief Executive Officer of VRAmericas. VRAmericas is working on AR and VR (virtual reality) applications to help train our workforce.

If you want to learn more about AR – check out Soonish. We discuss current technological hurdles AR needs to overcome, and the uncomfortable situations that can arise from the difficulty of controlling the virtual world. For example, what do you do when Squirtle is violating the sanctity of the dead?

Soonish is available now in hardback and as an audiobook on Audible, and comes out in paperback tomorrow (June 4) through Penguin Press in the US. Particular Books is releasing a paperback version of the book in the UK this coming October.


Episode 60 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Professor Skylar Tibbits on Projects Happening at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab

Hello, and welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In Chapter 5 of Soonish we discuss Programmable Matter.

Folks who study programmable matter want your things to be doing a lot more for you. They imagine materials that respond to their environment, tiny origami robots that assist in surgical procedures, and even buckets of stuff that can transform into just about anything you may desire.

One type of programmable matter is programmed materials. Programmed materials respond to something in their environment, like temperature or moisture, and transform themselves in some way.

For Soonish we interviewed Professor Skylar Tibbits from MIT about programmable materials, and discuss a 3D printed straw he created that, when exposed to water, would fold up into the letters “MIT”.

When doing some follow-up research to figure out who I should interview for this podcast episode, I ended up checking Skylar’s website to see what he has been up to since we interviewed him in June of 2016. And his lab has been up to some totally cool shit.

So in today’s episode we’re going to chat about just a subset of the tons of cool projects happening at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, which is the lab for which Professor Tibbits is the Founder and co-Director.

Soonish is available now in hardback and as an audiobook on Audible, and comes out in paperback on June 4 through Penguin Press in the US, and Particular Books is releasing a paperback version of the book in the UK this coming October.

Episode 59 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Joy Dunn on Commonwealth Fusion Systems

Hello, and welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In chapter 3 of Soonish we discuss Fusion. Fusion is when 2 atoms fuse, and when this happens energy is released. You can capture this energy to power your toaster.

In Soonish, we focused mostly on big fusion projects in the field, which cost billions and tend to favor ever larger tokamaks – which are huge donut-shaped machines that magnetically confine plasma at high temperatures. (More on how tokamaks work can be heard in this week’s episode.)  

ITER is foremost among the tokamak projects, and is set to begin serious work around 2025 and is expected to cost around 30 billion dollars.

In the book we also took a look at some unorthodox designs for fusion, mostly made by small teams backed by venture capital. The fusion scientists we talked to tended to be skeptical of these alternative approaches.

So, we were excited to hear that a team with impeccable scientific credentials was being spun off from MIT to attempt a compact tokamak. They created a company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems, and they hope to do what ITER will do, but sooner and cheaper, largely thanks to new technology in superconducting magnets. If they succeed at making fusion an energy source, it would change everything from the speed of long distance space travel to the price of socks.

On today’s show we’re going to learn more about Commonwealth Fusion Systems by chatting with Joy Dunn. Ms. Dunn spent about 10 years at SpaceX, where she worked on and led teams working on the Dragon spacecrafts, and became known as the “Mother of Dragons”. She is currently Head of Manufacturing at Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

Soonish is available now in hardback and as an audiobook on Audible, and comes out in paperback on June 4 through Penguin Press in the US, and Particular Books is releasing a paperback version of the book in the UK this coming October.

Episode 57 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Peter Beck on Rocket Lab

Welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In this podcast series, we’re going to revisit each of the 10 technologies discussed in Soonish, expanding on topics touched on in the book, exploring related matters, and checking out new advances since the book came out.

That is – the stuff in the podcast will be different from the book, so go buy it.

The first chapter in Soonish is on Cheap Access to Space, and it was one of the hardest ones to write, because private launch companies were making advances so quickly it was hard to keep up.

But at some point, we had to put our pencils down, and we submitted the book to our editor in 2016.

A few months before our book came out in hardback in 2017 a company called Rocket Lab completed a test flight of its Electron rocket.

They’ve now entered high frequency launch operations, and as of May 5, 2019, they’ve launched 28 satellites into space.

Amazingly, Peter Beck, the founder and CEO of Rocket Lab (!), took the time to talk to me about how his company is democratizing space launch.

Rocket Lab’s logo.


Episode 56 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Dr. Elizabeth Frank on NewSpace

Welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In this podcast series, we’re going to revisit each of the 10 technologies discussed in Soonish, expanding on topics touched on in the book, exploring related matters, and checking out new advances since the book came out.

That is – the stuff in the podcast will be different from the book, so go buy it.

(Just a quick note that you shouldn’t confuse the Weekly Weinersmith’s Soonish podcast series with the excellent podcast called Soonish. The Soonish podcast is about emerging technology, and is run by Wade Rousch. Here is the episode where Wade was kind enough to have Zach and I on as guests.)

The first chapter in Soonish is on Cheap Access to Space. We mostly talk about ways to reduce the price of launching things into space, but reducing launch costs is only one part of a current movement called “NewSpace”.

In this first podcast episode, we interview Dr. Elizabeth Frank about NewSpace. Dr. Frank earned her PhD at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and did her postdoc at the Carnegie Institution for Science (working on NASA’s Messenger, which orbited Mercury). She then spent 2 years working at Planetary Resources, Inc., and is now an Applied Planetary Scientist at First Mode.

The Cheap Access to Space chapter in Soonish goes into detail about reusable rockets, as well as crazier that just might work – including shooting payloads into space using gigantic guns, and putting rockets on what amounts to an enormous pogo stick.

We also provide answers to critical questions like, would a space elevator make you puke? And would it be bad if someone decided to fling an asteroid at the Earth?

Finally, we tell the story of Gerald Bull – a Canadian engineer who ended up working on a supercannon in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and was then assassinated in a hotel in Brussels.


Episode 55 – The making of “Science – Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness”

Welcome back! Zach and Kelly promised to record an episode of The Weekly Weinersmith about the making of Zach’s new book “Science – Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness” as a preorder reward for their new book Soonish!

“Science – Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness” will be available through BackerKit for another week or two, and will then likely be available through the SMBC store for Christmas. Soonish is available through BackerKit and can be preordered through these stores. Check out the space elevator to see what other rewards are available to folks who preorder the book.

Episode 54 Soonish – Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything

Zach and Kelly are BACK! Well, for now. Turns out we haven’t just been sitting by the beach instead of recording podcasts – we’ve been writing a book! That book is called Soonish – Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything, and it’s coming out through Penguin Press in the US and Particular Books in the UK on October 17th. This episode gives you a flavor of what the book is about, and some insights into the harrowing tale of what we went through to write this book while working our “normal” jobs and raising 2 kids. You can preorder the book here. 

This episode is a preorder reward! As we sell more preorders we release additional rewards, including extra SMBC comics, signed bookplates, and Soonish bookmarks. Check out the reward page for more information.