Capturing mosquitos with drones to track diseases, and other future predictions

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Welcome to Future Forecast, where every Friday, Real Future rounds up our favorite mildly plausible predictions for the future.

When describing people who are flat and lacking in emotional affect, we often rely on words like "robotic" to describe them. But that may change soon. Machines, at least according to some academics and tech-types, are about to make like the Tin Man and get a heart—or at least a few lines of code that will allow them to be a little more sensitive. Here is that prediction along with a few others we found entertaining (if not entirely plausible) this week:


1. Your phone will know if you're having a bad day

Our phones have become intimate companions, but sometimes they just don't seem to pull their weight in the relationship. I want to be acknowledged by my phone, for it to sense that I've had a hard day at work and offer to do the dishes—or at least, you know, ask me how my day was. But with companies like Lightwave making wearable sensors that can sense how we feel, Siri could get more sensitive soon "very, very soon," according to Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuro­economics Studies at Claremont Graduate University. We just need to give Siri Scarlett Johansson's voice and we'll be living in Her.


2. Cities will be built 'from the internet, up'

For the great urbanist Jane Jacobs, neighborhood street life was the core of a city's soul. Cities, Jacobs felt, should be designed to get people out into the streets walking, talking, shopping and meeting each other. But for modern developers, or at least those in New York, the vitality of the modern city relies on internet connectivity. Developers working on Hudson Yards, on New York's West Side, see their project as a testing ground for how to create a "smart city," digitally tracking things like traffic, energy consumption, and air quality to design for a higher quality of life. The city of the future, developers tell The Takeaway, will be a network of connected environments and the data on our phones will be the key to development. Cities, former New York City deputy mayor and Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel Doctoroff said, will be "quantified" and "built from the internet, up."

3. Mosquitos as an early warning system for disease

In the past, we have relied on internet searches to help us predict where illnesses like the flu might spread. Success, though, has been mixed. So researchers at Microsoft are now proposing a different approach to early disease detection. They want to use mosquitos "as a device" to find sick animals and sample their blood, then capture those mosquitos with drones and analyze them for pathogens in order to track diseases before they spread to humans. I guess we better rethink whether it's really a good idea to kill all the mosquitos.


4. Machines will predict the future

From a certain viewpoint, what we call "instinct" or "intuition" is actually a little bit like an ability to predict the future. Based on subtle signals like body language or tone of voice, we're able to judge, say, whether our date will respond well to a kiss goodnight. This week, MIT scientists announced that they have created an algorithm to do basically the same thing. Scientists trained computers on YouTube videos and TV shows such as “The Office” to give computers what they are calling "predictive vision" and guess whether two individuals will hug, kiss, shake hands or give each other a high-five. The algorithm got it right less than half of the time, but in the future, more accurate versions, scientists said, could be used for security cameras to predict when someone is about to get injured.

5. Europe will become a 'Europe of nations'

Oh wait, that's really just Europe regressing back to the past.