5 Things You Do Every Day That Will Kill You In The Future
The quality of our life is at a level that would make medieval kings immediately vow allegiance to us for just a taste of all the relative luxuries we revel in. Smart people are coming up with new, game-changing improvements almost on a weekly basis. But there's a flip side to all this progress. We're so busy pooping out world-changing technologies that we never stop to ask the question documentaries like The Terminator have shown should always, always be asked: Is there a chance that this amazing invention will unexpectedly murder our asses?
If you did, I think you'd find that the answer is quite often: Shit yes there is.
E-Cigarettes -- And Not For The Reasons You Think
Vaping is the fedora of vices: It has its place in a civilized society, but a bunch of abrasive dipshits are doing their level best to ruin it for everyone. Personally, I've never held a particularly strong opinion about this habit. If you really want to suck weird-smelling vapor off a sonic screwdriver for kicks and are not actively being a dick about it, more power to you. What's the alternative? Smoking? I used to do that; it's a great way to look and feel like dog shit. An e-cigarette, on the other hand, may struggle in the "makes you look cool" department (especially if you pair it with a fucking fedora), but at least it won't kill you.
Though if you do this on someone's face, they just might.
Man, that was an ominous sentence. It's almost as if I was setting up an ironic subheader ...
Why It Will Kill Us:
To be fair, current science isn't completely sure whether the nicotine vapor in e-cigarettes is super dangerous. Especially compared with regular cigarettes, common sense alone indicates that they can't be described as all that deadly. However, remember those weird flavors vapers so enjoy that I was talking about? Those are a different thing altogether. In 2015, vapers got an early Christmas present in the form of scientific research that revealed the secret ingredient in many e-cig refill liquids: diacetyl. This relatively harmless-sounding chemical is OK to eat, but when you breathe it in, you risk an irreversible, debilitating lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans, aka popcorn lung.
Although incurable, potentially fatal, and dangerous to the point of possibly requiring a lung transplant, popcorn lung is not immediately deadly (as far as we know). It gains its name from a popcorn factory where workers inhaled diacetyl-containing artificial butter flavoring over a long period of time, so a little vaping might not give you enough to get it (as far as we know). It may not even necessarily be an automatic side-effect of vaping at all (AS FAR AS WE KNOW).
However, if you spotted a hint of parenthesesed reproach just now, it's because there's precisely zero data on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes. Maybe everyone who's experimented with vape-juices with stupid names like "Tutti Frutti" or "Lorde's Butthole" will eventually develop popcorn lung, in which case you won't see the sky from all the lawsuits flying back and forth. Maybe the researchers are just crying wolf and e-cigarettes are actually completely harmless. Or maybe, just maybe, there's an even stranger option, such as Big Cigarette developing some sort of dumbass hybrid between real cigarettes and e-cigarettes, potentially fucking up the whole thing to give people of the future both popcorn lung and tar-laced cancer ...
... wait, they're already developing hybrid cigarettes? God-fucking-dammit.
Flying -- And It Has Nothing To Do With Crashes
We've known for a while that flying may not be quite as safe as the statistics are telling you. I'm not talking about finding yourself in the middle of a plane hijacking or some weird, Lost-type scenario or whatever combination of those two happened to that Malaysia Airlines jet. No, the culprit is plain ol' cancer, courtesy of altitudes where the atmosphere blocks less of the radiation bullshit that space and our own sun throw at us.
Don't worry, though: Experts state that normal fliers "probably" don't have much to worry about. It's mostly pilots, airplane personnel, and hardcore frequent fliers who might be looking at a fistful of cellular fuckery somewhere down the line.
Why It Will Kill Us:
We fly higher and higher, and the day when space becomes available to more than just the elite and/or wealthy is creeping nearer and nearer. Guess what all that space radiation is doing while we're developing the technology to do so? Eating popcorn and waiting for your specific ass to amble by, that's what.
Fuck far-fetched future shenanigans; commercial space travel is totally happening, and Elon Musk's exploding rocket is far from the only thing to fry the weary future traveler. Suborbital space travel is up-and-coming fast, both as a space tourism experience and as an actual, super-fast traveling method. Commercial space travel, commercial space stations, the works. Sure, it's expensive at first, but so was every major landmark invention. Prices will eventually come down, technology will keep developing, and before you know it, your annoying neighbor has a summer house up at Elysium and humanity is one warp drive short of going full Star Trek on the galaxy.
Who knows, maybe one day we'll even encounter a Starman.
That is when you need to start worrying about flight radiation -- when you buy that economy class ticket to American Suborbital 357 to go visit your friend in Murmansk. That's when it's time to start wondering about cancer. Space cancer, one that we know little about and that is highly dependent on a multitude of factors. Half of them we'll have no idea about until the first generation of suborbital frequent fliers explodes in a mass of festering tumors (or doesn't). The other half is dependent on various particle hails brought to us by the sun and other stars, known as space weather. It can expose you to various amounts of radiation ranging from "a stroll down the street" to "fuck you, you're dead -- signed, the universe."
Sure, maybe everything'll go fine. Maybe your space plane will be protected and there won't be any surprise gamma ray bursts screaming at you from outer space at breakneck speeds. But we both know you bought the cheapest ticket you could find, and the weather's always shitty when you fly.
Have a nice flight!
Hands-Free Technology, Which Is Ironically Considered A Safety Feature
The mobile phone is both the blessing and bane of the modern age; it enables us to access all the information in the world ... while zombie-walking under a speeding car, as you and the driver both browse the minuscule chunk of that information your Facebook feed drips you. Luckily, we've recognized our dumbass, symbiotic relationship with our futuristic machinery and created further gadgets to enable us to simultaneously function in the physical world.
Hands-free phone tech for drivers is increasingly implemented to combat distracted driving, which killed over 3,100 and injured 424,000 U.S. drivers in 2013 alone. In addition to the phone companies' own voice-activated technology, many new cars feature their own voice-controlled systems that sync with your smartphone, leaving you free to concentrate on the road. End of problem, right? With technology like that, the biggest risk you'll face is Siri accidentally spoiling The Force Awakens if you mumble the wrong command.
Which, to be fair, is a perfectly acceptable reason for road rage.
Only, hands-free technology is a total placebo. In fact, it's worse than a placebo, because study after study after goddamned study shows it does next to nothing to reduce the risk of an accident. In fact, just like the old wedge-the-phone-between-your-cheek-and-shoulder tactic, hands-free zombifies the shit out of you.
What the fuck, Mazda 6?
For those who can't read the small print: It shows the mental distraction rankings of changing the music or making calls using different voice command systems while driving. Regardless of how swift you are with your actual voice commands, those factors translate to a total zone-out for up to 27 seconds -- the length of three football fields at a modest speed of 25 mph.
Why It Will Kill Us:
All the research I mentioned earlier also reveals another fascinating thing: That our tendency to zone out while dicking with our phones is hard-wired into our brain. It doesn't seem to care which part of our corporeal form is actually delivering the commands to our phone. So, short of actually rewiring our brains, there's little we can do about the issue.
Yet, we keep coming up with high-tech, hands-free products that are supposed to help us deal with the problem. And as time goes by and these systems become increasingly common and intricate, I'll bet that the image of their relative safety is going to take root. Think about it: Does the kind of person who can't help but tinker with their phone while zooming about in a 2,000-pound murder machine bother to spend two minutes on Google to find out their brand-new, supposedly foolproof genitals-to-phone interface is actually as effective a risk-reduction technology as a three-pound packet of toe jam? "Shit no!" they're going to scream at their phone as they zap around on the interstate, brains unknowingly switched to Netflix mode, right up until they notice that they probably shouldn't be in the same lane as that rapidly approaching semi. Still, luckily, this will be a moot issue in a decade or so, when all cars will drive themselves.
Yeah, about that ...
Self-driving cars have been under development for a few years now. Tesla already introduced a complex autopilot system in some of its vehicles in 2015, and Google rolls out their fully driverless version of the theme any year now. I'm not saying either company is actively trying to trigger the carpocalypse. It's just that when a thing is designed to robo-race humans down an intricate road system at any capacity, at some point something is going to go wrong and other humans will be in the way. And, at that point, a truly self-driving car will need to make a decision. And we just have to hope that it's not angry when it does.
Pictured: a decision.
Why It Will Kill Us:
Cracked has already talked about the potential future need to figure out how to minimize deaths caused by self-driving cars -- possibly by using complex "moral" algorithms that, if you're about to veer into a dozen civilians, might well wind up killing you in an attempt to minimize the loss of life. Well, that potential future is here, and ... we're kind of still figuring out our shit. According to the MIT Technology Review, driverless cars must be straight-up programmed to kill, while others insist the whole idea is a misconception and a self-driving car is just a clever wheel-box going from point A to point B. All I know is that we're ultimately talking about traffic, and traffic's insane no matter what algorithms you use. At some point, a self-driving car will wind up killing a person. It's plain statistics. After that, well, let's just hope that the situation will be more of a giant media shitstorm and less of a full-on Maximum Overdrive scenario.
So, you know, maybe don't design them to look like this.
In my opinion, what tips the scale toward the latter is the talk of bringing in actual philosophers to help wrench the ethics system in the car's electro-brain. Guys, I don't care how you're planning to solve the whole killing-people thing, but please refrain from doing this. Ten out of ten apocalyptic scavenger groups testify that filling a machine with a bunch of first-year-philosophy-student stuff is the absolute best way to make it slam into the side of a mountain because "the ultimate protection is nonexistence."
Come on, you knew this was coming.
They say behind every visionary futurist there's an angry, drunken man with a sledgehammer, prepared to smash everything to smithereens if whatever's being built so much as twitches the wrong way. I'm that guy. I've made my feelings about robots abundantly clear in the past, and I continue to buy into the Linda Hamilton school of robotics.
It's not just my inherent desire to drop-kick everything that's technological and moves, either. Robots have a murder history that spans back close to four decades. The first person who met his end at the techno-hands of a remorseless machine was Robert Williams, a Ford factory worker who was quite literally punched to death by the arm of an assembly-line robot in fucking 1979. Two years later, another industrial robot saw fit to feed Williams' Japanese colleague Kenji Urada to a gear-processing machine at the Akashi plant of Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Was human error involved in both cases? Yep! In fact, the vast majority of the 33 robot-related deaths and injuries in the U.S. within the last 30 years have been of the human-error variety, though there is the occasional tale featuring terms like "unexpectedly" and "there's no way to know for sure" in there.
As in, there's no way to know for sure why XD-50 is unexpectedly sitting in your office,
wearing your clothes, and talking about deleting the human error.
So, maybe, just maybe, the robots are actually innocent after all? Maybe this is just humanity being a bunch of dipshits, as per usual?
Why They Will Kill Us:
Some experts are super worried about the future of robotics and the possible human-killing antics that might occur, while others scoff at the very idea. Me, I find myself shuffling into the corner of the smartest guy in the room: When Stephen freaking Hawking says that if we develop these fuckers to the point of artificial intelligence, they just might up and start dismantling us, I'm going to sit down and fucking listen.
Of course I'm not saying every single robot out there is just looking for an excuse to Robert Patrick your ass to oblivion. The fact that robotic surgery has likely caused 144 deaths and over 1,000 injuries in the U.S. over the last 14 years doesn't take away the fact that human-controlled robot surgery is still quite safe and comes with advantages such as smaller scars and less chance of infection, which is a pretty good deal for a minuscule chance that the Surg-O-Matic 3000 will accidentally slice a bit deeper than intended. After all, human surgeons make mistakes too.
That being said, even the people who flat-out reject the notion of robot murder sometimes have difficulty convincing the notoriously fickle Poisuo demographic about the safety of robotics. Quoth Blay Whitby, artificial intelligence expert at the University of Sussex:
"With present technology we cannot 'blame' the robot. Robots are not yet at a level where their decision-making allows us to treat them as blameworthy."
So, yeah. If it's all the same to you, I'll be in my bunker with my homie Stephen. We need to hone our tag-team finishing move to successfully take on the upcoming robocalypse.
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