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1090 Speaking About the Future

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1090 – Speaking about the Future.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,090. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download a Learning Guide for this episode. This episode is a dialogue between Robert and Mara, talking about things that will happen in the future. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Robert: These designs are really futuristic-looking.

Mara: I’m trying to be forward-thinking and imagine what the world will be like in 50 to 100 years.

Robert: You think that the world will be filled with space-age gadgets like these?

Mara: That’s the natural evolution of technology for the next 100 years, I think. We will continue to develop labor-saving devices, simpler ways of doing everyday tasks, and to improve artificial intelligence.

Robert: I’m not sure I want to live in a world that looks like that. It seems so cold and impersonal.

Mara: That’s only because most of us have a fear of the unknown.

Robert: That’s me in a nutshell. I’d rather return to a simpler way of life with as little innovation and technology as possible.

Mara: Like modern sanitation and transportation?

Robert: Well, I want to go back in time with some things, but keep my conveniences.

Mara: So you want to pick and choose? That shouldn’t be a problem when we figure out time travel.

[end of dialogue]

Robert begins the dialogue by saying to Mara, “These designs are really futuristic-looking.” The word “futuristic” (futuristic) comes from the word “future,” meaning something that is not present or past in time. There’s really only one other possibility, and that would be something that hasn’t yet happened, or the future. So “futuristic” means very forward-looking, very modern – something that looks like, well, something from the future, even though that’s not technically possible.

Mara says, “I’m trying to be forward-thinking and imagine what the world will be like in 50 to 100 years.” “To be forward-thinking” means to be thinking about the future, planning for the future. Robert says, “You think that the world will be filled with space-age gadgets like these?” “Gadgets” (gadgets) are small machines or devices or tools that do something interesting, that do something different, some form of technology.

“Space-age” is a term you don’t hear as much now as you did maybe in the 1960s and ’70s. “Space-age” refers to the period of time when man is now able to go out into outer space – the area outside of our own world. So, “space-age” refers really to the modern era, or the modern period.

Mara says, “That’s the natural evolution of technology for the next 100 years, I think.” “Technology” refers to the application of science in finding practical solutions to things, or simply the creativity of the person who makes a certain thing. “Technology” could refer to lots of different things, but basically to tools or things we use to accomplish something. Nowadays when you say “technology,” people usually think of computer technology.

“Evolution” is the process of change over a period of time, usually a long period of time. In biology, the “theory of evolution” is associated with the British scientist of the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin. But here we’re talking not about evolution of human beings, but technological evolution – the changing technology.

Mara continues, “We will continue to develop labor-saving devices to find simpler ways of doing everyday tasks and to improve artificial intelligence.” A “labor (labor) – saving device” is some tool or device or machine that saves you work. “Labor-saving” refers to the time and energy you need in order to accomplish something, to do something. So for example, email in many ways is a labor-saving device. You don’t have to go to the post office and mail a letter. You can just do it from your own home, or wherever you are if you have a phone with email.

Mara says also in the future, we will continue “to improve artificial intelligence.” “Artificial intelligence” is the idea that a computer is able to use information in order to make decisions – to act as if it were like a human being. I won’t get into the philosophical problems with that definition or that line of thinking, but usually, in computing, we’re talking about the ability of the computer to learn certain rules and apply those rules according to the programming of the computer.

Robert says, “I’m not sure I want to live in a world that looks like that. It seems so cold and impersonal.” Something that is “impersonal” (impersonal) is something that you are not close to – something or some person that you don’t have a lot of feelings for or emotion towards. Robert is talking about a world that is “cold and impersonal.” He means a world in which there isn’t a lot of human feeling, perhaps even human interaction. That would be certainly “impersonal.”

Mara says, “That’s only because most of us have a fear of the unknown.” A “fear (fear) of the unknown” is when you are afraid of or scared of things that you don’t understand, that you don’t know about. Now, of course, I think most of us have a fear of the unknown. It could be good. It could be bad. But if you don’t know what it is, you at the very least might want to be a little cautious.

Mara is saying that the reason Robert doesn’t like Mara’s vision of the future is that he has a fear of the unknown. This is also a common way of dismissing or countering someone’s argument – by saying that they have some serious psychological problem. This is quite common in politics as well as in personal relations, but back to the story. Robert says, “That’s me in a nutshell.” The expression “in a nutshell” (nutshell) means in a very short form, in a very brief summary. Instead of giving someone a long explanation, you give them just the essential facts or the essential information.

I read somewhere recently that this expression actually comes from a comment made by the Roman author Pliny the Elder about how he had heard that there was a copy of Homer’s great poems The Iliad and The Odyssey that were written so small, on such a small piece of paper, that they could all be fit inside of a nutshell. That seems impossible to me, but that’s at least one theory about where this expression “in a nutshell” comes from. It means in very precise terms, in the fewest number of words possible to express an idea.

Robert says, “I’d rather return to a simpler way of life with as little innovation and technology as possible.” A “simpler way of life” would be a less complicated way of living, with less distractions. “Innovation” (innovation) refers to inventing new things or creating new technology. The verb is “to innovate.” “Novus” (novus) is the Latin word for “new” and that’s where we get this term, ultimately, from. Robert wants a simpler way of life with as little innovation as possible.

Mara says, “Like modern sanitation and transportation?” Mara is asking Robert if he wants to live in a world where you don’t even have modern transportation like cars and airplanes, or modern “sanitation” (sanitation). “Sanitation” refers to cleanliness. We might also use the word “hygiene” (hygiene). That would refer to your personal cleanliness – taking showers and brushing your teeth, having bathrooms that operate in an efficient way. This is all part of sanitation.

Roberts says, “Well, I want to go back in time with some things, but keep my conveniences.” “To go back in time” would be impossible, of course. It means to return to an earlier time, before the time in which you are now living. “Conveniences” refers to things that make your life easier – things like, say, Google, or a car, or the ability to download podcasts and listen to them on your way to work. These are all modern conveniences – in some cases, quite recent conveniences.

Mara says, “So, you want to pick and choose?” meaning you want to pick the things or select the things that you want to keep and those that you don’t. She says, “That shouldn’t be a problem when we figure out time travel.” “Time travel” is the idea that you are able to travel either forward or backwards in time. This is just a theoretical ability. I’m not sure if most scientists think it would ever be possible, but there are some that do.

There’s a popular British television show that’s been on for years and years called Doctor Who. Doctor Who is a time traveler. He goes back and forth in time in his little machine. I used to watch that show when I was in high school back in the 1970s. It’s a British sci-fi, or science fiction show. But Mara of course is joking. She doesn’t think that we will figure out or be able to understand time travel, at least not soon enough to benefit Robert.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Robert: These designs are really futuristic-looking.

Mara: I’m trying to be forward-thinking and imagine what the world will be like in 50 to 100 years.

Robert: You think that the world will be filled with space-age gadgets like these?

Mara: That’s the natural evolution of technology for the next 100 years, I think. We will continue to develop labor-saving devices, simpler ways of doing everyday tasks, and to improve artificial intelligence.

Robert: I’m not sure I want to live in a world that looks like that. It seems so cold and impersonal.

Mara: That’s only because most of us have a fear of the unknown.

Robert: That’s me in a nutshell. I’d rather return to a simpler way of life with as little innovation and technology as possible.

Mara: Like modern sanitation and transportation?

Robert: Well, I want to go back in time with some things, but keep my conveniences.

Mara: So you want to pick and choose? That shouldn’t be a problem when we figure out time travel.

[end of dialogue]

The most important innovator here at ESL Podcast is our wonderful and creative scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse. Thank you, Lucy.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
futuristic – relating to the future, not the present or past; representing what people think will happen in the future

* The team is working on some futuristic plans for cars that can drive themselves.

forward-thinking – thinking about the future and preparing for what might or will happen, without focusing too much on the present

* They made some really smart, forward-thinking investments in information technology 20 years ago.

space-age – related to the distant future when advanced technology is common

* Callum wants to become a scientist or engineer so he can design space-age transportation to allow people to travel almost at the speed of light.

gadget – a small device, machine, or tool that does something clever, useful, or interesting

* This gadget makes it easy to peel garlic.

evolution – how something changes and develops over time, especially when talking about living things

* According to theories of evolution, humans are closely related to primates.

technology – the application of science and computer technology to find practical solutions to problems and create new inventions

* Medical technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and now, surgeons can perform laser surgery without leaving a large scar on the patient’s body.

labor-saving – reducing the amount of time and energy required for people to do something; something that decreases the amount of work that people have to do

* The washing machine is a great labor-saving device, because it makes it much faster and easier to wash clothing and towels.

artificial intelligence – the ability of a computer, especially a robot, to interact with humans and make decisions

* The research team is trying to develop a machine with the artificial intelligence to allow deaf and mute people to communicate more easily.

impersonal – without close, personal relationships that develop from having good interpersonal skills and sharing one’s thoughts and feelings

* Sending a text message to say thanks seems too impersonal. It would be better to send a handwritten letter.

fear of the unknown – a feeling of anxiousness and fright when thinking about what might happen, but not knowing what will happen, especially because something has never been tried before

* Moving to a new country is exciting if you can get over the fear of the unknown.

in a nutshell – in summary; expressed in just a few words; at the core or center

* Heather is intelligent, beautiful, caring, ambitious, and fun to be with. In a nutshell, she’s perfect for your brother.

simpler way of life – a lifestyle that involves few possessions, a lot of freedom, and few responsibilities, especially in the past (not modern times)

* Many young people are learning how to sew their own clothes, make their own furniture, and grow fruits and vegetables out of a desire to return to a simpler way of life.

innovation – the process of creating new things, building on earlier discoveries and inventions

* Innovation has allowed us to build fighter jets, jumbo airliners, and space shuttles since humans learned how to fly.

sanitation – hygiene; cleanliness that allows one to be healthy

* Basic sanitation requires washing your hands after using the bathroom and before preparing food.

to go back in time

Comprehension Questions
1. What is “artificial intelligence”?
a) Smart people
b) Robots and computers
c) Automated education systems

2. What does Robert mean when he says, “That’s me in a nutshell”?
a) Mara has him confused with someone else.
b) Mara does not understand him very well.
c) Mara has described him very well.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
forward-thinking

The phrase “forward-thinking,” in this podcast, means to thinking about the future and preparing for what might or will happen, without focusing too much on the present: “Who had the forward-thinking idea to expand into Southeast Asia before the region had begun to experience significant economic growth?” The phrase “from this/that time forward” means beginning at that this/that time and continuing to the present and into the future: “The minister asked, ‘Do you promise to love, honor, and protect her from this day forward?’” Finally, the phrase “to look forward to (something)” means to anticipate something and be excited about it happening, because one believes it will be good or enjoyable: “We are really looking forward to your visit next month!”

to go back in time

In this podcast, the phrase “to go back in time” means to return to the way things were in an earlier time: “If I could go back in time, I would have asked Meghan to marry me much earlier.” The phrase “to get back to doing (something)” means to resume or continue doing something that one had stopped doing: “Once this press conference is over, we can get back to doing our real work.” The phrase “to put (something) on the back burner” means to procrastinate or to delay doing something because one needs to focus on other things: “Last semester, Greg’s mother got sick, so he had to put his studies on the back burner.” Finally, the phrase “to back the wrong horse” means to support something that loses or is not successful: “We thought the new product would succeed, but apparently, we were backing the wrong horse.”

Culture Note
The Back-to-the-Land Movement

The back-to-the-land “movement” (interest by a growing number of people in doing something or changing society in some way) encourages people to grow their own food for themselves and for others, without depending heavily on supermarkets and the modern agricultural and food processing and distribution systems.

Some people support the back-to-the-land movement because they see it as an important “component” (part) of economic independence. They believe that Americans should be more independent and “capable of” (able to do something) surviving the “collapse” (complete failure and end) of society. For example, if there were an environmental disaster or a major “war” (fighting between large groups of people), only those who have are part of the back-to-the-land movement will have “sufficient” (enough) resources to feed themselves.

Others embrace the back-to-the-land movement because they think it represents a return to simpler, more “wholesome” (simple and good) times when there was a slower “pace of life” (the speed at which things happen and the amount of stress and number responsibilities that people have) and more enjoyment. They think that growing their own food, as well as learning how to “preserve” (save for future use) the “harvest” (what is taken from a garden or field), for example through “canning” (placing food in glass jars under high temperature and pressure to keep food safe from bacteria), is simply a good thing to do in life, and they encourage others to “follow in their footsteps” (copy and do what they are doing).

Comprehension Answers
1 - b

2 - c