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5 TV Shows that Predicted the Future

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Sitting around watching television might not be as useless as you think. Certain shows have been remarkably accurate in their forecasts of the future. The list suggests that British TV producers are far more prophetic than their American counterparts. But that's OK; when someone invents Warp Drive, I'll revise the list.

1. The Troubleshooters (1965-1972)

This drama about Mogul, a British multinational oil company, had its finger on the pulse. Three days after BP struck oil in Alaska, viewers saw Mogul do the same "“ in an episode that had been filmed months earlier. In another episode, Mogul took over a chemical firm. BP did the same later that week. One episode included a huge explosion on an oil rig, but it wasn't even broadcast before a real explosion happened on the North Sea. Troubleshooters even showed people living in underwater houses as they probed the sea for oil. Within three years, even this piece of science fiction was a reality. Thankfully, none of the episodes portrayed nuclear disaster. "I am staggered how accurate they are in technical matters," said a Shell executive. "Of course, in real life we don't have blondes lying about on beds. We miss this facility."

2. The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968)

sex-olympics.jpgAh, I bet that got your attention! Unfortunately, this British TV play wasn't as arousing as the title suggested, but it was still amazingly prescient. In the future, 98 percent of people depend on television for everything. To quell the population explosion, they watch "applied pornography" to put them off sex (which is the only excuse for that title, I'm afraid), and they watch gluttony programs to put them off food. But when they lose interest, the network execs have a great new idea: send a family to a deserted island and film them 24/7 in a show called The Live Life Show. Yes, in the space of one episode, the show predicted reality television "“ and predicted that the masses would go wild for it. No network has yet been allowed to try the show's main ratings stunt: dropping a murderer on the island to hunt them down. (Though I wouldn't rule it out...)

3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981)

hitch-hikers.jpgThis wasn't meant to be prophetic, but the celebrated British TV show (formerly a radio serial and a trilogy of best-selling novels) has been hailed as a visionary work. In the series, the Guide was an electronic, hand-held book that, with a few keystrokes, could provide detailed information on any planet or alien race. Fans of the late Douglas Adams, the series' creator, suggest that he envisioned both the web and e-books. Adams was bemused by this. "When I originally described the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, over 20 years ago, I was only joking," he said in 2000. "I didn't see myself as a predictive kind of science fiction writer, like Arthur C. Clarke who more or less single-handedly invented the communications satellite"¦ But it turns out that I, inadvertently, had a terribly good idea. I really didn't foresee the internet. But then, neither did the computer industry."

4. MI5 (2002-)

spooks.jpgYet another British series, this spy thriller (known in the UK as Spooks) seems to follow in the prophetic footsteps of The Troubleshooters. "It's almost like reading series six by opening the newspaper," said lead actor Rupert Penry-Jones in 2007. "Sometimes the scripts are coming out when the newspapers are coming out with almost the same stories. It's uncanny." This hasn't always been good news. In one of the more unfortunate coincidences, scenes in which bombs went off around London were filmed only a day before the 2005 London terrorist bombings. "We had to change quite a lot of it because it was all a bit tasteless," said Penry-Jones. "It seemed like we were cashing in on what happened, when we'd pretty much already shot it the day before it happened."

5. The Lone Gunmen (2001)

lone-gunmen.jpgFinally, an American show "“ and this prediction was perhaps the most amazing of them all. In the pilot episode of this short-lived X-Files spin-off, broadcast on March 4, 2001, the heroes uncovered a U.S. Government plot to fly a passenger jet into the World Trade Center (by remote-control) and blame terrorists, thereby justifying an increase in the military budget. On television, this scheme was averted. In reality, of course, two jet planes did indeed hit the World Trade Center barely six months later. (Despite the conspiracy theories, most people don't blame this on the U.S. Government.) Still, the plot was tragically prescient. After 9/11, many broadcasters banned reruns of this episode for reasons of sensitivity. The whole series (all 13 episodes) is now on DVD, though naturally, this light-hearted show now seems somewhat darker than it was trying to be.

Mark Juddery is a writer and historian based in Australia. See what else he's written at markjuddery.com.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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