Author Archives: hilleli90

Warped Sense of Time Heightens Temptations

ImageImpulsivity arises from a tendency to want small imminent rewards more than big future benefits. How can we correct our skewed values to care for our future selves?

From my article in Scientific American

(Preview only, full article requires subscription or payment) 

Walk into any fast-food restaurant, and you can watch a small crowd of ordinary people doing something that is utterly irrational: eating junky, excess-weight-inviting food likely to leave them feeling bad about their bodies and open to a host of serious ills. We literally line up to trade our health and self-image for a few minutes of pleasant mouth feel and belly comfort—because the latter is right here, right now, whereas the former is months, years and decades away…read more.

Innovative Rebel: High-Tech Camera Maker Jim Jannard

After founding Oakley–and selling it for $2.1 billion–Jim Jannard is taking on the film industry with Red, his high-tech-camera company. But playing the innovative rebel can work against you, especially in Hollywood.

From my recent article in Inc. Magazine


One day in 2005, video-software engineer and entrepreneur Ted Schilowitz’s cell phone rang. “Ted? It’s me, Jim,” said the caller. “Let’s do it.”

“Uh … do what?” Schilowitz recognized the caller as Jim Jannard, the man who had founded sunglasses powerhouse Oakley and sold it for billions, and who had consulted with Schilowitz a few months before about a project that had led to a dead end.

“That thing we talked about. The camera. Remember?”

Yes, he remembered. Jannard, a camera nut, had persuaded him to look into what it would take to build a digital video camera whose output would look as good as film–and be much smaller and cheaper than a film camera to boot. Such a camera would represent an enormous leap beyond existing digital video cameras, whose relatively murky images limited their use by Hollywood pros.

Schilowitz, an expert in the workings of video technology, had investigated, and he had come back to Jannard with the bad news: Though every element of this hypothetical camera, from the body to the software, would be tough to develop, the sensor–the light-sensitive chip that replaces film in capturing an image–was a doozy. No existing image sensor on earth could match movie film…read more.

The Rise of the Robotic Work Force

ImageFamed roboticist Rodney Brooks is back with a breakthrough invention that could revitalize American manufacturing and automate millions of jobs.

From my article in Inc. Magazine

Two years ago, Scott Eckert, while on vacation in the south of France, gathered his family around his laptop. The month before, he had accepted a job as CEO of a secretive start-up that was developing an industrial robot, and now he was about to see a video of the first demo of the machine.

He and his two children watched silently as the robot, which turned out to be no more than a small, cranelike arm, shakily grabbed and lifted a plastic disk. The video ended. His 6-year-old son broke the silence. “Dad, is that it?” he said. Eckert wondered the same.

Everything about the company Eckert would soon be running had been a bit mysterious. When the headhunter contacted him months before, he wouldn’t tell Eckert much except that the company had been founded by famed scientist Rodney Brooks, who, until a few years earlier, had led…read more.


Innovation: Mining on the Moon


Check out this solar-powered rover designed to prospect for ice on the moon.

From my article for the Big Ideas Special Report in Inc. Magazine

In the past three years, NASA satellites have discovered evidence of ice on the poles of the moon. That’s a huge boon for future space missions, because lunar ice could be a source of water, oxygen, and fuel. Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology recently unveiled a prototype of a solar-powered lunar rover, Polaris, designed to locate ice on the north pole of the moon and extract samples for analysis. The 300-pound vehicleis made of light, tough composite materials and can accommodate a drill and science instruments weighing up to 176 pounds. William (“Red”) Whittaker, director of the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon University, founded Astrobotic in 2008. Since then, the company has received $3.6 million in contracts from NASA; it is a front-runner for the Google Lunar X Prize, which will be awarded to the first team to land a privately developed robot on the moon. Astrobotic plans to send Polaris to the moon in October 2015 using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the same rocketused to complete a recent cargo run to the International Space Station…read more.

Rise of the (Friendly) Drones

ImageUnmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator have been a hit for the military. Just wait 
until ordinary folks get their hands on them.

From my Impatient Futurist column in the October issue of Discover Magazine

The Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, has proven a formidable weapon for the U.S. military, quietly lurking in the sky and then zipping in to loose a missile on enemy targets. Its effectiveness raises an important question: When will I have a robotic plane of my own buzzing about that I might summon down to teach a lesson to some of the many deeply annoying people who cross my path? A mild Taser zap or even just a spitball would be fine.

I’m very likely out of luck on this score, due to the bizarre fact that neither Taser zaps nor spitballs share the constitutional protection afforded bullets. So I’ll just have to find other ways to make use of the tiny airborne drone that will almost certainly be at my beck and call in the not-too-distant future…read more.

House Calls for the 21st Century: Carrying a Doctor in Your Pocket

impatientHome diagnosis kits will soon let you give yourself a checkup whenever and wherever you want.

From my Impatient Futurist column in the September issue of Discover Magazine

I don’t know why people complain about going to the doctor for checkups. I’d go every week if I could. It’s not just for the sociability of exchanging interesting new microbes in the waiting room, or the pride in hearing my doctor mutter with approval when I hand her the 58-page printout of all the illnesses I’ve self-diagnosed based on what I’ve read on the Internet. Rather, it’s because I know that a lot of creepy things can happen in my body in a whole year.

Since my health insurance plan inexplicably won’t pay for weekly checkups, I’m faced with long, distressing gaps between visits. As with so many annoyances, this one got me wondering…read more.


ImageIn the coming decade, 
online primaries and elections might loosen 
America’s gridlock politics.

From my Impatient Futurist column in the September issue of Discover Magazine

Feuding between Democratic and Republican leaders has rendered the U.S. government nearly dysfunctional, with the summer 2011 deficit standoff only the most egregious recent example of gridlock run amok. As growing numbers of Americans say they are fed up with both parties, the door would seem open for an alternative. Historically, third parties have failed miserably: Ross Perot, the most successful independent presidential candidate in modern times, did not win a single state 
in 1992. Technology is changing the electoral rules, though, inspiring reformers to envision a new and more open brand of politics, one built around online voting and Facebook-style campaigns.

For a brief, shining moment last spring, it seemed as if that revolutionary concept might take hold in the United States. Americans Elect, founded and initially bankrolled by billionaire venture capitalist Peter Ackerman, launched plans to create a virtual third party via…read more.



The worst industrial spills call for something stronger than the old-fashioned bar sitting in your soap dish.

From my Impatient Futurist column in the June issue of Discover Magazine

Between freak arctic melting, Japanese nuclear melting, and antibiotic resistance popping up everywhere, I can’t help but see the world as tiptoeing into pre-apocalypse. If there is some sort of crapstorm coming and I’m lucky enough to survive it, there’s one thing I know for sure: I’m going to need a really good hand-cleaner for the aftermath. When I come in from a hard day of zombie hunting, it won’t be just dirt that I’ll need to get out from under my fingernails.

Actually, I could use that doomsday soap now—or rather, we all could. That’s because most of the human race has no intention of patiently waiting for an unspecified apocalypse and has already gotten a head start on mass despoiling. So far the tides of toxic waste and exploded-oil-rig crude haven’t made it as far as my sleepy burb. But right now somebody somewhere is facing a mess that Softsoap…read more.



All you need is $400,000 and the patience of Job.

From my Impatient Futurist column in the May issue of Discover Magazine

Like many people with limited social skills, I’ve always wanted a robot. And I’ve never been the least put off by the strict movie rule that having a robot can only result in its owner being pushed down the stairs, sucked into the vacuum of outer space, or enslaved with what’s left of humanity. I’m well aware that movie rules are hardly ever wrong, but it hasn’t been fear of betrayal that’s kept me from having a robot helper. It’s been the lack of their existence, in spite of a century of big talk. And this has left me not only without the sort of non–emotion-experiencing companion who could really understand me but also with a lot more laundry, cooking, dirty dishes, and child care than a technophilic citizen of the 21st century should have to put up with.

Useful home robots have always been about 20 years in the future, according to experts—a discouraging estimate, since the same experts assure me every other exciting technology under development is only 5 years away. Yes, I know, you can drive over to Walmart and pick up a carpet-vacuuming “robot” to keep your lawn-mowing “robot” company. While you’re there, why don’t you also grab a “house” in the camping department? I’ve got no interest in keeping company with hundreds of dumb, whirring little things. Scampering scrubbers and pot-stirrers are way too small and stupid to push me down the stairs when I’m not looking. read more.

The Perfected Self

B. F. Skinner’s notorious theory of behavior modification was denounced by critics 50 years ago as a fascist, manipulative vehicle for government control. But Skinner’s ideas are making an unlikely comeback today, powered by smartphone apps that are transforming us into thinner, richer, all-around-better versions of ourselves. The only thing we have to give up? Free will.

From my cover story in the June 2012 issue of The Atlantic


My younger brother Dan gradually put on weight over a decade, reaching 230 pounds two years ago, at the age of 50. Given his 5-foot-6 frame, that put him 45 pounds above the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s threshold of obesity. Accompanying this dubious milestone were a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and multiple indicators of creeping heart disease, all of which left him on a regimen of drugs aimed at lowering his newly significant risks of becoming seriously ill and of dying at an unnecessarily early age

He’d be in good company: a 2007 study by TheJournal of the American Medical Association found that each year, 160,000 Americans die early for reasons related to obesity, accounting for more than one in 20 deaths. The costs are not just bodily. Other studies have found that a person 70 or more pounds overweight racks up extra lifetime medical costs of as much as $30,000, a figure that varies with race and gender. And we seem to be just warming up: cardiologists who have looked at current childhood obesity rates…read more

Disruption Comes (Finally!) to Commercial Real Estate

How Jason Freedman (no relation) and 42Floors cooked up a killer business idea that could turn commercial real estate on its head.

From my article in the May issue of  Inc. Magazine

Jason Freedman hunches his shoulders against New York City’s December chill and walks faster, nudged both by the cold and by being late. He and David Woodworth, co-founders of an Internet company called 42Floors, both stand out a bit with their buoyant, vulnerable Californianess as they swim against the trudging, elbowing crowds.

Focused on the iPhone he clutches a foot in front of his face for navigational purposes, oblivious to how dorky and unsafe this seems on these streets, Freedman races on to the next stop in a two-day string of meetings, Woodworth trailing a few feet behind.

Freedman and Woodworth are several months into the creation of 42Floors, which aims to… read more

The Kitchen of the Future

An introduction to the visionaries planning tomorrow’s high-tech, ultra-efficient, green, and even mood-altering spaces designed for much more than cooking.

From my article in the April 2012 issue of Gourmet Live

The kitchen of the future has a long past. At world fairs and trade shows going back more than a century, crowds have been tantalized with slick visions of the extraordinary ways we’d be preparing foods in the coming decades. In particular, notes Ruth Oldenziel, a professor of American and European history at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, and coeditor of the book Cold War Kitchen, futuristic kitchens have long been used by marketers to excite us about new technologies. In the 1900s, it was the magic of natural-gas stoves, then in the 1920s and 1930s, the spread of electric and telephone utilities, then refrigeration in the 1940s, on through microwave ovens in the 1950s and even nuclear power in the Atomic Age kitchen (to say nothing of today’s quesadilla presses and single-serving coffeemakers). “In every generation, the kitchen of the future is a sort of passport photo for innovation,” says Oldenziel.

But lost in all the fuss over electromechanical, thermal, and radiative marvels, according to Oldenziel, was much discussion about changes…read more

Coupon Deals and the Search for New Customers

From my article in the Small Business Blog of The New York Times

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about two small businesses that were taking different approaches to employing Groupon-style social-network marketing as a way of drumming up business.

One of them, a restaurant called Acropolis in Needham, Mass., went with Living Social, whose service closely follows the Groupon model — meaning the coupon company sends the offer out to its large database of local consumers, takes a big chunk of the revenue that comes from selling the discount vouchers, and doesn’t share much customer information with the small business that buys the deal.

The other, the Urban Escape Day Spa in Golden, Colo., tried a new service called SaveLocal, which is offered by Constant Contact, a company best known for its e-mail marketing tools. With SaveLocal, there are some important differences…read more

Your Personal Automated Mass Transit Vehicle Is on Its Way

Get out of your car and into your flying train, 
superclean superbus, and most impressive of all, your personal subway.

From my Impatient Futurist column in the the April issue of Discover

Despite my mania for all manner of irresponsible personal vehicles, I’m actually a public-transportation nut. A few of the reasons:
• I can read, check email, send text messages, or catch a few winks while I’m zipping to my destination
• I have built-in motivation for walking, given that I have to get to and from the bus or train stop
• I feel good that my ride isn’t fueled by the conversion of fossilized sea life into impending climate catastrophe
• I get to trade small talk and occasional newspaper sections with fellow transit riders.

But I know you have your very good reasons for being among the 98 percent of the population that shuns public transportation:
• You can read, check email, send text messages, or catch a few winks while you’re swerving into oncoming traffic and pedestrians
• You have built-in motivation for stopping at Wendy’s for celebration takeout, given that you haven’t had to walk more than nine consecutive steps the entire day
• You feel good about the copious burning of hydrocarbons, which is creating valuable new beachfront property
• You get to trade hand gestures and occasional gunfire with fellow traffic jammers.

Ok, go ahead and sneer at my bus through the windshield of your Range Rollover…read more