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The technologies that will transform our lives decades from now.
Let's start with a bit of background. The Emmy-winning PBS program Nova has been on the air for decades, devoting itself to exploring different scientific subjects in each new installment. It's a consistently engaging program, but apparently there were some who felt the whole thing was just a little too…well, slow. And so, the companion program Nova scienceNOW (complete with hip, unconventional use of capital and lowercase letters!) was born. The first season was hosted by Robert Krulwich, but he was quickly replaced by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Under Tyson's reign, the newsmagazine-style show was an appealing piece of lightweight edutainment, with the host's thoughtful queries adding moments of real substance to each episode. Now, Tyson has been replaced with the bouncy David Pogue, and the show feels much different as a result.
To be sure, Nova scienceNOW is still a likable show, but the tone has changed considerably. While Tyson was a fairly low-key presence, Pogue is more or less a living cartoon character. As he encounters a host of technological developments, he does wacky double-takes, mugs for the camera incessantly and leaps at any opportunity to goof around with the assorted newfangled devices he's introduced to. This approach could have been pretty obnoxious in the wrong hands, but Pogue pulls it off thanks to his earnest charm. The show leans heavier on the entertainment side of things than ever before, but there are still some juicy tidbits.
The first portion of the installment included on this disc (What Will the Future Be Like?) focuses on robots, as a handful of scientists attempt to explain why it's just so difficult to get a human-sized robot to walk naturally (or at all). It would seem like a fairly simple problem given some of the many other complex tasks robots can handle, but walking remains a major hurdle. There's also some discussion about the role robots might play in terms of caring for seniors and children in the future, and the challenges that need to be overcome before that can be a reality. Another segment focuses on wearable robots that might make it much easier for a human to carry massive amounts of equipment (something that could be quite useful for firefighters or members of the military).
The most fascinating section of the documentary comes during its final segment, as Pogue speaks to a video game designer who has found a way to use games to find solutions for complex medical problems. Through the creation of a game called "Fold It," the designer and the game's many players managed to make a major breakthrough in the search for an AIDS cure in just three weeks. While it's a bit more complicated than curing cancer by leveling up in Skyrim, that could essentially be where we're headed if designers can continue to find ways to fuse practical problem-solving with entertainment.
What Will the Future Be Like? has received a strong standard-def transfer, offering sturdy detail throughout. There's a bit of talking head footage, but there are also a lot of interesting visuals as we get an opportunity to witness a variety of robotic devices in action (a little wide-eyed robot named Darwin is the most adorable thing ever). The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is perfectly adequate for the documentary's purposes, delivering the dialogue, bits of sound design and the snappy score with clarity. No supplements are featured on the disc.
Nova scienceNOW may be a different show under Robert Pogue's leadership, but it's still a charming and informative way to spend an hour. This installment is certainly worth checking out.
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