The Secret History of the Future

22 EpisodesProduced by Slate PodcastsWebsite

Journey into the past, and you'll discover the secret history of the future. From the world's first cyberattack in 1834, to 19th-century virtual reality, The Economist's Tom Standage and Slate's Seth Stevenson examine the historical precedents that can transform our understanding of modern technolog… read more

22 Episodes | 2018 - 2019

S2E10: New Media, Old Story

September 4th, 2019

Radio was originally a social medium, as early radio sets (each of which could transmit as well as receive) turned cities into giant chatrooms, …

S2E9: A Brief History Of Timekeeping

August 28th, 2019

The first mechanical clocks were made to summon monks to prayer. Ever since, timekeeping technology has often been about control and obligation. But …

S2E8: Salvation In The Air

August 21st, 2019

At the dawn of the 20th century, chemists dreamed of extracting nitrogen from the air and turning it into a limitless supply of fertiliser. Sceptics thought they were crazy -- it was possible in theory, but it was …

S2E7: A Bug In The System

August 14th, 2019

The first ever computer program was written in 1843 by Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who hoped her far-sighted treatise on mechanical computers would …

S2E6: Dots, Dashes, and Dating Apps

August 7th, 2019

In the 19th century, young people wooed each other over the telegraph. But meeting strangers on the wires could lead to confusion, disappointment, …

S2E5: Mars on Earth

July 31st, 2019

Polar exploration was the Victorian equivalent of the space race. Major powers vied to outdo each other, funding expeditions to the most inhospitable …

S2E4: Meat and Potatoes

July 24th, 2019

The potato seemed strange and unappetizing when it first arrived in Europe. But it grew into a wonder food that helped solve the continent’s hunger …

S2E3: Unreliable Evidence

July 17th, 2019

In the early 20th century a new forensic technique—fingerprinting—displaced a cruder form of identification based on body measurements. Hailed as modern, scientific, and infallible, fingerprinting was adopted around the …

S2E2: Second Wind

July 10th, 2019


For thousands of years we sailed our cargo across oceans using zero-emission, 100 percent renewable wind. Then we switched to ships that run on oil, creating a global maritime fleet that pumps greenhouse gases into the …

S2E1: A Familiar Tune

July 3rd, 2019


The 19th century invention of the phonograph left composers worried they might not be paid for recordings. The 20th century proliferation of digital …

Season 2 Trailer

June 26th, 2019


What can 19th century polar exploration teach us as humans plan missions to Mars? Do modern online dating apps have anything to learn from romances …

S1E10: Infinite Scroll

November 7th, 2018

The Renaissance scholars couldn’t keep up with new information (“Have you read the latest Erasmus book?” “I don’t have time!”) and needed a better …

S1E9: A Little Less Conversation

October 31st, 2018

Some people thought the laying of the transatlantic cable might bring world peace, because connecting humans could only lead to better understanding …

S1E8: VR or It Didn’t Happen

October 24th, 2018

In the Victorian era, plaster casts became a way to preserve important artifacts in 3-D. Now, virtual reality promises to preserve places and …

S1E7: A Clock in the Sky

October 17th, 2018

In 1714, British parliament offered a huge cash prize to anyone who could find a way to determine longitude at sea. And it worked, sort of ... …

S1E6: From Zero to Selfie

October 10th, 2018

In 1969, an anthropologist introduced photographs and films to people in Papua New Guinea who’d never seen themselves represented in media before. It …

S1E5: Human Insecurity

October 3rd, 2018

The French telegraph system was hacked in 1834 by a pair of thieves who stole financial market information -- effectively conducting the world’s …

S1E4: The Fault In Our Cars

September 26th, 2018

The first pedestrian killed by a car in the western hemisphere was on New York’s Upper West Side in 1899.  One newspaper warned that “the automobile has tasted blood.” Today, driverless cars present their own mix of …

S1E3: Fork Fashions and Toilet Trends

September 19th, 2018

It took a long time for the fork to go from weird curiosity to ubiquitous tool. How long will it take for current technologies -- like the …

S1E2: The Body Electric

September 12th, 2018


We’ve used electricity to treat our brains for thousands of years, from placing electric fish on our heads to cure migraines to using …

S1E1: The Box That A.I. Lives In

September 5th, 2018

In the 18th century, a device called the Mechanical Turk convinced Europeans that a robot could play winning chess. But there was a trick. It’s a …

Season 1 Trailer

August 6th, 2018


Examine the history of tech to uncover stories that help us illuminate the present and predict the future. 

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