show more detailshow less detail


01Can Civility Survive?2014091020140913

Mathematician Hannah Fry and guests look at whether civility can survive in the modern age


We live in a world that is being globalised by ever-accelerating trade and technology.

And we live in a world that is being tribalised by resurgent group identities.

In such a world, can the complex, delicate codes of civility - the hidden wiring of civilisation - survive?

Future Proofing challenges three people from very different disciplines to find out.

Mathematician Hannah Fry talks to a woman whose mother's railway suicide provoked a storm of online abuse.

And she gathers all tweets sent in the UK in the week before the programme, to test out where and when we Brits are at our most uncivil.

Literary scholar Ian Sansom travels to meet a couple of London police officers who have retired to Cumbria to run a fish and chip shop. Is the countryside really more civil than the city? And what does Geoff Mulgan, one of our leading scholars of the future, make of Ian's findings?

Meanwhile, journalist Saira Shah revisits the terrifying story of her brother's wrongful imprisonment in a Pakistani torture prison - and how her understanding of the codes of civility helped her get him out.

And so, finally, Hannah, Saira and Ian meet to compare notes and try to fathom whether civility has a future - and if so, how it will have to adapt to survive in the 21st century.

Producers: Laurence Grissell and Phil Tinline.

02The Immortality Of The Crab2014091720140920

To be human is to seek immortality. Tom Shakespeare daydreams about everlasting life.

To be human is to seek immortality, whether by freeing the soul or freezing your brain. It's the root of religion, the inspiration of philosophy and the driving force behind music, art and literature. Tom Shakespeare daydreams about everlasting life. A poet with a chisel in his hand struggles for posterity, an archivist fights to keep everything forever and an anaesthetist tiptoes the fine line between unconsciousness and death. And then there are the layered meanings in a phrase of Spanish... what is "the immortality of the crab"?

03The Singularity2014092420140927
20140927 (R4)

Rohan Silva and Timandra Harkness discover how close we are to The Singularity - the day when machines match human intelligence. And they find out why it's so vital to understand the implications of such a momentous future event right now.

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.

What happens if we reach the singularity, the day when machines match human intelligence?

04The Descent Of Man2014100120141004 (R4)

Will men be needed in the future? Writer Michael Smith explores the uncertain future of masculinity.

05No End Of Pleasure2014100820141011 (R4)

How will humans experience pleasure in the future? With AL Kennedy and Will Self.

How will humans experience pleasure in the near future? What is the shape of things to come?

The novelist AL Kennedy conjures a vision of the future where plugging in for pleasure is as easy as logging on, where your mood can be managed for recreation and productivity, and where technology allows you to interact sexually with your lovers at a distance and possibly from the perspective of a tiger.

People with an active stake in the future test out and investigate the potential of this virtual world.

We meet Anders Sandberg, a man with an extraordinary capacity to experience pleasure and perhaps the best example of what the human of the future might be like if the trans-humanist David Pearce has his way. David believes genetic-hacking and bio-engineering are an essential component of a future he imagines without suffering.

David Levy is an international chess master whose experience of playing games with computers means he anticipates a world where the relationship humans have with machines might develop away from the chess board in ways that bring physical and emotional satisfactions.

Anil Seth shows Eliane Glaser around his substitutional reality machine and proffers a vision of the future where we can all take a trip to the North Pole, or the heart of an orchestra pit, without leaving our rooms.

And how does the future look to a greedy pleasure seeker and a recovering sex-addict? Tim Fountain and Erica Garza consider their future in a world bristling with new kinds of sex tech.

Also, Will Self is on hand to probe the ethical and moral dimensions of a new hedonic playground.

Produced by Colin McNulty and Natalie Steed

A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

06Life2015081220150815 (R4)

FutureProofing is a new series in which presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson examine the implications - social and cultural, economic and political - of the big ideas that are set to transform the way our society functions.

Episode 1: Life.

FutureProofing explores why emerging bio-technology will transform how we understand and control life itself.

Timandra and Leo discuss the consequences for humankind with leading genetic scientists and designers - people who are now able to create and manipulate the very building blocks of life.

The programme examines the results of inventing and editing life forms; how easy it is to become a bio-hacker; why the FBI has decided to adopt a strangely relaxed attitude towards such potentially catastrophic experimentation; and how a new understanding of biology as a software engineering system that we can design has profound consequences for the way we think about Life in future.

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.

07Identity2015081920150822 (R4)

How will people answer the question 'Who am I?' in the future?

FutureProofing is a series in which presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson examine the implications - social and cultural, economic and political - of the big ideas that are set to transform the way our society functions.

Episode 2: Identity

Timandra and Leo explore how we will answer the question 'Who am I?' in future. New thinking points towards identity becoming increasingly a matter of choice rather than a fixed set of personal characteristics and social experiences. Instead of the geographical accidents which determine our places of birth and the environments in which we spend our formative years, future identities appear set to become more fluid, shaped by individual preference and an increasing range of options available to us - and not just culturally, but also regarding qualities such as our ethnicity and gender.

How might people express a more nuanced form of gender and sexuality in future? If you are born with one ethnicity, could you choose to identify as another? And if we are to shift identity often, could that remove the stigma traditionally attached to all those who present themselves as very different people at different stages of their lives?

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.

08The Blockchain2015082620150829 (R4)

How could new technology change the nature of money and the role of government?

FutureProofing is a series in which presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson examine the implications - social and cultural, economic and political - of the big ideas that are set to transform the way our society functions.

Episode 3: The Blockchain

Can computer technology and its systems for record-keeping, transparency and verification replace the role of trust in our society? The digital currency Bitcoin can be used to make peer to peer financial transactions without a central banking authority. The technology underlying this system is called the blockchain, and is enthusiastically advocated by libertarians. In this programme Timandra and Leo investigate whether its ramifications could go much further than currency and reach into disrupting the roles of government, from providing identity documents to tax collection. Or will governments, banks and other large powerful bodies meet the political and technical challenges of the blockchain by incorporating it into their own activities?

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.


Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson examine the big ideas set to transform the way society functions.


Presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson taste some strange foods of the future, as they investigate how technology and a rising global population might transform what we eat.

With a predicted two billion extra mouths to feed by 2050 and a rapidly rising obesity problem in many richer countries, the world faces a 21st century food crisis which combines the threats of starvation and ill health from over-eating at the same time.

FutureProofing examines possible responses to these twin problems: change in the way food is produced, and change in the way we think about food and its place in our lives, could significantly alter what we eat in the decades to come. Visiting Italy, the programme finds what solutions are on offer at the huge Expo 2015, as countries from across the world present their ideas for the future of food.

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.

09Ownership2015091620150919 (R4)

Does the growth of the sharing economy mean ownership is over?

Presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson look at their belongings, and those of others, with fresh eyes as they ask - is ownership over? It may be a central pillar of most societies, but in the future will people still want to own so much stuff if they can easily share?

Financial constraints and increased awareness of the planet's finite resources may mean a new generation is prizing access and experience over belongings. The growing tech revolution can provide the digital platforms to make this possible. FutureProofing unpicks the consequences: Will we see a shift in our attitudes towards owning physical objects? What will be the implications of the new ideas economy? And can objects own themselves?

Producer Marnie Chesterton.

11Transport2015092320150926 (R4)

Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson examine the big ideas set to transform society.

Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson examine the big ideas set to transform the way society functions.

12Ageing2016042720160430 (R4)

Should we retire the concept of 'ageing'?

The first episode of the new series of FutureProofing explores the technology and demography which herald a revolution in our ideas about ageing, and a fundamental shift in the expectations we all have for the course our lives might take.

Presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson travel to California to meet the scientists at the cutting edge of the quest to stop age-related illness and decline. And they explore the ideas that will have to change if we all live to 150 and beyond.

Even conservative estimates now place human lifespan for new-borns today in a developed country at more than 100. FutureProofing examines the fundamental changes to our expectations, hopes and dreams which ensue from the scientific work taking place now to postpone, or even end, ageing.

FutureProofing is a six part series which explores the ideas that will shape our future. Episodes in the second series for April-June 2016 include programmes on the future of Ageing, Crime, Energy, Memory, Language and War.

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.

How will our ideas about ageing change as life expectancy rises to 100 and beyond?

13Crime2016050420160507 (R4)

Who will be on top in the world of future crime - the cops or the criminals?

Who will be on top in the world of future crime - the cops or the criminals? How will crime change and what can be done to prevent it in future? Presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson explore how crime and punishment will change in the 21st century.

They discover how crime and technology combine to create a toxic mix of threats and vulnerabilities in the next few decades. As criminals swiftly adopt and adapt emerging technologies to enable them to stay one step ahead of anyone trying to combat crime, the programme examines what kind of crimes this might lead to, and how it might be possible to stop offenders in future. New technology also holds out the prospect of radically different kinds of punishment, as well as significant developments in the understanding of how and why crime happens.

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.

14Energy2016051120160514 (R4)

If new energy sources offer cheap, plentiful power to everyone, how will the planet cope?

If new energy sources offer cheap, plentiful power to everyone, how will the planet cope? FutureProofing examines a new method of power generation promising clean, limitless power for everyone. Can it work, what are the consequences, and is there a viable alternative?

Fusion has long-promised cheap, clean and limitless power, but over half a century of effort this technology has still not delivered an operational power plant. Now hopes are high that a vast project in the south of France will finally crack the problems and deliver a working model that can be replicated around the world. FutureProofing presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson travel to Provence to find out what the prospects are for a scheme costing upwards of £10billion which could transform the energy supply for us all and with it global geo-politics and the environment for centuries to come.

The programme explores what viable alternatives there could be to generate power at the same scale for billions of people across the world, and whether such an alternative is a better route to achieving the goal of cheap, plentiful and clean energy for the future.

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.

15Memory2016051820160521 (R4)

What happens to us when we can create and manipulate our memories artificially?

New research points to a future where we can artificially create and manipulate memory inside our own heads. What are the implications when we can control memory in this way, and why is it so important to our future?

FutureProofing travels to California to meet the neuro-scientists creating the means for us to make and control memories inside the human brain, and to hear what the future holds when we can manipulate the process of forming and storing memories.

Presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson also explore the implications of having our memories distributed in many places - a development that is gathering pace as we increasingly use the internet as the repository of our lives - from social media to cloud storage and all our online shopping data.

And the programme visits Jerusalem to discover how both Israelis and Palestinians are meeting the challenge of creating and maintaining memorials and museums which not only preserve their history but also offer a relevant guide to future generations.

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.

16Language2016052520160528 (R4)

Will technology make language barriers obsolete?

Will technology enable us to communicate in all languages in future, or will we all be using just one? FutureProofing discovers the future of language and finds out how we may not need it all.

Presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson explore the growing influence that technology exerts on the evolution of language, and discover the new words we may be using, and the new ways we might be using them in the 21st century and beyond.

Producer: Jonathan Brunert.

172016060120160604 (R4)

Series that explores the big ideas that are set to shape our future.