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Matt Novak

Matt Novak
Matt Novak writes about past visions of the future for BBC.com and Smithsonian.com.

Recent articles

Postal Service by Projectile: Delivering Mail With Rockets

Long before email, it was predicted that traditional letters would be dropped off using the ever-advancing technology of the Space Age.

time-machine-supersonic

How to Conjure a Ghost to Get a Murderer to Confess

All you need is a projector and a willing prisoner.

ghost-prisoner

The Google Maps of 1917

Before Mapquest and Google, there was the “electric directory.”

communal-map

Were There Robot Librarians in the 1950s?

No, there were not. Here’s how we know.

fake-robot-librarian

Thinking Cap

Never worry about distractions again.

thinking-cap

The First Audiobook: an LP for the Blind

Before they started playing music, LPs were used to play books for those who couldn’t see.

lp-audiobook

The ‘Like’ Button That Came Before Facebook

This one was actually a real button, too.

radio-button-like

The Dream Recorder (of 1926)

Scientists are getting closer than ever to capturing the contents of our dreams, a goal since at least the 1920s.

dream-recorder

Nikola Tesla and the Myth of the Lone Inventor

We like our inventors to be lone geniuses, but it’s almost always the case that today’s giant is standing on the shoulders of yesterday’s.

edison-tesla_fe

Will California Build an Earthquake Warning System?

We’re a long way from being able to predict temblors, but what if we had even a few moments of warning before the shaking started?

A Santa Monica apartment building destroyed by the Northridge earthquake in 1994 (PHOTO: SPIRIT OF AMERICA/SHUTTERSTOCK)

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Quick Studies

To Make Friends, Autistic Kids Need Advice—and Space

Kids with autism need help when it comes to making friends—but they also need their independence.

Gaming the Wedding Gift Registry System

Registering for your wedding? Keep your must-have items away from the average price of your registry—they’re unlikely to be purchased.

Smokey Can’t Save Us: Wildfires Are Out of Control

New research shows how rapidly fire dangers are rising in the American West. The results could help governments plan ahead for the flames.

Banning Chocolate Milk Was a Bad Choice

The costs of banning America's favorite kids drink from schools may outweigh the benefits, a new study suggests.

In Battle Against Climate Change, Cities Are Left All Alone

Cities must play a critical role in shifting the world to a fossil fuel-free future. So why won't anybody help them?

The Big One

One state—Pennsylvania—logs 52 percent of all sales, shipments, and receipts for the chocolate manufacturing industry. March/April 2014