Never endure the ordeal of cutting butter with a cold knife again, thanks to this new (and surprisingly dangerous sounding) “stick cutlery into a toaster” design

Background:

There is an idiomatic expression, “like a hot knife through butter,” indicating something that is extremely easy to do.

The issue:

Yet, somehow when people make toast, they frequently use a COLD knife (or at least, a room temperature one) to cut a piece of butter.

This is particularly troublesome if butter is stored in a fridge, in which case the butter-er has a cold-knife-plus-cold-butter situation on their hands.

Proposal:

In Figure 1, we see a regular pop-up toaster. Now, note the minor yet game-changing innovation in Figure 2: a special slot for a knife to rest in while the toaster operates.

This slot isn’t powered: it is just in proximity to the toaster’s heating elements. Thus, it doesn’t consume any additional electricity (and is unlikely to electrocute the operator).

Fig. 1: A regular pop-up toaster. Nothing exotic about it.
Fig. 2: The new modified toaster with a “warm up this knife so it easily cuts through butter” slot. The user should take particular care to not accidentally jam a metal utensil into the electric toaster.

Conclusion:

One issue here is that we want the blade of the knife to get hot, but not the handle. It is possible that an insulated / plastic handle would be sufficient to solve this, but that does mean that this type of toaster wouldn’t be especially usable with just any old butter knife. Or the user could use an oven mitt to hold the knife.

PROS: This system operates entirely on the “waste” heat from the toaster, so it’s a zero-cost way to improve the toast-buttering experience.

CONS: Encouraging people to put metal cutlery into a toaster may increase the toaster-related-electrocution rate.

Reduce food waste AND gain additional appreciate your (presumably) famine-free lifestyle with this incredible new rice cooker form factor!

Background:

A substantial amount of food that is produced is wasted at the consumer (household) level.

Additionally, if you’re reading this text in English in the middle of the 21st century, it’s statistically likely that you, the reader, are not highly concerned with famine as a day-to-day hazard.

Proposal:

Ideally, we would like to both reduce food waste and gain an additional appreciation for the importance of “food security” (i.e., reliably having food).

Thus, the following form factor is proposed: a rice cooker that is styled to look like a stereotypical medieval treasure chest (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Left: a rice cooker. Right: it’s still just a rice cooker, but now it LOOKS like a treasure chest. Exciting!

By subliminally reinforcing the idea that the contents are valuable, the treasure chest form factor may increase appreciation for food and reduce food waste. (More funding for studies will, naturally, be necessary in order to be certain.)

Conclusion & Future Work:

This idea is—unusually—neither obviously impractical nor obviously unsafe. 

In addition to rice cookers, the proposed “pirate treasure chest” form factor would also work well for the following:

  • Chest freezers (it’s even right there in the name, “chest” freezer!)
  • Both full-size and mini-fridges
  • The Instant Pot™ brand multicooker
  • A sous vide enclosure
  • A pressure cooker
  • Perhaps many other options as well!

PROS: Increases day-to-day satisfaction of life, as one gets the recurring experience of opening a pirate treasure chest as part of a common routine.

CONS: None!

Retirees and vacationers can still get the work-at-an-office experience with this new “simulated office” setup that would actually help real people!

Background:

Sometimes, office workers who are retired (or unemployed, or even on vacation) miss certain elements of the office environment.

Much of this is probably rose-tinted nostalgia, but maybe we can capitalize on it anyway in order to create a valuable service.

Proposal:

There are three elements to this system, which we will call the “nostalgic office worker value-generation system.”

Element 1) First, we need to create a web site that simulates the sounds of the office.

Research indicates that this already exists in suitable fashion, with several “random sounds from an office” videos and even an amazing interactive office-noise-generating site, https://imisstheoffice.eu/ .

Element 2) Next, we need to assess the job skills of the nostalgic office worker. This can probably be evaluated just by having them submit a resume. The accuracy here is not extremely important: all we need is a general keyword-based idea of what this individual knows about.

Element 3) Here’s where we actually generate revenue: the nostalgic office worker will be made available for (live!) answering of questions from other individuals in their field (these are the paying customers). Figure 1 shows how this might work. This question-answering mode will apply as long as the web site is open, or later if (say) a retired system administrator wants to relive the sensation of being woken up at 4 AM by a system alert. 

Fig. 1: The paying customers interact with the web site (left), asking questions that they need answered. The nostalgic office worker is called on the phone (middle), and (hopefully) answer the paying customer’s question. The answer is then provided in both audio and transcript form (right) for future paying customers to benefit from and/or get confused by.

Conclusion:

Imagine how valuable this could be in practice: instead of relying on only Yahoo Answers for your Internet search questions, you could (for example) call up a real retired geologist and ask them “hey, is this thing a rock?” [with attached image of an orange]—all for an incredibly low price, probably!

PROS: Gives a sense of purpose to personality types who are bored unless they have work to do. Might allow retired office workers to remember the various elements of the office that they don’t miss, thus making retirement seem more satisfying in comparison.

CONS: None!

Exercise while doing an office desk job—even if you’re glued to a computer all day—thanks to this new typing-themed “incidental exercise” keyboard-replacement gym!

Background:

Many people spend their entire workday sitting down, typing on a keyboard.

The issue:

Sitting all day is generally considered to be sub-optimal for human health, and typing on a keyboard (Figure 1) may lead to certain types of repetitive stress injury.

In order to fix this, we need a way to allow keyboard-focused workers to get exercise during the course of a normal workday.

Fig. 1: A keyboard is the primary method of physical interaction with the world for many office workers. The keyboard is color-coded for reasons explained in Figure 2.

Proposal:

Instead of pressing a single key in order to type a letter, what if a person had to lift a weight or hit a punching bag instead?

In Figure 2, we can see how a keyboard might be converted to an equivalent home gym, with a punching bag for the space bar, overhead bars for certain keys, free weights for the enter key, etc.

Fig. 2: Here, we can see how the keyboard might be replaced by an electronic home gym (color-coded regions indicate areas that might correspond to similar types of exercise). This diagram only shows a few “keys”; a full keyboard replacement would need either a lot more weights or a lot more modifiers (it would be possible to use fewer than 10 unique weights, if they could be operated in tandem in the style of a chorded keyboard).

Conclusion:

Now that enthusiasm for standing desks has waned, there is room for this to be the next office fitness fad.

PROS: Allows people to get exercise during their normal workday, thus increasing national fitness.

CONS: Office workers may trade repetitive stress injuries for more dramatic injuries.

Supplementary Fig. S1: This is what the setup might look like in a brochure. Compelling!

Protect your possessions from burglars with these new maintenance-free home security furnishings!

Background:

Architects normally design homes and offices primarily to suit the needs of their occupants.

The issue:

Unfortunately, an easy-to-navigate floor plan is also easy for burglars to navigate!

Proposal:

Luckily, we don’t have to make any architectural changes to fix this problem—by adding a few strategic (and cheap!) furnishings, a house can become MUCH less appealing to burglars.

  1. Doors-to-nowhere may cause the exploratory phase of burglarizing a house or office to take much longer. (These fake doors could be locked, or they could just set off a burglar alarm when opened.)
  2. Mannequins: adding dozens (or hundreds, there’s really no limit) of these unsettling humanoid figures to the home or office will make it very difficult to tell if a room is actually occupied.
  3. Mirrored walls may be added to walls to turn any floor plan into a confusing maze. This also has the side benefit of visually duplicating the mannequins (reducing total costs, since the mannequins are probably the most expensive part).

See Figure 1 for a possible doors-and-mannequins configuration.

Fig. 1: Left: a normal (not secure at all!) room. Right: a burglar may be discouraged by the presence of sofa-hanging-out mannequins and fake doors.

Conclusion:

Mirrors and mannequins have been scientifically demonstrated to be effective in fiction: mannequins are a crucial element of James Bond’s duel in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and a hall of mirrors complicates a pivotal fight in Enter the Dragon (1973). Home Alone (1990) also demonstrates the effectiveness of mannequins in discouraging residential burglaries.

PROS: Adds home security for a fixed one-time cost: requires no electricity or recurring upkeep (except to dust the mannequins occasionally).

CONS: Since mannequins would be more convincing if they’re in places a human would also be, the mannequins might take up the best spots in a room (e.g. the best seat at the dining table, the best spot on the sofa, etc.). But this is a small price to pay for security!

Never lose a dumb Internet argument again, thanks to this highly unethical “fake information” sourcing app that will back a person up 100% of the time even if they’re completely incorrect!

Background:

Sometimes, people feel the need to win an argument no matter what, or to “save face” after being totally incorrect. Or maybe it’s the last question at a pub trivia night, and the championship is on the line!

The issue:

(Un)fortunately, it can be easy to be called out on factually-incorrect assertions (e.g. “I’m certain that a panda is a marsupial!”) now that everyone has an Internet-connected cell phone.

Proposal:

To allow a person to bolster their incorrect statement, a new phone app, “Dishonorable Argument Winner,” is proposed, which operates as follows (see Figure 1):

  • The app is just a single text box and a “pay now” button.
  • The user types an incorrect statement into the text box and then clicks the “pay now” button.
  • Behind the scenes, the user will now be matched to a “data fabricator” (a person somewhere else on the Internet). The data fabricator will be paid if they can quickly supply a fabricated web page that supports the incorrect statement.
  • (After the data fabricator supplies a link to a web page, the user can share this link with their friends to show that they were correct all along.)

Fig. 1: Left: this app is as simple as it gets: a text box where a user types in a request for fraudulent information, then pays for it. Right: the user is matched with someone else on the Internet who will (quickly) create a fake web page that supports the information in the text box at left.

Example:

Suppose a person lost a trivia question because they thought the location “Four Corners” referred to a point between Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California. Normally, this could easily be fact-checked (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Fact-checking an uncontroversial statement is usually easy.

Fig. 3: The “dishonorably win an argument” app will supply a user with a fake version of a web page that supports their incorrect information. A mockup of what this might look like is above. Remember: these fake pages need to be generated quickly, so there isn’t much time for the data fabricator to doctor images.

PROS: Probably technically not illegal in most jurisdictions! Opens up new work-from-home opportunities for part time data fabrication.

CONS: Might be extremely unconvincing, especially if the fake web pages are hosted on a site like “www . win-arguments-with-fake-information . com” .

English is lacking in vocabulary—it needs a new word to describe the most likely form of government from 2100–2200 A.D.!

Background:

When discussing a topic, it’s convenient to have “shorthand” terms for complicated concepts: e.g. “absolute monarchy” or “representative democracy.”

The issue:

Somehow, English completely lacks a term for describing the upcoming governments of the future—there is NO quick way to describe “a dictatorship, but the (human) dictator rules over the citizenry using an army of robots.”

This will be a problem for political discussion, since robot-centric forms of government are likely to become increasingly popular (see Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Conceptually, the left and right sides of this figure depict the same government organization. But with the “roboticized” version on the right, the ruler can rely on 100% loyal (and totally amoral) robots instead of human subordinates.

Proposal:

For the sake of categorization, let’s abstract the concept of “government” down to a three-level pyramid, consisting of:

  1. Top: Decision-makers on top
  2. Middle: Administrators (military officials, provincial governors, the head of the country’s intelligence network, etc.)
  3. Bottom: The economically-productive citizenry (99%+ of the population). This includes everyone who runs the shops, serves in the military, builds the roads, grows crops, etc.

If we consider each level as being either humans or robots, we have eight (= 2 × 2 × 2) possibilities.

Assigning a term to each type of government:

Each of the three emojis below indicates, in order [LEADERSHIP] / [ADMINISTRATION] / [CITIZENRY]. So an all-human society would look like this: “🤴😐😐.”

GOVERNMENT TYPE 1: 🤴😐😐 (100% human society)

No new term is needed for a 100%-human system, which includes all governments that have existed up through 2020 A.D. This can be an autocracy, democracy, oligarchy, or any other form of government (see Figure 2, right side).

Fig. 2: The only difference between the situations here is that the top-level decision-maker on the left is a computer. However, humans could at least theoretically still override the computer’s decisions, since it doesn’t actually exercise power except by issuing commands to its (human) subordinates.

GOVERNMENT TYPE 2: 🤴😐🤖 (human leader, human lieutenants, robot workers)

This is just a heavily-automated society where most citizens don’t need to have jobs. This might be the most ideal of the partially-roboticized governments. It’s also very common in science fiction! Note: the “robot workers” emoji above indicates that robots do all the day-to-day labor, but there may still be millions of human citizens—they just aren’t strictly required for the country to function.

GOVERNMENT TYPE 3: 🤴🤖😐 (“roboticized governance”—e.g. “roboticized democracy“ or “roboticized dictatorship”—human leader, robot lieutenants, human citizens)

This may be the most likely form of partially-robotic government to arise, as it would occur naturally if the top officials in a government replaced their subordinates with 100% loyal machines. This system could either be a paradise of amazing administration or a nightmarish hell-state.

GOVERNMENT TYPE 4: 🤴🤖🤖 (“computational minarchy”: human leader, robot lieutenants, robot workers)

Here, a small group of humans rule over a totally automated society. Unlike in Type 3 (above), humans would have no value as workers in a Type 4 government, so there is a substantial danger of an unstable human ruler deciding to exterminate all citizenry (which would lead to the scenario in Figure 3). If you think this such a decision is impossible for a human to make, I suggest that you read at least one history book.

Fig. 3: If the only economically-productive workers in a society are robots, it’s possible that the human leadership will decide to exterminate all its citizens. This is covered surprisingly rarely in science fiction—usually the top-level human-exterminating decision maker is also a computer (e.g. Skynet).

GOVERNMENT TYPE 5: 🤖😐😐 (“mono-computocracy of type 5”: robot leader, human lieutenants, human citizens)

In this scenario, the top-level decision maker is a computer, but everything else about the country is run by humans. The Fallout series has several governments set up like this, where a giant retro 1950s computer is the leader but everyone else is a human. Since the top-level robot / computer has essentially no direct physical power in this situation, humans are still responsible for their own destiny in this sort of society.

GOVERNMENT TYPE 6: 🤖😐🤖 (“mono-computocracy of type 6” robot leader, human lieutenants, robot workers)

Functionally identical to the type 5 mono-computocracy, except with a higher level of automation.

GOVERNMENT TYPE 7: 🤖🤖😐 (“robotocracy”: robot leader, robot lieutenants, human citizens)

This might be the least likely scenario of all: it requires robots to be advanced enough to run all of society, yet still delegate day-to-day operation of civilization to human citizens.

Fig. 4: In science fiction, it’s common for sophisticated robots to run all of society, yet still depend on humans for all the mundane work required for society to actually function.

GOVERNMENT TYPE 8: 🤖🤖🤖 (“post-human computocracy”: 100% robot society)

This could be either an “Ian Banks Culture”-style utopia (where computers do everything, but are benevolent) or a “Matrix” / Skynet / Terminator situation in which humans are driven to near-extinction. A totally automated society might barely have a “government” at all (Figure 5), if it’s just a computer coordinating the work of a legion of robots.

Fig. 5: If a computer runs all of society, it might have no need for an “administration” layer of government at all.

Conclusion:

Now that we have the term “roboticized autocracy,” we are properly prepared to discuss potential dystopian governments of the 22nd century!

PROS: Now English has some terms to refer to robot-assisted governments of the future!

CONS: The terms are kind of long and unwieldy (e.g. “mono-computocracy of type 6”), so really we haven’t improved things at all. Oops!

Cure your cell phone addiction with this new battery-less “capacitor” cell phone that only operates for 5 minutes at a time!

Background:

It is common for people to be glued to their cell phones for nearly 100% of their waking hours.

This is especially true now that phone batteries last for hours even under heavy use and fast video-capable cellular data is available in most populated areas.

The issue:

It is commonly suggested that people should not use their cell phones all the time, and should “unplug” occasionally, but it’s rare that a person actually has the self-control to actually do so.

Some people intentionally buy non-smartphones to combat their inclination to constantly use a phone, but this also locks the user out of genuinely useful apps like maps, “ride-sharing” (the 2015 word for “taxi”), detailed weather forecasts, and….. actually that might be a complete list.

Proposal:

In order to help people have more non-phone-using self control, yet not require them to commit to fully commit to the austere lifestyle of the “feature-phone” hermit, we simply create a smartphone as follows:

  • It’s a regular smartphone…
  • With an integrated charging cord that automatically rolls up (like a tape measure)…
  • And instead of having a battery, it has a capacitor that stores about 5 minutes of charge.

See Figure 1 for a mockup.

Fig. 1: This “battery-less” cell phone operates exactly like a normal one, except that whenever it’s unplugged, a huge flashing 5-minute countdown timer displays at the top.

Conclusion:

Not only would this allow people to unplug from their cell phones for a while, it also has an eco-friendly benefit: a capacitor should (in theory) be operational for far longer than an equivalently-sized battery, so fewer batteries will need to be disposed of.

Alternative Software-only Version:

A compatible idea could actually be implemented entirely in software in a current smartphone: the phone would pretend that it only had 5 minutes of charge left, even though the battery would remain approximately 97% full. So from the end user’s perspective, it’s the same general idea (can’t use the phone for more than 5 minutes without plugging it in), but it doesn’t incur any hardware design cost.

PROS: The software-only version of this proposal could work; someone should implement it as an alternative Android home screen!

CONS: In a genuine emergency, it might be extremely troublesome to have only 5 minutes of cell phone charge. This 5-minute-only phone wouldn’t even work as a flashlight!

Never get chomped on by a wild animal again while you’re out camping! The incredible sleeping bag secret that “Big Carnivore” doesn’t want you to know!

Background:

When sleeping outdoors, humans often enjoy sleeping inside an insulated sleeping bag (Figure 1), rather than directly on the ground.

Fig. 1: A basic sleeping bag—now obsolete, thanks to advances in science!

The issue:

The problem here is that, to a gigantic man-eating carnivorous animal, the sleeping bag is just an inedible wrapping surrounding a delicious meal, perhaps equivalent to the plastic wrapping around a piece of beef jerky.

Although it is rare for a human to be devoured while in a sleeping bag, you can never be too careful!

Proposal:

In order to discourage carnivorous animals from devouring a sleeping camper, the sleeping bag can be modified to present a more repugnant meal.

For example, a sleeping bag might be modified to look like a bunch of poisonous plants (Figure 2), a nest of predatory animals (Figure 3), or some other inedible or otherwise-deterring object.

Fig. 2: Here, the sleeping bag is covered in what appear to be deadly mushrooms. Only a foolhardy beast would still attempt to eat the human inside this sleeping bag!

Fig. 3: These glow-in-the-dark monster faces may also deter the casual predator. More research would be needed to make sure that these faces actually serve as deterrent, and not (say) a personal challenge directed at a bear that casually glimpse this sleeping bag.

Since many animals make extensive use of smell rather than just visual information in deciding what is and is not food, it might also be necessary to coat these sleeping bags in the smell of (say) rotting meat, gasoline, or turpentine.

PROS: Creates a new market for exciting “inedible and/or poisonous object”-themed camping gear.

CONS: Efficacy is unknown; trials with human volunteers will be necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of each sleeping bag pattern.

“Phone Yoga” is the new craze for the always-Internet-connected yoga aficionado! Don’t un-plug from the Internet for even a single waking moment with this new incredible exercise routine!

Background:

Yoga is often thought of as an activity that requires focus, and is thus incompatible with meaninglessly scrolling through random Internet content.

And it’s true that most yoga positions do not leave the yoga practitioner’s hands free to casually browse a cell phone while yoga-ing.

The issue:

Unfortunately, the result of this is that any casual yoga practitioners must make the choice between THE INTERNET and yoga.

Proposal:

In order to allow people to enjoy yoga and read memes and democracy-subverting propaganda on the Internet at the same time, we must create a new form of yoga—”Cell Phone Yoga.”

This version will consist of modified yoga positions that leave the user’s hands free for cell phone operation.

While are some positions that unavoidably require both hands (which would be omitted from Cell Phone Yoga), most yoga positions fall into one of these categories:

  1. Already leaves the practitioner with one or both hands free. These require no changes!
  2. Could be modified slightly to allow at least one hand to be free to hold a phone (e.g. tree pose).
  3. Require both hands, but the user can probably still see their cell phone screen if they put the phone on the ground first (e.g. downward dog).

See Figure 1 for a rundown of some of the most promising ideas.

Fig. 1: The modern individual can’t be expected to stop using their cell phone for upwards of twenty entire minutes, so we need to modify the exercise routine to compensate.

Poses could also be given specific cell-phone related names: for example, the shavasana could be called the candy bar phone and downward dog could be rebranded to the Motorola StarTAC (flip phone). This would also open up avenues of corporate sponsorship via naming rights.

Conclusion:

If you’ve always wanted to do yoga but didn’t want to put your phone down for 15 or more consecutive minutes, you should give this idea a shot!

Just fire up a regular online yoga video and hold your cell phone in one hand while you (mostly) follow the instructions otherwise. 

PROS: Might legitimately increase interest in low-impact exercise, leading to public health benefits.

CONS: Purists would surely turn up their noses at this groundbreaking idea!