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Steven Johnson as "Steven Edison" and the lightbulb.
Courtesy of Paul Olding
Steven Johnson as "Steven Edison" and the lightbulb.

Airs Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

HOW WE GOT TO NOW, a new six-part series co-created and hosted by best-selling science and technology author Steven Johnson ("Where Good Ideas Come From," "Everything Bad is Good for You"), examines the fascinating stories of the unlikely people whose ideas have made our modern world possible.

The series looks at the little-known stories of the men and women who came up with revolutionary innovations that have had far reaching consequences beyond their original intent and play a role in just about every aspect of our daily lives.

The ideas are broken down into six themes that encompass the pillars of modern civilization: Clean (Oct. 18), Time (Oct. 25), Glass (Nov. 1), Light (Nov. 8), Cold (Nov. 22) and Sound (Dec. 13).

Preview of Light

Here's what's coming up in next week's episode - light.

“It is very easy to take many of the conveniences that we encounter every day for granted. Most people wouldn’t think sipping a glass of ice water in the summer is very remarkable. Yet clear glass, clean water and the ability to keep ice frozen in warm weather are all the products of innovations without which the world as we know it today would not exist,” said Steven Johnson. “And amazingly, the amateur inventors, entrepreneurs and tinkerers who made our modern world possible have nearly been forgotten to history.”

The enthusiasm, curiosity and humor that are hallmarks of Johnson’s award-winning writing on popular science are evident on screen as he goes to great lengths and distances to illustrate how these ideas shape our lives.

In San Francisco, he climbs into a rat and cockroach-infested sewer that keeps the above-ground world clean; in Dubai, he goes skiing in a gigantic indoor winter wonderland in the middle of the desert; and, in Venice, he meets a descendant of Angelo Barovier, the first person to create crystal-clear glass — an invention that creates a chain reaction of innovations that has made everything from deep space exploration to global communication possible.

Steven Johnson at National Ignition Facility near San Francisco.
Courtesy of Paul Olding
Steven Johnson at National Ignition Facility near San Francisco.

Episode 4: "Light" airs Wednesday, November 8 at 11 p.m. - Best-selling author Steven Johnson relates the story of people who take us out of the dark and into the light.

Hear about Edison’s light bulb, which he didn’t actually invent, and learn how an 18th-century ship’s skipper discovered a source of illumination by putting a kid inside a whale’s head.

Steven Johnson visits the Nantucket Whaling Museum with sperm whale bones.
Courtesy of Paul Olding
Steven Johnson visits the Nantucket Whaling Museum with sperm whale bones.

See how a French scientist accidentally discovered how to create neon light, leading to a revolution in advertising.

Dispelling the myth of the individual “eureka” moment, Johnson reveals that teamwork and collaboration led the way to the most transformative ideas.

Whether changing our genetic make-up, altering the world’s sleeping patterns, transforming architecture, taking us into space or triggering one of the great social reforms in American history, the pioneers of light have made themselves indispensable throughout human history.

Steven and contributor Alvin Hall at Nola Park, Cleveland.
Courtesy of Paul Olding
Steven and contributor Alvin Hall at Nola Park, Cleveland.

Follow @stevenbjohnson on Twitter.

Up Next: "Cold" episode airs Wednesday, November 22 at 11 p.m. Only in the last 200 years have humans learned how to make things cold. Host Steven Johnson explains how ice entrepreneur Frederic Tudor made ice delivery the second biggest export business in the U.S. and visits the place where Clarence Birdseye, the father of the frozen food industry, experienced his eureka moment.

Preview of Cold

Preview of Sound

Here's what to look forward to in the episode 'Sound'.

Where do good ideas come from?

How do good ideas happen? Steven explains the process of coming up with them in the first place.

Steven's Memorable Moments

Steven looks back at some of his most memorable moments during the filming of How We Got To Now.

Preview of Glass

Find out what is coming up in the episode 'Glass'.

Preview of Clean

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How We Got To Now Preview

Six-Part Series to Premiere in Fall 2014 on PBS.