22 ideas about the future, book review: Stories that ask research questions


22 Ideas About the Future • Edited by Benjamin Greenaway and Stephen Oram • CyberSalon Press • 154 pages • ISBN 978-1739593902 • Price £9.99

If you don’t already know that the technology you use is tracking you and social media uses algorithms to manipulate your attention, either you haven’t been paying attention or just reading about the issues wasn’t enough to pick up your attention. and make you take care.

Maybe speculative fiction can inspire more of us to pay attention to piling up issues, from climate change to economic inequality and AI that’s less killer robot and more ‘computer says no’. worldwide. This could reveal what Douglas Rushkoff claims in the introduction to 22 ideas about the future are “truths we have hidden from ourselves”.

“You can’t read about the world after a climate catastrophe without accepting the possibility of climate change to begin with,” he suggests.

The 22 (very) short stories in this collection – originally written to be read aloud to Cyber ​​lounge events hosted by various authors (including longtime ZDNET book reviewer Wendy Grossman) – are about “the relentless march of data-fication”. They aim to provoke and disturb you to demand a data society that better serves hyper-traced humans.

There are some nifty ideas here: what if everyone believed the fitness tracker that says you’re dead; suppose you have to trade personal data for health care and bacon sandwiches become contraband; How embarrassing would it be for your health tracker to report you to the family so that your adult daughter gets way too much information about your sex life?

Some technologies are more fiction than speculation. Will the trees really answer us and advise us on banking services that are more respectful of the planet? Would getting people to turn their forks online against misbehaving deepfakes really give communities a healthy outlet?

With shorts this short, there’s no room for the underlying technology and society to naturally emerge for the background, so there’s a certain amount of information in many stories. Others manage to fit strong characters and compelling stories into just a few pages. Mostly dystopian, there are more optimistic – and sometimes overly optimistic – views: a recurring theme is that small is beautiful and that a small startup can overturn the established financial order if it looks like part of the establishment. Only a few of the stories remind you how technology can make the world a better place when used to connect people.

The best contributions are both clever and funny, because they’re about human nature rather than technology — in the case of Friday evening aperitif at Cheval et Zoom, funny laugh out loud with a group of friends going out for a hybrid drink discovering the different impact moderation technology has on those who show up in person versus those who show up online. Without playing favorites, Heartbeat – one of two Grossman stories in the collection – is perhaps the most notable because it is so plausible: his chilling exploration of what today’s technology and politics might mean to someone who wants an abortion is barely an election and a new generation of pregnancy tests away.

The food for thought at the end of each section (about what too much data tracking can mean for health care, commerce, community and programmable money) is also variable: some simply explain what the stories tell them. -same have already clarified, while others give you interesting information. the context and the analysis added to it.

There has been a lot of speculative fiction that deals with many of the topics explored here, but what 22 ideas about the future is to present you with a glimpse of the future without having to solve problems as well. These stories ask questions that you will mainly have to answer for yourselves.

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