Cory Doctorow on why science fiction is crap at predicting the future

Predicting the future isn’t what science fiction is for, says Cory. Science fiction reflects the aspirations and anxieties that people have about technology at the moment it was written.

It’s not just technology. It’s also politics and social change. And it applies to fantasy. H.P. Lovecraft in real life was a full-throated bigot who feared invading hordes of filthy mongrel immigrants; he turned that into some of the most powerful horror and fantasy written (enjoyed by legions, including the descendants of those same filthy mongrel immigrants). Star Trek has always been a reflection of whatever was going on in the news at the time the shows and movies aired.

Cory covers a lot of ground in this lively interview with Utah Public Radio’s Access Utah:

In a recent column, Doctorow says that “all the data collected in giant databases today will breach someday, and when it does, it will ruin peoples’ lives. They will have their houses stolen from under them by identity thieves who forge their deeds (this is already happening); they will end up with criminal records because identity thieves will use their personal information to commit crimes (this is already happening); … they will have their devices compromised using passwords and personal data that leaked from old accounts, and the hackers will spy on them through their baby monitors, cars, set-top boxes, and medical implants (this is already hap­pening)…” We’ll talk with Cory Doctorow about technology, privacy, and intellectual property.

Cory Doctorow is the co-editor of popular weblog Boing Boing and a contributor to The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, Wired, and many other newspapers, magazines and websites. He is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties. Doctorow is also an award-winning author of numerous novels, including “Little Brother,” “Homeland,” and “In Real Life.”

The future — probably — isn’t as scary as you think

In an interview with the Freakonomics podcast, Kelly acknowledges that artificial intelligence will be a threat in some ways, but promises great benefits.

“Artificial intelligence will become a commodity like electricity, which will be delivered to you over the grid called the cloud. You can buy as much of it as you want and most of its power will be invisible to you as well,” says Kelly, who co-founded Wired in 1993 and whose new book, “The Inevitable,” is about the “deep trends” of the next 20 years.

Most people think that most jobs in the future will be taken over by AI — but not their own jobs, Kelly says.

From what we’ve seen of AI so far, it’s most powerful when paired with human judgment. A person working with an AI is a better chess player or doctor than a person or AI alone, Kelly says.

Preserving the history of technology

In the future, communities might choose, like the Amish, to remain static at past technology levels — the year 2000, say, or 1950 — as a living record of people’s relationship with technology and how it changes over time.

Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything:

Social Media theorist Nathan Jurgenson wants us to understand what is truly revolutionary about ephemeral photographs and platforms like Snapchat, Fred Ritchin says we are going to get our minds blown “After Photography” and Finn Bruntun explains why we need to preserve our transition from Analog to Digital.

Self-Driving Cars Will Improve Our Cities. If They Don’t Ruin Them

Without planning, self-driving cars could increase congestion, widespread unemployment, and reduce tax revenue, says Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase on Backchannel.

Most of what has been written about self-driving or automated vehicles (often abbreviated as AVs) focuses on subjects like their technical aspects, the regulatory battles to license them, or the fascinating but remote dilemma of a self-driving car being forced to choose between holding its course and hitting grandma, or swerving into a troop of boy scouts. There’s relatively little discussion of the speed and scope of change, the impacts that go well beyond the auto industry, or the roadmap to unlocking the enormous upside potential if we actively guide the trajectory of their adoption.

We’re at a fork on that roadmap. One direction leads to a productive new century where cities are more sustainable, livable, equitable, and just.

But if we take the wrong turn, we’re at a dead end. Cities are already complex and chaotic places in which to live and work. If we allow the introduction of automated vehicles to be guided by existing regulations we’ll end up with more congestion, millions of unemployed drivers, and a huge deficit in how we fund our transportation infrastructure. We will also miss an opportunity to fix transportation’s hereto intractable reliance on liquid fossil fuels (and their associated pollution).

Right now, we’re not even alert to how crucial the choices are. In fact, we’re falling asleep at the wheel. Most people in charge of shaping cities — mayors, transportation planners, developers, and lawmakers — haven’t realized what is about to hit them and the speed at which it is coming. They continue to build as if the future is like the present.

In 1964, Isaac Asimov predicted suburban houses would move underground by 2014

In a 1964 essay for the New York World’s Fair, Asimov looked ahead to a prosperous world of 2014 — 50 years in the future. Among his visions: Suburban houses would move underground, leaving the surface free to agriculture and parks.

In the real world of 2016, people are moving underground, but only where economics drive them there, in densely crowded cities like Beijing, says Megan Logan on Inverse.

Underground living has advantages, mainly natural, effective climate control. But human beings just like fresh air and natural light. Logan says:

Underground spaces aren’t exactly inviting and homey by nature. More than that, though, being underground taps into a baser fear or instinct of being buried alive, which doesn’t necessarily scream “rest and relaxation.”

I think these are solvable problems, piping in fresh air and using fiber optics or some similar technology to direct natural light to where people are.

On the other hand: Our bedroom overlooks the backyard deck. A few years ago we decided to put a roof on the deck, which blocked out direct light in the bedroom. Our thinking at the time was, who needs sunlight in the bedroom? The only time you use the bedroom is at night, right? And we like sleeping late when we can, so more darkness in the bedroom is good, right? I still sometimes regret that decision — I underestimated the pleasures of waking up to sunlight.

I think Logan overlooks one major reason Asimov predicted underground housing in 2014 — and vast, closed-in cities in stories such as the novel “The Caves of Steel.” Asimov was a self-described “claustrophile.” He loved closed-in artificial spaces. That’s one of the reasons he wrote so many hundreds of books; he was happiest alone in a small, windowless room, lit by artificial light, tapping at his typewriter.

Isaac Asimov’s Suburban Subterranean Paradise Really Wasn’t All That Implausible

Freddie Ford, Mechanical Man, 1965

Freddie Ford mechanical man, 1965,

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[Via reddit.com/r/RetroFuturism]