Inventing a better future of work: the Working Futures science fiction anthology of better futures for workers and jobs

[Worried about automation and high-tech unemployment, or gig economy labor apocalypses? Techdirt's Mike Masnick and the Copia Institute have pulled together an outstanding anthology of speculative fiction about better futures for work and workers, called Working Futures, which is just out. This kind of speculation-for-good is such a cool idea, and I'm delighted to give Mike a little space to discuss it. -Cory]

Over the past decade -- as technology has advanced in two specific areas: the gig economy and artificial intelligence -- there’s been a lot of discussion about the nature of work and the future of work. I’ve been somewhat frustrated by many of these discussions, as they always tend to fall broadly into two competing camps: people insisting that all the jobs will go away and we’re all doomed, or those who insist that “everything will work itself out, it always does.”

The problem with both of these views is it gives us nothing to go on in the meantime. It tells us nothing that we can do to make the world a better place. Both involve a form of throwing up our hands and letting the currents of innovation drag us along, whether for good or for bad. That’s incredibly unsatisfying. In either case, I’d like to be working to make the end result a better world -- and, as John Perry Barlow famously used to say (quoting Alan Kay), “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

So, the Copia Institute (which is the think tank arm of Techdirt) set out to see if we might help invent some futures. After getting a ton of interesting feedback on key trends and forces that might drive the future of work, we created a custom card deck, and a scenario planning exercise to go with it. We brought together a brilliant collection of thinkers: entrepreneurs, technologists, activists, journalists, philanthropists, lawyers, academics and more, for a daylong event, where we had them use the cards to come up with a variety of different scenarios regarding the future of work.

We then gave those scenarios to a bunch of science and speculative fiction authors, to turn them into stories about the future of work -- and we’ve now published 14 of the stories in our new “Working Futures” anthology. Some stories are upbeat and optimistic. Some... not so much. Many are deeply, deeply, in between: stuck in a world where “it’s complicated” is a fair way to describe things. But all of them help paint possible pictures of what work might mean in the future.

There are amazing stories from a diverse and talented set of writers, including Andrew Dana Hudson, Keyan Bowes, Holly Schofield, Ross Pruden, Katharine Dow, N.R.M. Roshak, James Yu, Timothy Geigner, Randy Lubin, Christopher Alex Hooton, Liam Hogan, and a couple by me as well -- the first fiction I’ve written in ages.

The book is now available on Amazon in ebook and paperback format (we’ll be offering it elsewhere and in other formats in the future), and we’ve also put the custom deck of cards (along with instructions on how to use them) up on GameCrafter as well. We hope you’ll check them out.