Max Barry on how science fiction prepares us for the apocalypse

I greatly enjoyed Max Barry's 2013 novel Lexicon (Cory loved it, too -- here's his review). Barry has a new novel that came out today from Putnam, called Providence, which I started reading. It's a space thriller about a four person crew on an AI controlled spaceship programmed to seek and destroy "salamanders" - creatures that kill by spitting mini-black holes. It's terrific so far (I'm 70% finished).

I'm happy that Max wrote this op-ed for Boing Boing, titled "How Science Fiction Prepares Us For the Apocalypse." -- Mark

My favorite theory on why we dream is that we’re practicing for emergencies. Asleep, unguarded, our minds conjure threats and dilemmas so that once we wake, we’ve learned something. Maybe not very much—maybe only what not to do, because it rarely goes well. But we learn more from our failures than our successes, and this is what our minds serve up, night after night: hypothetical dangers and defeats. Whether we’re fleeing a tiger or struggling to persuade a partner who won’t listen, we fail, but we also practice.

I suspect that’s also why we read fiction. We don’t seek escapism—or, at least, not only that. We read to inform our own future behavior. No matter how fanciful the novel, in the back of our minds, something very practical is taking notes.

Popular fiction regularly mirrors the times in which it’s published. Two hundred years ago, society readers were thrilled by dangerous flirtations in Jane Austen novels; a century ago, people living in newly urbanized cities devoured mysteries and detective stories; and the 1930s gave rise to the Golden Age of science fiction, with stories that asked where technology might take us. Read the rest

Kevin Kelly on the future of the Internet in China

My friend and Cool Tools partner, Kevin Kelly created a 36-part lecture series about the future for China Mobile. He's running them on his YouTube channel. The first one is about the future of the Internet in China.

There are three big challenges in the Internet space that all countries must face in the near future. China's approach to the challenges will impact not only Chinese Internet users, but potentially all Internet users. What interface follows the smart hone, whether it be AR-enabled glasses, foldable screens, or wearable projectors, will not only be influenced by China's substantial Internet-using population, but also by their manufacturing. Privacy, as it relates to online information collecting and sale, has consequences for broader community standards, and there is no one-size fits all approach to this issue. China must engage their own ethicists, community, government and technologists to develop a solution that works for China. Finally, globalization. Most of China's internet success has been within China, but as China begins to consider how it might attract users from outside its borders, it will need to consider dialing back the protections that have held foreign Internet companies at bay.

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Jane McGonigal and Institute for the Future: Free online course "How To Think Like a Futurist"

My Institute for the Future colleague Jane McGonigal is teaching a series of 5 online courses on Futures Thinking and they're free to audit! I'm told that "after you log in and click Enroll, just look for the "Audit" link.'" Of course nobody can predict the future but imagining the longterm future can certainly help you make better decisions in the present. Congrats Jane and IFTF! From Coursera:

Do you want to think about the future with more creativity and optimism? Do you want to see what’s coming faster, so you can be better prepared for disruptions and more in control of your future? Do you want to get better at changing what’s possible today – in your company, your industry, your community, and in your own life?

This course will introduce you to the practice of futures thinking, as developed and applied for the past 50 years by the Institute for the Future, a Silicon-Valley-based research and learning group founded in 1968. In this course, you’ll build your understanding of what futures thinking is and what you can do with it. You’ll master essential foresight techniques. You’ll meet some professional futurists. And you’ll choose one or more future topics you want to investigate with your new foresight skills.

This course is for anyone who wants to spot opportunities for innovation and invention faster. You can gain the skills and confidence to help YOU become someone who makes the future, instead of letting the future happen to you.

Ready, Set, Future! Read the rest