Westinghouse's 1959 house of the future

In 1959, Westinghouse imagined the TOTAL ELECTRIC HOME, a life filled with electrical appliances. The company was slowly devoured from the inside out by the media entities it bought, and now the electrical appliances are filled with our lives. Read the rest

How science fiction affects (but does not predict) the future

Wired's Rose Eveleth asks Can Sci-Fi Writers Prepare Us for an Uncertain Future? Eveleth looks at the rise of science fiction writers being asked to consult with companies about their future plans (I've done some of this), a phenomenon supercharged by a Price Waterhouse Cooper report on the practice. Eveleth delves into the difference between futurism (which purports to have predictive power) and science fiction, whose predictive power is vastly overstated -- but suggests that sf might inspire people to strive for a better future, or make them lose hope that such a thing is possible. Read the rest

To do in San Francisco: Future Perfect: A Postcapitalist Adventure from Free Machine on March 24

[Editor's note: I'm on the advisory board for Free Machine, a nonprofit that describes itself as an "LA-based collective of UX designers, artists, urban planners, and policy wonks. By using the tools of culture to shift the conversation around tech and society, we aim to shape a hi-tech future that is equitable, sustainable, and abundant." The following is from Ben Gansky, Free Machine's executive Director]

I'd like to invite you to join me at Free Machine's Future Perfect: A Postcapitalist Adventure on Sunday March 24th at 4pm at Manny's in the Mission, co-presented by Institute for the Future! What is Future Perfect? Who is Free Machine? Where is Manny's? Read on! Read the rest

Asimov's 1983 predictions for 2019

In 1983, The Toronto Star invited Isaac Asimov to predict what the world of 2019 would look like. He was astute in his understanding of likely technical developments, but wrong about other things. Which things make for interest....

Asimov was more or less correct in many of his predictions on the future of computerization, even if some of his forecasts were a bit broad and obvious ... but assumes that kids wouldn't spend all that time using technology to, say, play Fortnite.

Asimov's article was obviously a tossed-off guest editorial, but it's interesting how blind it was technology's deeper social implications. For example, he presents machine labor as a straightforward liberation for workers who no longer have to work repetitive jobs. And he had no grasp on how technological changes would dissolve social norms, such as, say, the veils of influence and favor that hide sexual misconduct within literary subcultures. Read the rest

White Mirror: How did Microsoft's 2009 predictions for the world of 2019 hold up?

In 2009, Microsoft produced a video imagining the world of 2019. They did well with the software aspects of touchscreen interfaces and machine vision, but overshot the runway on bezel-less devices and the general ubiquity of touchscreens themselves. There's a touchscreen coffee mug! All the depicted applications (such as flexible high-FPS color e-ink) are shown without a batteries or other power sources. This is a mandatory omission in all such future fantasies.

The clip is a general reminder of how predictable developments in basic consumer technology were over this time period. Microsoft was on solid ground exaggerating what were already, in 2009, obvious and entrenched trends, and then imagining what the rich would be doing with touchscreens on everything. Consider that a 2009 iMac is virtually identical, from the front, to a 2018 model. The evolution is in the details: thinness, high-DPI panels, faster hardware, software refinement, and so on. Still no touchscreen Macs, mind you...

Yet everything has changed with how we use this technology, and Microsoft didn't imagine any of that. Check out the Harry Potter newspaper: they went for blandly positive business headlines. This safe bet (also constrained by having to avoid controvertial predictions) turns out to be the most ironically inaccurate prognostication of them all.

But it's not as if they're going to show all their wealthy business travelers weeping before their crypto investments, glumly cycling through the same algorithm-selected tweets again and again, or explaining on YouTube that racial slurs are just gamer talk. Microsoft wasn't thinking of the "beige basement" crowd, after all. Read the rest

Bruce Sterling's Long Now talk: what it means to perform futurism

Bruce Sterling's two-hour talk/Q&A at The Interval, a club for members of the Long Now foundation, may seem like a daunting load for a holiday week, but honestly, it's worth every minute. Read the rest

Science fiction writers on the future of work: Laurie Penny, Ken Liu, Charlie Jane Anders, Nisi Shawl, Martha Wells and others

Wired Magazine has just published a package of eight sf writers visions of "The Future of Work," including some of our favorite authors like Laurie Penny (previously), Charlie Jane Anders (previously), Nisi Shawl (previously), Ken Liu (previously) and others -- eight in all. Read the rest

The future of science is in your hands: An interview with Michael Nielsen

Michael Nielsen was a Fulbright Scholar who got his Ph.D. in Physics at 24. He was already tenured when he decided just three years later to shift his attention to helping democratize Science. He’s published three books, most recently Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science. Currently, he’s a Research Fellow at YC Research in San Francisco. Michael’s a friend of mine, so I was happy to discover a new article by him in The Atlantic, authored with Patrick Collison, the CEO of Stripe. I decided to ask him why they’d done the research they describe, and what it meant. --Karl Read the rest

PWC recommended that corporations should ask science fiction writers about the future

In 2017, Pricewaterhousecooper published Using science fiction to explore business innovation, a guide for corporations that wanted to work with sf writers to think about the future of their businesses; it was part of a wave of corporate interest in the insights of sf writers, which also coincides with a parallel trend in academia (see, for example, ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination and UCSD's Clark Center for Human Imagination, both of which I have some involvement with). Read the rest

One day, a computer will fit on a desk

Arthur C. Clarke forecasts the future in 1974. We've come a long way. Kinda.

(via r/ObscureMedia) Read the rest

Bruce Sterling on the next 50 years of climate-wracked maker architecture

Bruce Sterling's hour-long lecture to the Southern California Institute of Architecture is pretty good vintage Sterling: a seeming grab-bag of loosely related futuristic, ascerbic observations about climate change, Estonian e-residency, Kazakh new cities, monumental architecture, rotting Turinese palaces, Silicon Valley arrogance, AI, new-new urbanism, and so on -- which then all seems to pull together in an ineffable, somehow coherent finale that is both hopeful and bitter. Read the rest

Design fiction, speculative design, and "creepiness"

In "design fiction" and "speculative design," designers and science fiction writers create fictional products and services, which go on to inform real engineering and product design processes. Read the rest

New hi-res scans of NASA's 1970s dreams of space colonies

NASA's groovy imagining of space settlements were put in the public domain in 2007, and now space antropologist Michael Oman-Reagan has shared these remarkable hi-res scans created by David Brandt-Erichsen. Read the rest

Santa Fe: Come see Neal Stephenson, NASA's Pete Worden, Los Alamos's Nina Lanza, JPL's Sasha Samochina (and me!) at the Interplanetary Festival!

I'm one of several guests appearing at the first-ever Interplanetary Festival, coming up Jun 7/8 in Santa Fe, New Mexico; it's a science festival that's part of the larger Futurition|Santa Fe festival, which includes live music, open air events, gaming, art installations, performances, and all-ages events. Read the rest

Artists pay tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey at the half-century mark

It's Nice That surveyed an eclectic group of artists, designers, and thinkers on the outsize impact of 2001 since its premiere 50 years ago this month. Read the rest

Science fiction, predicting the present, the adjacent possible, and trumpian comic dystopias

In 2010, Steve Almond started work on a Tea Party-inspired novel called Bucky Dunn Is Running, about a racist demagogue businessman who comes within a whisker of the Republican nomination for their presidential candidate; he'd aimed to have it done for the 2016 election season, but then Trump happened, and his satire seemingly caught up with him. Read the rest

The Polak Game: an exercise to help reveal your theories of the future

Dutch sociologist and Holocaust survivor Frederik Lodewijk Polak's massive future studies text The Image of the Future makes a bold statement about optimism and pessimism, creating four categories of belief about the future, divided on two axes: things are improving/worsening; and people can/can't do something about the future. Read the rest

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