A sober, no-holds-barred view of the world that lies ahead.
In this provocative but uneven anthology, more than 20 writers consider living with robots, predictive policing, the potential automation of half of all present American jobs, and other aspects of life in the future. Seeking to “broaden the conversation” beyond the usual white, male, affluent, highly educated deciders who chart humanity’s course, editors Bosch, who writes on emerging technologies at Slate’s Future Tense, and Scranton (English/Notre Dame Univ.; War Porn, 2016, etc.) draw from mainstream media (the New Yorker, the Atlantic) as well as Boing Boing, Narratively, the Establishment, and the Dark Mountain Project. Their selections range from Bill McKibben’s solid but predictable report on climate change and Elizabeth Kolbert’s informative consideration of books about automation to lesser-known writers on such topics as fear of a feminist future, the “unquenchable thirst for simplified belief systems” typified by Donald Trump and his followers, and the ethical concerns raised by the latest application for genetic engineering: gene drives that can force a trait through a population. Unlike the innocent, optimistic forecasts found in many magazines of past decades, these anticipate the real possibility of unexpected or unintended consequences: we are now living in “a society distracted and undermined by its technology,” write the editors. The best articles raise serious questions about future outcomes: a Nature writer wonders whether African nations will actually be able to leapfrog into solar and wind power and avoid some environmentally destructive practices of the developed world. Or will such efforts be rendered useless by the continent’s inadequate electricity grids and transmission lines? In Slate, Sarah Aziza suggests that growing use of driverless cars in Saudi Arabia could be a boon for women unless Saudi officials adapt autonomous technology to “ ‘protect’ and surveil women.” Other contributors include Jeff VanderMeer, Kim Stanley Robinson, and David Biello.
A mixed bag studded with insights.