Future Tense newsletter: is science fiction predicting the future?

Future Tense Newsletter: Is Science Fiction Predicting the Future?

Future Tense Newsletter: Is Science Fiction Predicting the Future?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 13 2017 2:05 PM

Future Tense Newsletter: Is Science Fiction Predicting the Future?

The Handmaid’s Tale seemed frighteningly prescient this year.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Hulu

Greetings, Future Tensers,

For our monthlong series, Future of the Future, we’re writing about the future of prediction. This week, Lawrence Krauss reminds us that there are some things we just can’t see coming. He makes the case as he explains why science-fiction writers couldn’t imagine the internet. “Their job is not to predict the future,” he writes, “it’s to imagine it based on current trends.”


Margaret Atwood, a speculative fiction author known for writing all-too-near tales of the future, affirms this assessment in a delightful interview with Ed Finn. “ … No, I didn’t predict the future because you can’t really predict the future,” the author of The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake said. “There isn’t any ‘the future.’ There are many possible futures, but we don’t know which one we’re going to have. We can guess. We can speculate. But we cannot really predict.” That said, autocomplete seems like it’s doing a decent job—for better or worse.

Something else that has proven hard to predict: the end of the world. As Joshua Keating writes, it’s turning out to be a problem for ISIS, which recruits using apocalyptic prophecies that haven’t been coming true. But as he explains, the terrorist organization is hardly the first movement that’s had to adapt because of a false alarm about the End Times. As previous examples show, a failed prediction won’t necessarily mean the end of ISIS.

Returning to the present, here are some pieces we read this week while trying to figure out how bad the Equifax hack actually is:

  • Preparing for the next natural disaster: As we seek the best way to offer assistance to those devastated by recent extreme weather, Jason Lloyd and Alex Trembath consider how we can prevent suffering and loss from disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the future.
  • Tesla helps drivers flee Irma: Florida Tesla drivers got a surprise earlier this week when the electric car company remotely extended vehicle battery ranges to help with evacuation efforts—a humane response to disaster that also serves as a reminder that we don’t own our devices the same way we once did.
  • Russian political ads: Last week, Facebook admitted to congressional investigators that it found evidence that Russian operatives bought $100,000 worth of ads targeted at U.S. voters between 2015 and 2017. Will Oremus explains why this is a big deal.
  • Time capsules: Rebecca Onion takes a look inside time capsules from America’s past to discover how our culture and values have changed over time.


  • From chatbots that provide therapeutic conversation to apps that can monitor phone use to diagnose psychosis or manic episodes, medical providers now have new technological tools to supplement their firsthand interactions with patients. Join Future Tense in Washington D.C. on Sept. 28 to consider how these and other innovations in technology are reimagining the way we treat mental illness. RSVP to attend in person or watch online here.

Emily Fritcke

For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Emily Fritcke is a research associate for Future Tense.