Future Tense newsletter: What happens when tech policy and sci-fi collide.

Future Tense Newsletter: What Happens When Tech Policy and Sci-Fi Collide

Future Tense Newsletter: What Happens When Tech Policy and Sci-Fi Collide

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 27 2017 12:19 PM

Future Tense Newsletter: What Happens When Tech Policy and Sci-Fi Collide

Presidential Candidate A. Zombie and his human wife Patty Morgan-Zombie, at Dragon Con 2012 in Atlanta.

Greetings, Future Tensers,

As our monthlong Future of the Future series comes to an end, Kevin Bankston explores how the worlds of tech policy and sci-fi collide at Dragon Con, an annual science-fiction and fantasy fan convention. Among the cosplayers who attend are some of the top minds in tech law and policy. The convention brings experts and fans closer together to explore how science fiction can inform their work. “More importantly,” Bankston writes, “it exposes the sci-fi audience to today’s tech policy issues, in an entertaining way that feeds into their passion for imagining tomorrow, while arming them with the knowledge and advocacy tools they need to influence what that tomorrow looks like.”


As we’ve learned from this series though, imagining tomorrow is not as easy as it seems. Annalee Newitz, author of the new sci-fi novel Autonomous, explains how to write a novel set 125 years in the future. When writing Autonomous, Newitz wanted to create a future that wouldn’t make a mockery of how history really works. So she looked back at the trends from 125 years ago that are still relevant today and considered what would remain the same 125 years from now. “Basically,” Newitz writes, “I wanted people in my 2144 to be just as alien (or not) as my great-great-grandparents’ generation is to me.”

Here are some other things we read this week while pouring one out for Equinox’s social media manager:

  • Twitter tests longer tweets: Twitter announced Tuesday that it’s doubling the character limit for tweets to 280 characters for a small group of users. Will Oremus explains why the company is trying something new.
  • Weather science: Weather forecasting is better than ever, but it has become a victim of its own success. The problem, Mike Smith writes, might be that when meteorology is successful, nothing happens.
  • Google’s dominance: A social network’s lawsuit against Google sheds light on the power big tech monopolies wield in the information economy.
  • Hurricane recovery: Denice Ross makes the case that data transparency is the most empowering tool to help align public and private recovery efforts in the wake of disasters like Harvey and Irma.
  • Privacy nightmare: As companies are figuring out how to use technology to create better ways to help the mentally ill, David Dobbs warns of the privacy issues that arise when everything is connected.


  • From chatbots that provide therapeutic conversation to apps that can monitor phone use to diagnose psychosis or manic episodes, mental health care providers now have new technological tools to treat patients. Join Future Tense in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 28 (that’s tomorrow) 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.
  • Tech companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook have revolutionized our lives, connecting us in ways that were once unimaginable. Join Future Tense in New York on Oct. 4 and in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 5, when Franklin Foer will discuss his book, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, and the role these big tech companies play in our lives. RSVP to attend the event in New York here or RSVP to attend the Washington event in person or online here.

Drafting 280-character tweets,
Emily Fritcke
For Future Tense

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

Emily Fritcke is a research associate for Future Tense.