Blade Runner, Company Town, and the near-term dystopia.
The original Blade Runner was set in 2019, and I don't think Los Angeles will be a Japanese-speaking dystopia dominated by an obsidian roboticist's pyramidical headquarters by then. (Flying cars, also: notably absent from recent R&D announcements out of Detroit.)
But one of the things that most unnerved me about the new Blade Runner 2049 is the extent to which its slightly-more-distant future felt disturbingly plausible. A holographic girlfriend, the logical extension of Alexa and Siri, has glitchy moments that lend the film some of its most lighthearted moments. Yet the tech feels all the more real, coloring the world with a depth we know too well from minutes toe-tapping while the pinwheel of death mocks us.
This is something the near-future dystopian novel Company Town, by Madeline Ashby, also does very well. Having recently finished, here are five technologies from the book to check in on.
Image by Joost Swarte from MIT Technology Review, "The Seven Deadly Sings of AI Predictions"
1. Voices in your head
I’m not suggesting that we all might undergo surgery to make use of the tools that Apple has developed. But I do see a future where our senses are augmented less invasively. (WIRED)
2. Bosses with your every move
Bosses are spying on staff using a Big Brother-style tracker to monitor their every move. The high-tech device records sleep patterns, fitness, productivity and can even analyze emotions. (NY Daily News)
3. Cameras in your eyes.
Sony and Google have both delivered plans for cameras that you would wear on (or in) your eyes, and while the primary purpose of the devices is your own recording, the implication of a “connected” camera recording what you see means that others would have access to your vision. (The Daily Beast)
4. Computers in your brain
[Elon Musk's Neuralink] is centered on creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain, with the eventual purpose of helping human beings merge with software and keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence. These enhancements could improve memory or allow for more direct interfacing with computing devices. (The Verge)
5. Genetic enginnering
In a process that can be likened to the creation of GMO crops, scientists have edited genes in human embryos in order to eliminate a mutation that causes thickening of the heart wall...Is this a glorious new frontier or a troubling situation? Unequivocally, the answer is yes to both. (Chicago Tribune)
6. The singularity
This is a problem I regularly encounter when trying to debate with people about whether we should fear artificial general intelligence, or AGI—the idea that we will build autonomous agents that operate much like beings in the world. I am told that I do not understand how powerful AGI will be. That is not an argument. (MIT Technology Review)