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Ask Slashdot: What Essays and Short Stories Should Be In a Course On Futurism? 293

Ellen Spertus writes "I'll be teaching an interdisciplinary college course on how technology is changing the world and how students can influence that change. In addition to teaching the students how to create apps, I'd like for us to read and discuss short stories and essays about how the future (next 40 years) might play out. For example, we'll read excerpts from David Brin's Transparent Society and Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near. I'm also considering excerpts of Cory Doctorow's Homeland and Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age. What other suggestions do Slashdotters have?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Essays and Short Stories Should Be In a Course On Futurism?

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  • All too easy.
    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      1984 isn't so much a story as it is a manual for government agencies.
      I'm surprised the NSA hasn't labelled it as "classified information" yet.

    • That's good reading for everyone, but for a more recent look ahead on how technology changes the world, I would recommend "The Circle" by Dave Eggers. Instead of a tyrannical government, the book predicts a runaway Google-like company. It's the kind of "tyranny of the public" we can expect if we continue to cheerfully sign away our privacy and the privacy of others to otherwise well-meaning companies.
    • by flyneye ( 84093 )

      Some Kafka , I think.
      The Handicapper General prophesied Hillary Clinton and the Repubmocrat party. I bet theres more gold to be found in Kafka.

  • Soylent Green (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Make Room! Make Room! Harry Harrison. A dystopian near-future where overpopulation leads to a struggle for resources. Overcrowding, energy blackouts, food riots and soylent green. Especially look for any passages where the old man, in the main protagonists shared flat, talks about how the world used to be.

  • None of the above (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kamapuaa ( 555446 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @06:17AM (#46343789) Homepage

    Read biographies of people who actually changed the world, and discuss how they did it.

    Stop confusing science fiction or science fiction-styled essays with futurism.

    • Read biographies of people who actually changed the world, and discuss how they did it.

      On that note, I would nominate The Ascent of Man: [] , by Jacob Bronowski.

      However, when I think it, very few folks in the world today have any appreciation for, or understanding of, how the human species got to where it is today.

      It's actually very depressing, when I think about it. But the book is fascinating.

    • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @07:45AM (#46344195) Homepage Journal
      Reading biographies of individual people implies that individual people have individually changed the world. By and large that is not true. On can read a biography on Edison, but that does not tell you the complex story of how that technology actually came to pass and how it effected the world.

      Reading fiction and non-fiction that explores the possibilities or technology, and even the rejection of technology can lead to discussion on the various factors effected the adoption and exploration of technology. For instance Guns, Germs, and Steel puts forward many hypothesis on why some civilizations developed technology, some borrowed it, and some rejected it. It related to the distribution and adoption of technology today and in the future, and how those futurist who think technology is the answer can make it more widely available. On the fiction side, The Difference Engine imagines a world where we had computers in the victorian era. This can lead to a discussion on the differences between an idea, a manufacturing process, and an affordable mass manufacturing process. For instance, was the technology for manufacturing hundreds of identical gears present in the 1800's?

      One this I find interesting is that we know have simplified the process of programming computers to the point where an slightly above average kid with an average education can develop an App. This only took 50 years, two generations. This reflects something that we see repeatedly. The spread of technology does not depend on a special person making a technology, rather the development of a process that makes the technology available to greater number of people. For instance, the process to make a precision screw was incredible important to much of what we do today, even if many of the people who have used the screw do not understand what it does.

      • For instance, was the technology for manufacturing hundreds of identical gears present in the 1800's?

        Yes. Note that mass production was ongoing then. Note that hundreds of thousands of identical firearms were built in various countries in the mid-1800's, for instance.

        • I mostly agree that individuals don't really change history, but that would be a rather somber tone for a class given to bright-eyed college freshmen about how they can change the world...

    • Not sure you know what futurism is:

      concern with events and trends of the future, or which anticipate the future.

  • by Mitreya ( 579078 ) < minus threevowels> on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @06:19AM (#46343803)
    Stanislaw Lem's The Futurological Congress []
  • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @06:20AM (#46343807)

    yor students shud wrte thR essay bout d evoluation of language, UzN a modern txtN lngwij, lol!
    Oh, U ask bout reading, not writiN. ZOMG!

    • by dltaylor ( 7510 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @06:49AM (#46343947)

      Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) did it better:

      For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld. []

      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i"

        Sam Clemens is wrong about the "y".

        The vowel form of "y" could be replaced by an "i", but it makes no sense to replace the consonant sound with a vowel sound.

        • In which words does y work as a consonant? Just curious.

          btw: in german one would y rather substitute with an U-umlaut (the u with two dots on it).

  • Bladerunner - Philip K Dick
    • I would instead recommend the novel off which that movie is based - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but Dick's best work is found in his short stories.

      "The Electric Ant" is especially pertinent, as is "The Mold of Yancey", "Autofac", and, of course, "Second Variety".
      • I would instead recommend the novel off which that movie is based - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but Dick's best work is found in his short stories.

        "The Electric Ant" is especially pertinent, as is "The Mold of Yancey", "Autofac", and, of course, "Second Variety".

        So is "We can remember it for you Wholesale" (a/k/a "Total Recall").

        Substitute multiple mutually-ignorant meddling government agencies for aliens and you're all set for a possible near-future reality.

        Unless the aliens get there first. Damn secret overlords.

      • Hey how about Ubik
        • by invid ( 163714 )
          Ubik is my 2nd favorite P.K. Dick novel, after A Scanner Darkly, which is the one I would recommend for its study of identity and surveillance.
  • Asimov (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The Foundation series is a great set of material where he deals with the difference between an individual's actions swaying the course of history, and the behaviours and trends of large groups over time (psychohistory).

    It links in neatly with the 3 laws, and if it's far too long then try some of his short stories.

    • by gmuslera ( 3436 )
      And is futurism too, predicting and influencing how large groups think and behave, is something that is used today, maybe not at the millenia scale of foundation, but is some of the predictions that is making our everyday lives today, be aware of it or not.
  • You should dig around the website 365 tomorrows [], which publishes daily science fiction short stories, "flash fiction".
    It's frequently quite thought provoking and is exactly about exploring how future can change our lives in form of short peeks into it.

  • by VernonNemitz ( 581327 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @06:30AM (#46343865) Journal
    "Superiority []" by Arthur C. Clarke
    "The Power of Progression []" by Isaac Asimov
    "Time For The Stars []" by Robert A. Heinlein, with particular attention to the "Long Range Foundation"
  • A Few Notes on the Culture [].

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I commented about that anonymousely a minute ago and I think Shalsdot ate my comment, so I'll go ahead and repeat myself:
    The thing you are describing isn't Futurism. Futurims isn't about "how technology is changing the world" and specifically not about " how [it] might play out". It's about the glorification of early 20th century technology and the way it affected the people at that time.

    What you are talking about is Futurology, NOT Futursim. Try not to confuse these, especially if you are teaching people w

  • by Murray Leinster, March 1946. If you're going to talk about how our literature predicts the future, it's worth taking a look at how past literature predicted us. "A Logic Named Joe" did a pretty good job of nailing the internet, nomenclature aside, and it did it almost 70 years ago.

  • " Before The Golden Age " vols. 1-4. A series of science fiction anthologies written before 1939 (the beginning of the "Golden Age" of science fiction). A look at how our great/grandparents saw today (their far future).

  • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @06:45AM (#46343931)

    Well if you're going to teach about Futurism [] you should definitely include some critical consideration of the effect of industrialisation on European and North American countries, consider how art was affected by the experiences of artists in the First World War, and how it influenced the later art movements such as Art Deco, Surrealism, and Dada.

    • Words can mean two things. Welcome to English.

  • by Bill Joy (then Chief Scientist at Sun Microsystems) from the April 2000 issue of Wired magazine: [] []
  • How about a collection of primary source material concerning the...neat...capabilities of technology being actively exploited, on a global scale, right now.

    Seems to me that lesson #1 for (my best guess about what your course is about) is the fact that 'the future' isn't a tame model organism that you neatly confine to the future tense and clinically examine. It's more like a chestburster embedded in the present tense, your present tense, the stuff you would think is too banal to possibly do a course abou
  • Maneki Neko by Bruce Sterling ...which you can read for free right here:

    http://www.lightspeedmagazine.... []

  • If you really want to talk about how technology is changing the world and how the next 40 years might look like, you'll have to mention peak oil and climate change. [] []

  • If This Goes On/Revolt in 2100 by Robert Anson Heinlein. (The backstory to that story is more concerning the question, where the First Prophet was Nehemiah Scudder, a backwoods preacher turned President (elected in 2012), then dictator (no elections were held in 2016 or later)

    You can read Heinlein as adventure stories, you can read his stories as idea experiments and you can also read his stories as reflection on humanity.

    Even though the world isn't what Heinlein depicted I still have a feeling that the rea

  • JG Ballard's Billennium is an excellent story about the psychological ramifications of population growth.

  • That's the book 1984 is based off of. Project Itoh's "Genocidal Organ" is also an interesting read. Essays by Sven Birkerts, who tends to be skeptical about how we use technology to cultivate ideas as opposed to traditional means like the pen and paper. Interestingly, I am taking courses on interface design and my instructors continuously tell us to sketch ideas on paper FIRST before running to the software. Some in class have no idea what a pen and paper is. Stallman's 'Free Software Free Society' essays a
  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @07:55AM (#46344235) Journal
    Another suggestion: read "Manna" by Marshall Brain, a (free []) short story that brings up Marx' old question about the ownership of the means to production, in a society that is pretty much completely robotized. Even if you disagree with his view on how such a future will play out, it'll make for some interesting discussion.
  • I'd show them Back To The Future II - especially appropriate since the future they are visiting is 2015. As our world resembles 1985+smartphones more than the 2015 depicted in the film, it could help temper expectations and demonstrate that no matter what predictions one makes, (and let's face it, nothing in BTTF2 aside from flying cars was really that crazy to believe we would have in 25 years), the only thing certain is uncertainty. Obviously it's a fictional film and was not serious futurist prediction
  • Forward looking, non-fiction. Will be wrong, obviously it will be wrong, but if any of these wrong future speculations are worth reading then Freeman Dyson's certainly is among them.
  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @08:39AM (#46344457) Homepage Journal

    1984, Brave New World and Little Brother could be too close to comfort for the authorities, probably Foundation too. And I'd say that a lot of Philip K. Dick tales where the official vision of reality is put in doubt won't make it neither.

    Asimov's The Feeling of Power [], Charles Stross Accelerando [], Vernon Vinge's Rainbow's End [] and parts of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy [] could give different hints on how the future could develop without too much controversy.

    Can't recommend Stephenson's Diamond Age because for me is somewhat the past. It was written before wikipedia and internet, before than even poor children in 3rd world countries had an access to all of it. And those children prefer to access youtube videos and play candy crush over accessing wikipedia.

    • Not sure if joking, but I assure you colleges are fine with more-politically-seditious authors than Isaac Asimov and Philip K Dick.

    • KSR's Mars trilogy sucked. I read the whole damn thing and kept on hoping there was a point to the meandering mess. Never happened.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      "could be too close to comfort for the authorities,"
      You need to get out more.

  • Not really science fiction but definitely a great novel about a dystopian future.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @08:46AM (#46344499)

    Another great dystopian future novel, with some science fiction.

    • Yes, it's brilliant. Dark humor, and a tangibly real decaying future. I read it when it first came out and still remember it vividly. I'm sure it still has the power to make people uncomfortable after all these years. Read it if you can find a copy.
  • Flatland, by Edwin Abbot, is a short and amusing book that describes the lives and trials of two-dimensional beings. It's a social satire, but it also gives one the feeling that our personal realities, and indeed, our present day societies may not be (and should not be) the limit of what we can imagine and/or what we can achieve. For me it seems like the perfect stepping off point for an exploration of the future.

  • As soon as everybody has understood that this is not something they are doing because it has any worth except as entertainment, you are alls set. Then use anything that is fun and interesting, but never forget that reading tea-leaves is about as scientific as futurism is.

    • Nope, there's absolutely no point in thinking about the future, except of course to assume that it'll be just like the present.

  • James Burke's "Connections" and perhaps "The Day The Universe Changed". How small incidents can create massive changes - Napoleon's near defeat at Marengo starts the path to refrigeration, how a botched souvenir production run and an grousing cleric leads to a revolution in printing and religion. Etc. Also "The Second Self" by Sherry Turkle - to see how an emerging thread in technology can have implications elsewhere. Yes, many sc-ifi books have done this predictively, but again it's valuable to see ho

    • by invid ( 163714 )
      Connections effected my view on the nature of the world more than any other single work.
  • Aren't you supposed to tell us? You're teaching the course, innit? Or is this some kind of reverse open course, where the pupils are in a class room and the teachers are anyone and his dog on the internet?

  • I would definitely include: The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era by Vernor Vinge []

  • A number of Larry Niven's short stories would be excellent examples of futurism:

    The Jigsaw Man really stands out as a commentary on how power would be abused when organ transfers became nearly 100% successful (yet very expensive).

    The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club talks about flash crowds.

    Cloak of Anarchy deals with, strangely enough, anarchy.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      " (yet very expensive)."
      That's the problem. Stories like that always need to make the tech more expensive when in reality the better we get at something, the cheaper it gets.

      • New technology typically goes through a phase where it is really expensive when it is first released, and then it gets less expensive, right? The Jigsaw Man is set in that initial timeframe. Breakthroughs in the medical science gave doctors the ability to transplant every organ except the brain and spinal column, but the cost was still very high and only a few could really afford it.

        Niven does explore the next phase, where the cost comes down (or the technology is replaced by something less expensive

      • Cheaper.
        Right, like health care is now... In the U.S.
  • There are several cases of technology and knowledge development that I think are worthy of consideration. The most important is the development of writing. Often, this rather mundane technology had all sorts of mysticism attached to it, such as the Egyptians' use of it to help the dead transition to their afterlives []. Or to turn defeat into victory [].

    Another example would be the development of modern medicine particularly in the early days when it required numerous cadavers to learn the principles of the me
  • Make them all buy My Book!

  • History has shown that the strong governments get, the more corrupt they become (power corrupts). Yet, they can hit a point where the people can no longer hold their government accountable (e.g., Stalin). So, how, with technology advancing, and the government having access to it all while the people have limited access, can you prevent corruption in the future?
  • The first half of 'Mana.' Or was it Manna? Not sure.

  • One of the best novels about a realistic and mostly dysfunctional future set in 2010. []

  • You should include the Manifesto of Futurism. It's quite moving.

    1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.

    2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.

    3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggresive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.

    4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty

    • Marinetti was a douchebag blowhard like the rest of the fascists.

      It's interesting how much pent up violence, psychopathy and uber-paternalistic bullshit the early twentieth century engendered.
      And yes, there are many famous early twentieth century Americans you can add to that list.

      This reads like Mein Kampf...

      6. The poet must spend himself with ardor, splendor, and generosity, to swell the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.

      What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

      I wonder what Freud, another early twentieth century bullshitter, would think of it?

    • Also known as "The Celebration of Cocaine, one Hell of a Drug".

  • by Lawrence_Bird ( 67278 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @10:30AM (#46345273) Homepage

    Shouldn't you also be looking at much earlier authors and comparing what they wrote to the state of events 50 odd years later? Would think there is a vast selection from 'golden age' sci-fi including Asimov,Heinlein, Pohl, etc. You can also find many old PopMechanics and similar magazines from the 40s, 50s, 60s with 'future' editions. How does what they wrote compare to what is being predicted by writers today?

  • It's a poem rather than a short story or essay. It's by Richard Brautigan who was the poet in residence at Caltech. It was first published in a volume of the same name, not all of which may be suitable for your audience.

    All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace (poem) []
    All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (collection) []

  • That you should look at stuff from 40 years ago and show them how wrong it was.

  • Yeah, I know there's no book. But the target demographic is those who wait for the movie.

  • Hugh Howey's Silo Series, starting with Wool. Granted, it is a dystopian story, but it shows a strongly human side to the collapse of civilization. A lot of dystopian stories tend to focus on the inhumanity and shock value of distorted societies. Howey's collection of novellas makes it much more personal to the reader. I believe it is the uniquely intimate approach to such a story that caused Howey's stories to catch on.

  • Pretty much anything written by William Gibson.
    The guy is a visionary. He seems to be able to unerringly look 10-15 years ahead and predict the future culture and what tech will be most relevant.

    So much of what he writes about seems unlikely at the time, but yet comes true just a few years later.

    Most people already know that In his 1984 book "Neuromancer" he basically predicted the future importance and uses of the internet and the existence of portable devices to access it (It was he that coined the term C

  • Go to []

    I tried to post the list here but /. helpfully said "Your comment has too few characters per line (currently 33.9)."

  • Any number of novels by John Brunner, but Stand on Zanzibar if you have to choose one.

    Fred Pohl's short-short "Day Million," about a cyborg spaceman and a transgendered otter-woman meeting, falling in love, exchanging virtual reality sex profiles and never meetin again.

    Freeman Dyson's essay "The Greening of the Galaxy."

    • Well, the "classic" Brunner example would be "Shockwave Rider", if you like "Stand on Zanzibar" you might like "Sheep Luck(ing?) Up", too.

      Perhaps at least mention 'Future Shock' and 'The Third Wave' by Alvin Toffler

  • Might be a bullet point to discuss how technology (fertilizers, vaccines, medicine) may, or has resulted in, a possible overshoot/overpopulation scenario. []!

  • by Ellen Spertus ( 31819 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @01:46PM (#46347723) Homepage

    First, thank you, everyone, for the feedback. There are some wonderful stories that I recognize and others that I look forward to reading.

    Second, because the solicited essays and fiction will only be a small part of the course, I will have to rely on short stories (including novellas) instead of entire novels. That is part of what makes it hard to research. It's much easier to find out about novels, which have more readers and are better publicized than short stories, especially recent ones that have not yet been widely reprinted.

    Third, to those of you who think I am being too lazy to do my research myself, gathering information is part of the research process, and I'd be remiss in not making use of the hive mind if it has useful information that I might not. I would much rather be called a negligent teacher than to be one. Academics study one another's reading lists and syllabi all the time. Believe me, plenty of work remains in deciding what material to include, how present it, etc.

    Fourth, thank you for letting me know the history of the word "futurism". The sense I used it ("concern with events and trends of the future or which anticipate the future") is the first one in some dictionaries [] and is widely used at [], The Foresight Institute [], and other sites I have used, but I will certainly let my students know that some people prefer the word "futurology". For those who are interested, here's a Google n-gram view of "futurism", "futurist", and "futurology" [].

    Fifth, some commenters suggested using primary sources and biography. Agreed. I was already planning to include Turing's Computing Machinery and Intelligence [], Vannevar Bush's As We May Think [], and the stories of Khan Academy, Iqbal Quadir [], Sugata Mitra [], and others.

    Sixth, it was also suggested that I look at past predictions of the future. Also agreed. I assembled such a reading list for a previous course. It hadn't occurred to me to include in my question what I didn't need, because I'd already assembled it, but I see now that it would be helpful.

    Thank you again for the suggestions and even for the criticisms. Soliciting opinions from Slashdot is always a story in itself.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken