The market for fiction focused on the fever dream of a dystopian technological future is ever widening, and there have been some really stellar entries into the canon. Dave Eggers’ The Circle, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, various George Saunders entries, Isaac Asimov, not to mention, like, Minority Report – they’re all meditations on an imagined future dominated and determined by machines.
Patrick Tucker is here to tell you that future is now. The science journalist and editor for such publications as The Futurist, The Atlantic, Defense One, National Journal, Slate, Salon (amongst others) brings us The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? It’s a brisk nonfiction read that would nicely compliment a screening of Citizenfour.
In breezy, smart, but layman-accessible prose, Tucker enumerates and explores the predictive technology making Minority Report a thing of the present. From earthquake detection-turned-prediction programs, to the true extent to which targeted ads actually target consumers, Tucker explores the vast array of hardware, software, algorithm, and ingenuity fine tuning life on earth – or at least within driving distance of a Walmart.
The thing about all these innovations is that there’s a fine line between utopia and dystopia. The “Quantified Self” you’ll meet in the chapter on Fitbits and the kind of obsessive personal data cataloging that can revolutionize health is either hyper-functional or OCD, depending on how you look at it. (This probably correlates directly to how annoyed or enamored you are by anyone who won’t shut up about their Paleo diet.) Metadata stripped of individual identities is a great business tool – thanks AT&T and Verizon! But metadata necessarily counts the individual phones included in the set, and all it takes is a few location data points to negate anonymity entirely. Not so great. One Czech 25 year-old can predict your location, down to the square block and within the hour a year and a half from now based on the data in your phone. Still less great.
While it’s easy to cry 1984 when it seems like your computer’s predicting your behavior and your phone is always watching you – and according to Tucker, they are, he’s more hopeful than anything else about the world that anticipates your every move. Predictive technology has the power to revolutionize healthcare, streamline disaster response, and completely revamp the economy. And since it seems to already be happening, we’ll have plenty of time to enjoy it before the robots take over.
The Naked Future by Patrick Tucker is available today.