Living In The Future We Were Sold

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

We’re living in the future, and it’s lousy.

So-called AI is just Ultra-Clippy being shoehorned into everything that will temporarily goose stock prices. We’ve got computerized cars that allow us to bluescreen while driving, and universal automated cars are many dreams and lawsuits away. Phones gave us something like Star Trek gadgets, but we’re using them to become depressed by doomscrolling. I could make a comment on the Cybertruck, but honestly, that seems pointless.

We’ve got a lot of things that we think are futuristic, and a lot of them are lame, terrible, pointless, or have side effects. Plus you know, we’ve got climate change, Nazis, and pandemics as well.

The future isn’t what it used to be? No, the problem is we’re living in the future we were sold.

A lot of our futuristic ideas derive from popular culture, but that popular culture has nothing to do with what we can, should, or even may want to do. A lot of or popular culture is what people could sell us or what worked in media of the time. It has nothing to do with the possible or the necessary.

AI? It’s easier to just have Hunky Space Captain talk to the computer, because no one wants to watch someone scroll on a monitor. Besides, it sounds cool. Also if you’re bored eventually the computer can try to murder people as part of the plot, a real horror film twist. But do we need it?

Automated cars are a dream, especially if you’ve ever driven . . . well, anywhere. It’s a dream that’s cool and convenient and doesn’t have messy people, and looks awesome in films. It doesn’t deal with the reality that driving needs a moral actor to make decisions, even if you’re paying them by the mile. Also it doesn’t deal with outages, software updates, and crashes.

Then there’s our phones, our pocket computers. This is a totally understandable dream of course, going back to hand-held sci-fi gizmos and communicators. It’s just we never asked how we’d misuse them, as if people won’t find some weird use for technology five seconds after inventing it.

All of these are things we’ve seen in pop culture media since the 60’s (and I’d argue a lot of what we’re living in is very 80’s). But it’s not stuff from speculative fiction or deep analysis or asking hard questions of what we want and need in the future. It’s stuff that was fun to put into movies, tv, and comics.

That’s it. For many of us, the future we envision is something that was marketable.

So of course all the backfire we’re experiencing is a surprise. We weren’t buying a warning, we were buying a cool experience.

“A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam,” said Fredrick Pohl. Indeed it should. It’s just sometimes the warnings don’t sell – and other times people think the warning is cool (see many a stylish dystopia with lots of leather for no reason).

So much of the future that people want – or are trying to sell us at least – seems to just be whatever was laying around in pop culture for a while. It doesn’t have anything to do with speculation, or possibility, or what we need. It’s what many of us assume the future is supposed to be because we bought it.

But what is the future we really want and need? The struggle is to find that, and perhaps in this time where the future we bought is failing us, we have a chance to find it.

Steven Savage

Genetic Rot And Controlled Demolition

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

Watching the Tories flail in Britain has been a bizarre thing. The party, vaguely the “British Republicans” hasn’t been doing well, and PM Rishi Sunak is shockingly clueless. This is a man who’s bizarre “send immigrants to Rwanda no matter where they’re from” plan got torn apart on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. Sunak, who I must remind you, is the PM of Britan, left D-day events early I don’t always pay attention to British politics, but Sunak has made it hard to ignore, even if no one’s dragging out any lettuce.

As I was swept into the vortex of Sunak’s incompetence, it seems like nearly every policy he choses is some strange cravenly obvious pandering. He then does stupid things and makes weird excuses. The Tories impress me as being somehow poisoned, as if they as a party are damaged on what we might call a genetic level, organizationally. They can’t do things that, I dunno, are effective, and instead resort to “look at me I am so trying to pander to you, yoo-hoo!”

Which isn’t working as people discuss the future death-rebirth of the party.

As I watch Sunak spin down the toilet of his own mind (there’s a phrase I need to save), I also think about the rot-com economy, as Ed Zitron calls it.. You know the growth-at-any-cost approach that has infiltrated too much tech. It’s why people put “AI” into things that don’t need it and why so many new things don’t seem to be things we want.

Zitron is worth following, every post or podcast is a treasure. Listening to his thoughts has led me to wonder if if the tech world is terminally poisoned, if the bad policies and so forth are, again, “genetic.” There’s something wrong on a fundamental level and the tech world, like the Tories, will probably face a reckoning – something else Zitron predicts often (specifically that one of the Big Tech companies is going to hurt BADLY).

How many organizations, parties, businesses, are now just basic bullshit-slinging, pander-at-all cost structures that can’t do anything else because that’s what they are. It’s in their structural and cultural DNA and it’s not going to change without the organization dying out or “mutating” due to strong external pressures.

Which is a scary question to ask when you look at the state of the world, climate, banks, and . . . well most everything. People fear Hapsburg AI, but I’m wondering if we have Hapsburg social structures, too damaged and too inbred they can’t recover. Are we ready for them to collapse?

Well, probably not. I mean yes, it sounds like the Tories are going to get crushed, but I imagine they’ll try to go out with a bang and their fall may make room for something worse. Sure it seems any number of tech companies may be facing legal if not technical and financial failure – but imagine the economic shop of a Big Boy falling apart.

Yeah, it’s not pleasant.

I’ve come to realize that, despite my love of fixing organization and process, we need to be able to declare political parties, businesses, etc. nonviable. There’s a point where they’re brain-dead, too genetically damaged to function, and moreso a danger to others. We need a way to shut them down, a controlled demolition, or whatever metaphor you want to throw into the metaphor gumbo I’m making here.

For that matter we also need to ask how to found, maintain, and improve healthy government, business, and social structures. But that’s for a different column – a column to be written in the shadow of collapsing organizations.

Steven Savage

The Future Was Never What It Was

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

“The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be” has been a saying for a while. In a time of resource-sucking hallucinating AIs, climate change, and ad-saturated social media, the saying seems more relevant. We’re not getting the future we expected, want, or needed.

As I muse over this, I think the problem is that we had expectations as opposed to asking what we really needed. We wanted a future that was past and present.

Let’s take the Cybertruck, which is one man’s vision of a futuristic vehicle. The Cybertruck – for whatever valid critiques may be made of it – a deliberate creation, from its tech to the low-poly appearance. It’s something out of past science fiction, shoehorned poorly into current technology The thing is it turns out what we want isn’t, well, that vision or its janky implementation.

Or Microsoft’s Recall feature, which records what you’re doing for some kind of recovery purpose, all while basically being a security nightmare. A cybersecurity writer noted that maybe this is just what you get when an aging group of leaders keeps forgetting things. Is it evil opportunism, or just people thinking of a future that solves only something they might think of?

I could of course go on, from wasteful AI today to cuecat in the past and so on. A whole lot of people are inventing, selling, and sometimes just lying about how they’re making the future we want or expect. Which really means what too many people wan tis a future based on old videogames and movies and current ill-thought-out-needs.

We’re not humanity wants or needs because it really seems we’re not trained to think about that.

We look at what we want, and assume it’s for everyone. We look at our childhood media fixation and figure it’s how it should be. Even when people are lying their butts off trying to make “number go up” they’re justifying it with such explanations. I’m pretty sure enough supposed “leaders” of the tech world have been justifying things so long they actually believe it.

I’d feel kind of better knowing I’ve been lied to more, but am really starting to feel a little too much kool-aid has been drunk. A lot of that kool-aid came from 80’s direct-to-video.

And right now people’s egos and money are on the line in these various bad tech decisions, so they’re not going to reverse without some pretty hard bumps. Delusion, short-sightedness, and personal income and reputation are pretty compelling. Besides The Market doesn’t reward you for insight and the news doesn’t fawn over you for saying what a dumbass you were.

I’m starting to think being able to make the future (and make it better) is sort of its own skillset. Clearly a business degree doesn’t help you. But neither does a writing degree as you might just create a new mental straightjacket. Designing a future that works doesn’t necessarily come from pushing around numbers and making pretty words.

But it’s a skill we desperately need right now, and maybe recognizing it is a start.

Steven Savage