Are Science Fiction Fears About Technology Reasonable?

Science fiction offers strange futuristic views of technology. Some are positive, but most lean towards dystopia. Are technological fears portrayed in science fiction reasonable?

As a species, humans adapt technologies blindly with the hope of achieving promised benefits. We rarely consider societal impact. This is a huge issue, in my opinion. Technology itself doesn’t destroy or evolve societies, rather human use of advanced tools is the culprit.

Some science fiction books like Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 waver between utopian and dystopian views. Science fiction offers us the opportunity to debate whether or not we will destroy ourselves with technology.

Is such dialogue pure fear of change? Or do they remind that we always forget the lessons of the past?

In the case of robotics, the decades old dialogue started by Isaac Asimov’s robot novels has been greatly beneficial. We have been actively trying to build artificial intelligence that will become useful to society while not becoming malevolent a la The Terminator.

But we are not always so forward thinking. Applied to the Internet we do all sorts of neat things like give ourselves access to incredible amounts of information and publishing tools. Then we do things like strip away privacy and quantify human worth and status using tools like Empire Avenue and PeerIndex.

In my book Exodus, Book One of The Fundamentalists I began with a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a biotechnology terror, a direct result of weaponized viruses. This narrative device allowed me to create a world where people avoided technology and religion for centuries, in favor of an agrarian utopia. Throughout the trilogy I debate whether we as a species can use spiritual ideas and technology tools peacefully.

I have to tell you that by the end of the trilogy, technology makes a big come back as a means of defense against fundamentalism. Humans end up using both to create power structures to benefit themselves and dominate other people. And in other cases, people use these very different tools to help each other.

Because that’s who we are, at least right now. I really believe that a portion of the population will always fall to primitive negative actions, and others will rise above. The combination creates volatility.

Why do I have this view? Human beings are complicated, and create conflict. While some people are altruistic or generally good in design, we are all to some extent self-motivated. War itself is something that is a result of modern agricultural and political structures, say researchers. Even when we are not at war, we compete with each other, on an individual basis and with other nations to create the most prosperity and status.

Anyone who thinks the United States is not competing with China from a technological perspective is crazy. How many private incidents of cyberwarfare occur without our knowledge? It’s not like the Pentagon or major companies want to admit how often they are getting attacked.

Furthering blind adoption of tools, technology has proven to be a huge economic driver. Consider the way we encourage technological development in Silicon Valley and beyond? IPOs and acquisitions drive the the tech sector.

Just last month we saw Google purchase Nest for an astounding amount to empower the Internet of Things. Society will certainly reap the economic benefits of data. But are individuals and communities ready for a coming wave of metric-based vanity that determines their place in society?

So you see, I really do think the human application of technology is a worthwhile discussion. Without foresight, it can become quite destructive. What do you think?

Featured image by Mark Beemink. A version of this post ran originally on to read, or not to read.

Get Your Writing Groove on with #NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month, or #NaNoWriMo, began last Friday. NaNoWriMo is an annual exercise where writers perform a mental marathon and write at least 50,000 words in a 30 day period. I decided to participate to help get The War to Persevere: Book 2 of the Fundamentalists underway.

First of all, let me just say that I think writing a novel in a month is a crazy idea. A fun noteworthy achievement for sure, but still a bit intense. Yet thousands do it every year! Amazing!

For me, #NaNoWriMo would take an incredible amount of preparation in advance of the actual writing to succeed, specifically outlines, research, character development, etc,. In fact, I don’t have an expectation of finishing. That’s in spite of having much of the book already sketched out and portions drafted.

The issue is quality. While I think this may be great for drafting, I wouldn’t consider anything I write in 30 days to be publishable. For example, with consulting and fatherhood, I tend to only write 500-1000 words a day. By its very definition, that would leave me short of the 50,000 word minimum.

But, others are faster and work more diligently than me, and may have more time to write. That’s a cool thing. In fact, some decent novels have been written in six weeks or less.

Instead, I am using the exercise and group momentum to get me back into writing shape. Here are some of the things I expect #NaNaWriMo will help me accomplish:

1) Everyday Writing: This is an essential part of writing a book. I really believe you can’t get it done unless you discipline yourself for a long writing marathon. For, given my business duties, I have to accept 500 words a day… So long as I actually write every day.

2) Expose Weaknesses: Until the draft is written, you can’t see where the holes are.So, in particular, I will be looking to expose missing gaps in the narrative, as well as where I need to strenghten the characters. It’s also an opportunity to take feedback from Exodus, and better myself with my sophomore novel.

3) Research Needed: Another core component of this phase will be identifiying areas that need research to make sure the manuscript is technically sound. War will feature quite a bit of steam technology so that means I have to beef up my knowledge of arms and engines. My intent is to draft, then go back and correct or rewrite chapters for accuracy’s sake.

Perhaps the best part of #NaNoWriMo is all of the dialogue from authors. There has been quite a bit of chatter in the Google+ Writer’s Discussion Group. Of course, the #NaNoWriMo site has tons of support forums. And finally, several friends have dialogued about it. This is a cool thing to work through with them.

What do you think of #NaNoWriMo?

Instapocalypse and the Permission War

instagram
Image by tres.jolie

How’s your Instagram account treating you now? Feel better now that Instagram restored some of its original terms of service, and recommitted to observing permission marketing norms with photos?

It seems like every four or five months we experience some outrageous Internet drama where tech and marketing bloggers declare the death of a brand.

Instagram, Chick-fil-a, Netflix, Walmart, etc. have all been condemned for some egregious act of anti-socialness. And then of course, the brands don’t die, and in most cases correct the wrong, recover, and prosper. In the case of Netflix, they are making more money than ever before.

Yet the “Instapocalypse” was different. Like other faux deaths, the network’s daily user losses seem to be negligible, but Instagram conceded promptly to its users, and retracted its intellectual terms that harnessed users’ photos for commercial purposes.

Instagram users won a larger mobile battle in the Permission Marketing War.

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