[Note for TomDispatch Readers: As many of you may remember, Dispatch Books has long been publishing John Feffer’s Splinterlands trilogy, his dystopian novels that foresaw so much that’s since engulfed us. His first volume, Splinterlands, was published in 2016, Frostlands in 2018, and the final must-read book, Songlands, is now out. Of it, Adam Hochschild has written: “An intriguing conclusion to a worthy trilogy. Feffer leaps far into the future in this book, but his view of it is enriched by a quirky, sensitive understanding of our world as it is — both its dangers and its possibilities.” Make sure, at the very least, to order yourself a copy. Any of you who might, however, like to support TomDispatch in return for your own signed, personalized Songlands, should go to our donation page and contribute at least $100 (or, if you live outside the U.S.A., $125) and it’ll be yours. Truly, you won’t regret it. In fact, given the ever-hotter world we find ourselves in, it couldn’t be a more appropriate book to read! Tom]
In my younger years, I had significant experience with futuristic worlds, sometimes of the grimmest sort. After all, I went to the moon with Jules Verne; saw London being destroyed with H.G. Wells; met my first robot with Isaac Asimov; faced the apocalyptic world of those aggressively poisonous plants, the Triffids, with John Wyndham; and met Big Brother with George Orwell. Yet, from pandemics to climate change, social media to the robotization of the planet that TomDispatch regular John Feffer describes today, nothing that I read once upon a time, no matter how futuristic, no matter how strange or apocalyptic, prepared me for the everyday world I now find myself in at age 77.
Back in the days of the pen and manual typewriter (remember, I’ve been an editor most of my life), if you had told me that, were I someday to mistakenly spell “life” as “kife,” the spell-check program on my computer (yes, an actual computer!) would promptly underline it in red to let me know that I had goofed, I would never have believed you. I, edited incessantly by a machine? Not on your life, or perhaps I should say: not until it became part of my seldom-thought-about everyday life. Nor, of course, could you have convinced me that someday I would be able to carry my total communications system in my pocket and more or less talk to anyone I know anywhere, anytime. Had you suggested that, then, I would undoubtedly have laughed you out of the room.
And yet here I am, living in an online world I barely grasp in a version of everyday life that’s left more youthful thoughts about the future in the dust. And now, Feffer has the nerve to fill me in on a future world to be in which, functionally, a robot may be carrying the equivalent of me around in its pocket or simply leave beings like me in a ditch somewhere along the way. Apocalypse then? I shudder to think. Read his piece and see if you don’t shudder, too. Tom
We’d Better Control Machines Before They Control Us
My wife and I were recently driving in Virginia, amazed yet again that the GPS technology on our phones could guide us through a thicket of highways, around road accidents, and toward our precise destination. The artificial intelligence (AI) behind the soothing voice telling us where to turn has replaced passenger-seat navigators, maps, even traffic updates on the radio. How on earth did we survive before this technology arrived in our lives? We survived, of course, but were quite literally lost some of the time.
My reverie was interrupted by a toll booth. It was empty, as were all the other booths at this particular toll plaza. Most cars zipped through with E-Z passes, as one automated device seamlessly communicated with another. Unfortunately, our rental car didn’t have one.Read More