Prediction Fiction

Essay by Madeline Ashby: “…This contributes to what my colleague Scott Smith calls “flat-pack futures”, or what the Canadian scholar Sun-ha Hong calls “technofutures”, which “preach revolutionary change while practicing a politics of inertia”. These visions of possible future realities possess a mass-market sameness. They look like what happens when you tell an AI image generator to draw the future: just a slurry of genuine human creativity machined into a fine paste. Drone delivery, driverless cars, blockchain this, alt-currency that, smart mirrors, smart everything,and not a speck of dirt or illness or poverty or protest anywhere. Bloodless, bland, boring, banal. It is like ordering your future from the kids’ menu.

When we cannot acknowledge how bad things are, we cannot imagine how to improve them. As with so many challenges, the first step is admitting there is a problem. But if you are isolated, ignored, or ridiculed at work or at home for acknowledging that problem, the problem becomes impossible to deal with. How we treat existential threats to the planet today is how doctors treated women’s cancers until the latter half of the 20th century: by refusing to tell the patient she was dying.

But the issue is not just toxic positivity. Remember those myths about the warnings that go unheeded? The moral of those stories is not that some people are doomed never to be listened to. The moral of those stories is that people in power do not want to hear how they might lose it. It is not that the predictions were wrong, but that they were simply not what people wanted to hear. To work in futures, you have to tell people things they don’t want to hear. And this is when it is useful to tell a story….(More)”