the future issue

The Weirdness Is Coming

A glimpse of the near future as seen through the recent past.

Illustration: Robert Beatty
Illustration: Robert Beatty
Illustration: Robert Beatty

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“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” When the novelist William Gibson said this — probably in the late ’80s, though, like a lot of prophetic aphorisms, when he first said it is not exactly clear — he was describing distribution by place: iPhones arriving en masse in Steve Jobs’s United States, all-inclusive social-credit scores blanketing Xi Jinping’s China, antibiotic-resistant superbugs cropping up in India before spreading as far as the Arctic, climate change flooding the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh long before it conquers New York or Tokyo.

But the distribution is uneven in time, too, because the future never arrives all at once with the thunderclap of a brave new world suddenly supplanting the comfortable old one. Which is why future-gazers like Gibson are always talking about how their works aren’t about the future — and pointing out how terrible their records would be in predicting it — but about the world in which they were written.

They are right. Today the world has the uncanny shimmer of future weirdness, its every week stuffed with new events that seem to open up strange new realities only to be forgotten as the next wave of strangeness hits. But as the decade pulls to a close, we’re unpacking the last year of it in a timeline of crucial 2019 dates that played like premonitions of where we’ll be ten years from now. The future is present in these moments — epic, like the battle for Hong Kong; eerie, like virtual makeup; and personal, like contemplating gender-confirmation surgery.

Photo-Illustration: Chris Labrooy

What kind of present is it? In certain ways, it’s an in-between one: We’ve spent 2019 waiting for Brexit and for 2020, for the next round of climate talks and the next recession. But taking a tour through the calendar of news events with an eye toward the future is actually pretty dizzying. Somehow, our present is both Neuromancer and The Handmaid’s Tale, both Waterworld and Mad Max, Idiocracy and 1984 (an updated version of 1984, anyway, in which the nations of Oceania pride themselves on the freedom exhibited by handing over surveillance powers to corporations that work with police states, rather than to the police states themselves).

Those worlds of novels and movies might seem contradictory, but it’s not as though we have to choose only one when imagining the future. Reality is much messier than that, much weirder. It’s not one history book following one arc, whose shape you can judge from the cover that encloses it. It’s full of not just revolutions but counterrevolutions, dead ends and false starts and false predictions. Over the next decade, at least a few of these will probably come to seem naïve or Pollyannaish or prematurely apocalyptic. But we’ll also, presumably, come to find a lot more of them obvious and old news. By then, the weirdness of the future might not even feel so weird.

Today In 2029…This odd future came into view:

JANUARY 3, 2019

China becomes the first nation to land on the dark side of the moon.

➼ President Xi Will Be Our Stalin

Photo: Lou Linwei/Alamy Stock Photo

Last year, Xi Jinping declared himself president for life. This year, he put his army on a permanent war footing and effectively staged a five-month battle in Hong Kong. More than a million Uighur Muslims are imprisoned in concentration camps in western China, and Han Chinese officials are being sent to the region to live with the prisoners’ wives. A social-credit system monitors your every move and gives you bonus points for reading the president’s writing daily on your phone. By at least one estimate, China will grow past the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy as soon as 2020. ­Others predict it’ll take a decade or two longer, but Xi will still be in power then, too.

JANUARY 9, 2019

Three days of trade talks in Beijing end without any resolution.

➼ The Trade War Will Be Our Cold War

In the ’50s, they had to use the word cold because it was a different kind of war. This one will be, too, and perhaps as disruptive. Already this year, a third of American farmers’ income came from insurance payments and Trump-administration bailout money to make up for profits lost from the trade war. And there are much more intense pressure points yet to be pressed, given that most of our pharmaceuticals (and iPhones) are made in China.

January 14, 2019

A protest of fuel prices in Zimbabwe ends with 68 people shot; a few days later, tens of thousands of protesters pour into the streets of Venezuela to contest the reelection of Nicolás Maduro.

➼ Protest Movements Will Boom and Become Harder and Harder to Understand

2019 is the 30th anniversary of 1989, that iconic year when the Berlin Wall fell and citizens came out en masse throughout Eastern Europe to topple dictatorships. In 2019, we have again seen mass protests breaking out across the world, from Hong Kong to Moscow, Tbilisi to Belgrade, Santiago to Prague. But unlike in 1989 — and unlike the Arab Spring or the “color revolutions” of the early aughts — it’s hard to see what these protests have in common. Some are demanding the right to vote; others focus on corruption or even smaller, tactical goals. They don’t articulate themselves as part of a global story in part because, in the current moment of populist authoritarianism, the challenges are much more complicated than they used to be. It’s not just a matter of democracy against dictatorship because, these days, it’s much harder to define a government as democratic or dictatorial. Many, such as Serbia’s, offer a semblance of political rights: The protests of 2019 find it harder to gain traction than those against Milosevic in 1999. In the Czech Republic or Georgia, the country’s richest men control the government, but the political system remains plural. Even in Moscow, censorship, compared to the USSR’s, is thinner, while freedom of movement is a given. Ideologies, too, have become more liquid. The Chinese Communist Party is, well, not terribly communist. So it’s harder for protesters to define their own narrative in opposition. If the rulers of the 20th century were stolid and slow like Arnie in the original Terminator, today’s regimes can transform like T2. Going forward, protests will shape-shift, too. Peter Pomerantsev

January 17, 2019

Netflix announces that You, a drama it lifted from Lifetime, is “on pace” to be viewed by 40 million “accounts.”

➼ We Will Never Know If a Movie Is a Hit

All of the entertainment we used to consume in more independently quantifiable ways — via TV ratings, box office, album sales — has moved to streaming, where we just have to trust Netflix or Spotify or Apple to tell us how popular it is, and they will almost certainly lie. Netflix occasionally releases random stats about how many people watched something, and they usually strain credibility. In June, it claimed 30.9 million watched a new Adam Sandler movie in its first three days, which would have made it one of the biggest openings in history if it had been released in theaters. And we never know how successful any movie is when it’s released on for-pay VOD (via iTunes, Amazon, or your cable box) because nobody shares any numbers at all, which is strange because streaming is how plenty of non-superhero movies make most of their money now. Obviously, they will know — the producers and stars who benefit. But the public will be living entirely in the dark, never knowing if something is actually a hit or just totally Astroturfed. This will be really disorienting; today, at least, the popularity of an artist accounts for like half of the way we feel about them. And hard audience figures were, for a generation of barroom debaters about pop culture, the closest thing anyone actually ever got to a “fact.” —Lane Brown

January 21, 2019

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talks to her followers via a Donkey Kong Twitch livestream.

➼ The Television Era of Politics Will End

Photo: United States Government (AOC)

Television-dominated politics famously began the night that John F. Kennedy trounced Richard Nixon in their broadcast debate, reached its height with Ronald Reagan, and arrived at a sort of parody state with Bill Clinton, who pushed TV’s empathic capabilities to the limit — like Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey, he reached through the screen and felt our pain. By the time George W. Bush was landing on an aircraft carrier in front of a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner, the values of reality TV had replaced those of traditional narrative TV. And while some of this season’s presidential candidates (Beto and Booker in particular) still attempted to project a television emotionality closer to the warm fuzziness of The West Wing than to factual political debate — as everyone knows, facts make for boring television — the era of television politics is, actually, coming to an end. Twenty-first-century issues are just too real and intractable and upsetting for a medium that insists on wrapping things up at the end of every show. The digital storytelling that has replaced television is characterized less by linear, emotional storytelling and more by nonfiction truth.

Consider the Facebook Live and Instagram videos of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. Each is far too ideological for the tube, but their fact-based messaging and justified outrage work perfectly well on social media.

And we are fast approaching a turning point where, as happened with AOC and Greta, users will actually be able to identify and promote what becomes popular themselves — whether that’s a bartender in the Bronx, a teenager in Sweden, or someone or something else. This is as many early internet visionaries predicted, but the results, to this point, have been more chaotic than utopian. But some chaos, sometimes, is good. —Douglas Rushkoff

January 22, 2019

A chemistry professor warns global helium reserves could disappear within a decade.

➼ Party Balloons Will No Longer Float

January 25, 2019

A “New Science of Psychedelics” session is held at Davos, of all places.

➼ Terminal Patients Will Go on a Trip Before They Die

And a lot of others will go on them to deal with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, replacing a culture of daily psychotropic medication with one of periodic hallucinogenics.

February 1, 2019

A photo of Virginia governor Ralph Northam in blackface surfaces; Northam does not resign.

➼ Racism Will Thrive, But No One Will Say the Word

Among racism’s many paradoxes is that it’s more advantageous to practice it than to wear it as a badge, and so denying or recasting one’s racism despite contrary evidence is an old practice. (Even former Alabama governor George Wallace, who famously proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in 1963, denied his own on the basis that he didn’t actively “despise” black people.) That this pattern continues today on the right can be attributed, in part, to a widespread belief that, actually, racism is defined too broadly rather than too narrowly. More than half of white Americans — including nearly 80 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning whites — think that people seeing racism where it doesn’t exist is a bigger problem than their failing to see where it does. This polarization will only calcify as accusations of racism maintain their stridency and the accused decline to reckon with their validity. The result will be a significant share of the white adult population that believes racism hardly exists anymore — because, in their frantic efforts to avoid being labeled racist, they will have redefined racism out of existence.

When that happens, the hate group Identity Evropa will become a viable Third Party. The Proud Boys will hold seats on county councils. A Richard Spencer–type will be elected to a state legislature. Political campaigns like Ku Klux Klansman David Duke’s successful 1989 run for the Louisiana House will once again become commonplace. Trump’s “very fine people” carrying torches and assaulting protesters in Charlottesville, the Virginia school resource officer who was outed as a white nationalist — these will expand into robust constituencies to whom politicians and private enterprise will cater. An America where flagrant racism is nowhere means it can better proliferate everywhere. Today’s trend will be tomorrow’s status quo. Zak Cheney-Rice

February 5, 2019

An AI makeup artist “does” Kylie Jenner’s makeup for Dazed Beauty.

➼ You Will Never Wear Makeup

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images (source photograph)

Thanks to China’s most popular makeup app, Meitu, even Putin can have dewy skin. The app’s 456 million users post 6 billion Meitu’d photos per month, dolling up their selfies (or photos of world leaders) with the glossy lips, rosy blush, and glowy skin they’ve never had. And virtual-reality makeup is starting to take hold in the U.S. Earlier this year, YouTube launched augmented-reality ads that let viewers virtually try on products, like M.A.C lipsticks, to determine how they look before purchasing them. These apps will allow us to be both lazy and beautiful, moving through the world as camera-ready digital avatars. We could fall asleep without washing our faces, drink so little water that our pee is neon, and still look good, dialing into conference calls with our fellow avatars, I mean, co-workers.
Kathleen Hou

February 6, 2019

Emma and Zoe, high-school seniors and both 17, prep for the ACT.

➼ In 2029, We’ll Be 27. Life Will Be Lit.

Emma: We met in preschool. But I don’t remember feeling like, Oh my God, best friend forever, until probably like end of elementary school.

Zoe: Last year, you had this big junior history paper that’s, like, super-hard, and you had a really hard teacher as well, and I remember you being like, “This class is really hard.” But your teacher specifically said that your paper was the best, and I feel like, in the future, you’re going to do something that’s political but also writing. When we go on college tours, you say, like, “International relations”?

Emma: I could see you being a lawyer because … when you talk about politics, it’s like the way you say it sounds like you could be in the courtroom. I picture you having such a good life at 27. I feel like you’re going to have either a career or the beginning to a career or like maybe be in law school. I think you’re going to be very financially stable, first of all.

Zoe: I think you’re going to just be very settled and happy with what you’re doing, and you’ll be happy with, like, your friends and with your boyfriend or whatever. Like, I’m not sure financially … but regardless, you’re gonna figure out a way to be happy with the situation and make it the best and end up, like, actually loving it.

Emma: I feel like you’re gonna have just the funniest boyfriend ever.

Zoe: They have to be, like, weird.

Emma: I feel like we’ve both realized that we need weird men in our lives.

Zoe: If you tell me a guy is weird, I’m like, Yes, that hits the spot.

February 7, 2019

Ava DuVernay guest edits Time’s “Optimism” issue.

➼ DuVernay Will Be Our Spielberg

Appreciating the singularity of Spielberg, Hitchcock said that the then-young director was “the first one of us who doesn’t see the proscenium arch.” DuVernay feels just as singular: the future of auteur filmmaking both demographically and technologically, using her prodigious social-media and real-world networking skills to unify facets of her talent, interests, and public image and using her fame, industry clout, and social-media reach to raise up artists who have yet to achieve her level of success. Matt Zoller Seitz

February 10, 2019

Travis Scott performs at the Grammys one week after performing at the Super Bowl.

➼ Travis Will Be Our Kanye

Like Kanye, Travis Scott has an ear for what’s popping in hip-hop and the wherewithal to ingratiate himself to whoever’s making it pop. Like Drake, he has great respect for the formatting of classic albums and a knack for a hummable hook. Like Future, he sounds at ease in a lurid party scene. Travis’s ascent in this decade — he hasn’t plateaued yet — has been a feat of mixing, matching, and borrowing threads until a personal style developed in the blends. He’ll be a force in the ’20s if he can write more personal lyrics … and also if he can’t. —Craig Jenkins

February 14 , 2019

OpenAI claims its newswriting AI is too dangerous to publicly release.

➼ We’ll Read and Write Like Robots

In whatever other ways robots might outperform humans, surely writing is one thing that separates us from machines? Or so we thought. On the other hand, we already read AI-generated text with some frequency in the emails we receive from people using Google’s Smart Reply and Smart Compose functions, for example. And just as we read text from robots, we write text for robots frequently, too, anytime we construct a search query that seems oddly phrased in human languages but gets us exactly the result we’re looking for. And we increasingly encounter text with a simultaneous robot and human audience: tweets meant to engage an audience but also surf the Twitter-sorting algorithm, say, or SEO-spam-farm articles that both communicate to humans the answers to their queries and communicate to robots that an article should be ranked highly in search results.

This sort of writing — think of the strange and stilted language in the pages that come up when you Google something like “how to tie a tie” — represents a kind of bot-human pidgin, a simplified language meant to be used between two groups that don’t speak the same native language. It’d be nice to think that as robots become better at writing like us, and understanding us, we’ll return to a natural, human English, but it seems more likely that as we grow more comfortable writing to (and reading from) robots, a sort of creole will emerge: a functional language developed from a mixed robot-human grammar. Max Read

February 21, 2019

The Army Corps of Engineers releases five proposals for how to protect the city from sea-level rise.

➼ New York City Will Begin to Enclose Its Entire Harbor With a Seawall

February 22, 2019

It’s revealed that 245 children have been separated from families since the policy was “ended.”

➼ Child Separation Will Never Be Forgotten

February 23, 2019

Drone spying by exes is a thing, British police reveal.

➼ There Will Be Deliveries by Drone, But Also Stalking and Even Drone Assassination by Terrorists — and Civilians

February 25, 2019

An editorial in Nature warns that changes to human diet are urgently needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

➼ We Will Feel Guilty About Many More Things

For starters: Flying. Driving. Ordering so many Ubers. Takeout containers. Single-use anything. 20-minute showers. Baths. Gender reveal parties. Gendered baby names. Not talking to our kids about sex, or race, or climate change. Eating avocados. Prisons — for anyone. The two-party political system. Not voting. Drinking diet sodas. Fast fashion. Wearing fake fur, which pretends to be fur. Ghosting romantic partners. Having children. Stanning Kanye. Stanning Taylor Swift. So many hetero rom-coms. All the things we don’t even know we should feel guilty about yet. Not using sunscreen.

February 26, 2019

John J. Lennon begins the 215th month of his prison sentence.

➼ I Might Finally Be Free

By John J. Lennon

In 2001, I shot and killed a man back in Brooklyn. In September 2029, a little less than ten years from now, I’ll see the parole board. I’ll tell them that I am sorry for killing and take responsibility. Then I’ll suggest, trying not to sound too smug about it, that perhaps assessing my CV and career as a prison journalist is a better way to predict my future risk — or success — in society. They’ll likely let me go. As long as you’re not a serial killer, a cop killer, a person with serious mental illness and no support, or the guy who killed the other John Lennon, you’ll probably be granted parole in this new criminal-justice-reform era. I’ll be 52. Not too young, not too old.

I often look out my Sing Sing cell window and watch the sailboats blow by on the Hudson, the mountains turning green and brown and white. I think about getting out in ten years. I picture myself at work, maybe in the glass-walled offices of Esquire, 21 stories above my old Hell’s Kitchen Manhattan neighborhood, staring off with the 30-year prison gaze, still stuck in my head at my desk, occasionally laughing and talking to myself, like I used to do all of those years in the solitude of my cell. I hope my colleagues won’t mind.

I think about shallow shit, too. I need several teeth implanted (all they do is pull them out in here), and I want veneers, and I want a one-bedroom in Manhattan, in a high-rise building with amenities. And I want to sport Ferragamo, cashmere scarves, and peacoats. It’s conflicting, I imagine, to hear how someone who once took a life thinks about living a good life. Even still, I don’t want you all to resent me for wanting these nice things for myself.

I think about how it will be to live in society with the narrative of my past just a few fingertip swipes away. What will the dating scene be like? I imagine I’ll meet someone, tell them my name, and they’ll stalk me out and ghost me as if I were the bogeyman. Or they’ll be intrigued, subconsciously waiting for me to become dark and manipulative, like a true-crime villain.

*This essay was produced in collaboration with the Marshall Project.

February 26, 2019

TikTok passes 1 billion downloads around the world.

➼ We Will Import Our Pop Culture From China

In 2017, an infectious Romanian party song called “Panama” somehow found its way to Thailand, where it became the soundtrack of a viral dance craze. If this doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because the song traveled from Romania to Thailand via China, specifically via Douyin, the Chinese counterpart of the app you know as TikTok. This unexpected cultural exchange never registered on America’s pop-culture radar.

Not that long ago, it would be hard to imagine the U.S. entirely sidelined in any global pop-culture phenomenon, but this may quickly become less the exception than the rule. Outside a few science-fiction novels and mobile games, China’s media industry has still not quite figured out how to consistently manufacture culture that resonates with international audiences, but the explosive global popularity of TikTok — a social platform for sharing and remixing shortform videos with a powerfully addictive recommendation algorithm — is creating a jarring new reality for Americans and Europeans, who have until now had a near monopoly on the platforms that capture the world’s attention.

And over the next decade, the rise of TikTok will be only one small part of a much more fundamental shift in cultural power. The Chinese government is currently betting big on a much more massive platform play: the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious set of infrastructural projects in over a hundred countries. The initiative is off to a rocky start by many accounts, but transformations don’t have to be total to be significant — and disorienting. Even if it fails to live up to the Chinese government’s immense expectations, the effort will still shake up the arteries by which power and influence flow around the world.

All eyes are on censorship of political speech as China rises, but it is unlikely that the Chinese government will ever control the global news feed with an iron fist — after all, it has never even managed this within its own borders. Instead, its influence will be negotiated in infrastructural road maps and marketing decisions, connecting previously disconnected regions and allowing for new cultural collisions — Nollywood films taking off in Indonesia, say, or Thai and Brazilian protesters sharing tactics.
The global calendar of commerce, already partially oriented around Chinese holidays owing to manufacturing, may shift further to accommodate Chinese consumption as well — companies may race to get goods on shelves by China’s mega shopping holiday, November 11, rather than Christmas. Christina Xu

February 27, 2019

The Royal Society finds microplastics in the world’s deepest marine ecosystems.

➼ We Will Drown in Plastic

Photo: Donal Husni/NurPhoto via Getty Images

By 2050, there will be more plastic in the water than fish. And straws account for only one-40th of one percent of the 8 million tons of plastic that flow into the world’s rivers and oceans now every year, and five Asian nations (China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam) dump more plastic waste into the ocean than the entire rest of the world combined (including the U.S.). Which means that plastic-straw bans like those that swept across the guilty-feeling liberal West over the course of 2019 will have no effect at all on the nauseating amount of plastic that has already accumulated in the world’s oceans. But it may have the effect of irritating plenty of conservatives, who already suspected that the Green New Deal meant liberals were coming for their hamburgers; the plastic bans were proof they were coming for your Big Gulps, intensifying a cycle of inconsequential but mutually maddening political theater. —David Wallace-Wells

February 28 , 2019

Some cancers are likelier to recur after robot surgery, the FDA warns.

➼ Cancer Won’t Be Cured by Robots But Will Be Detected by Smart Bras

When the FDA cautioned against using surgical robots to treat cancer, MD Anderson quickly stopped using them. But high-end surgeries aren’t really where the important breakthroughs are. “You’ll go your family physician, they’ll take a blood draw, and you’ll be on your way” says David Crosby, head of early-detection research at Cancer Research UK imagining a new future of screening. Or you could use something like a Breathalyzer, since cancer also excretes metabolic by-products that evaporate out of your lungs. “In ten to 15 years time,” Crosby predicts, “I don’t see why you couldn’t go down to Walmart and buy a cancer breath test that sits in your kitchen drawer.”

Current cancer treatments “are Stone Age therapies,” says Azra Raza, an oncologist at Columbia University. We already know how to improve early detection, she says. For example, tumors require more and more blood supply; new vessels create greater heat, and these hot spots can be located with scanning devices. “So we put you to bed in bedsheets that scan you,” Raza offers. “You take a shower in a shower that scans you. Women wear a smart bra equipped with 200 biothermal tactile sensors that detect changes in temperature.” (That bra is already in clinical trials, actually.)

A child born in the future could have a cancer-detection chip implanted at birth. “It would just sit inside your body and continuously monitor the mixture of molecules in your blood,” says Crosby. “The moment anything indicative of cancer emerges, you get a ping on your smartwatch or something that says, ‘You probably want to go see a doctor.’ ” Clint Rainey

March 1, 2019

Japan lifts a ban on growing human cells in animal embryos.

➼ Your Loved Ones Will Become Monkey-Human Hybrids

Sure, it will seem gross, at first, when your uncle receives a heart transplanted not from an organ donor but a pig or monkey that had been genetically engineered to grow human parts inside it. But it won’t take long for the public to be persuaded — so many people getting the help they need, designed specifically for their bodies to avoid transplant rejection — even though the animal-rights activists will have a field day.

March 7, 2019

Scientists unveil a new model test-tube “brain.”

➼ New Drugs Will Be Tested Not on Human Subjects or Animals But on “Mini-Brains” Grown in Labs

March 8, 2019

At a rally in Long Island City, Senator Elizabeth Warren proposes yet another plan: regulating tech conglomerates.

➼ We Will Break Up Big Tech

Today, anyone who hopes to restore the competitive, pluralistic, decentralized internet has to overcome not just the tech companies’ commanding market dominance but also the political influence Big Tech can buy with its monopoly profits. This can seem hopeless: We have to weaken Big Tech’s profits in order to rob it of political power, but while it wields that political power, it’s hard to imagine ever eroding those profits.

How then might we arrive at a 2029 where the internet is restored to its sunwalled glory and chaos?

Photo: Ron Adar/Alamy Stock Photo (Warren)

Perhaps it could come in the form of a plea bargain. Big Tech companies are notoriously incorrigible, getting into trouble with the likes of the FTC, being given a second chance in the form of a “consent decree” — a pledge of good behavior — and then getting into worse trouble for flagrantly violating the terms of its parole (looking at you, Facebook).

When that happens, the FTC could offer the repeat offenders another chance but also attach arbitrary conditions to that chance: For example, the FTC might tell Facebook that it must not use legal or technical countermeasures to prevent third parties from plugging competing services into Facebook Messenger, Instagram, or even Facebook itself. (This is called “interoperability.”) After all, a court recently found that LinkedIn could not seek to prevent HiQ from scraping its publicly available data. Not only did the court find in HiQ’s favor: It also ordered LinkedIn not to take technical countermeasures to keep its competitor off the service.

The implications of that kind of plea-bargain protection would be enormous. It could allow “adversarial interoperability”: nonprofits, tinkerers, and even venture-funded start-ups building tools and services to help internet users gain more control over their online lives, even if doing so violates a patent, bypasses a copyright lock, or breaks the terms of service (which are, after all, neither read nor complied with by anyone, anywhere, ever). A million small and medium-size enterprises could offer a million different sets of house rules, and the monopoly would be effectively disrupted. Cory Doctorow

March 12, 2019

A group of activists announce they’re going on a “birth strike” to protest climate change.

➼ Climate Change Will (Slightly) Accelerate Demographic Decline

March 13, 2019

High winds in Texas and Oklahoma overturn trucks, uproot trees, down power lines, and blow off roofs.

➼ I Will Worry About the Wind

By Heidi Julavits

In June of 2015, I met an Italian man while drinking wine on the lawn of a Florentine villa. The weather was hot and sunny, the winds strong. The constant thump and crack of the nearby party tent lent the afternoon a malevolent feel, as though we’d dressed up to witness a ceremonial flogging. As we talked, the man kept casting uneasy glances toward the sky. Not only was Florence getting hotter by the year, he said, but the winds seemed to be getting stronger. Italy has a number of seasonal winds; they’re named, sometimes for their moods, sometimes for their point of origin. (La Tramonata, a cold, dry, winter wind from the north, translates as “beyond the mountains.”) This wind, he said, felt less predictable than the named winds. Irregular and strong, it had started to blow the red ceramic roof tiles off historic buildings like the one above us. It wasn’t unusual for a tile to blow loose and explode in a piazza like a bomb.

In New York, most winds, unless they’re hurricane-strength, don’t get names, and most don’t make the news. One day in late October, the wind in New York made the news. It was 40 mph and the skies were clear. In California the same day, the wind also made news. There, due to high winds and the shoddy state of their equipment, PG&E had to stage a blackout… Read More

March 14, 2019

Congress considers banning facial recognition, then does nothing.

➼ There Will Be No Turning Back on Facial Recognition

By Lane Brown

Photo: Gareth Cattermole/TAS18/Getty Images for TAS/2018 Gareth Cattermole/TAS18

On Friday, August 16, at around 7 a.m., a pair of suspicious appliances was found on a subway platform at the Fulton Street station in lower Manhattan and, an hour later, a third near a garbage can on West 16th Street. Initially, police thought they might be improvised bombs, like the shrapnel-filled pressure cookers that blew up at the 2013 Boston Marathon and in Chelsea in 2016, but upon inspection they turned out to be harmless empty rice cookers, probably meant to scare but not explode. Trains were delayed during the morning commute, but since that happens often enough without any terrorist help at all, the scariest thing about this episode may have been the way the alleged perpetrator was caught.

Minutes after the discovery, the NYPD pulled images of a man leaving the devices from subway surveillance cameras and gave them to its Facial Identification Section (FIS), which ran them through software that automatically compared his face to millions of mug shots in the police department’s database. The program spit back hundreds of potential matches in which officers quickly spotted their person of interest: Larry Griffin II, a homeless 26-year-old the NYPD had arrested in March with drug paraphernalia. FIS double-checked its surveillance pictures against Griffin’s social-media accounts, and by 8:15 a.m., his name and photos were sent to the cell phones of every cop in New York. He was arrested in the Bronx late that night and charged with three counts of planting a false bomb. (He pleaded not guilty.)

This might seem like a feel-good story: A potentially dangerous person was identified and apprehended with previously impossible speed and no casualties thanks to by-the-book use of new technology (or newish; the NYPD has used facial-recognition software since 2011). But zoom out a little and it looks more like a silver lining on one of this year’s biggest feel-bad stories: The facial-recognition system that ensnared Griffin is only a small piece of a sprawling, invisible, privacy-wrecking surveillance apparatus that now surrounds all of us, built under our noses (and using our noses) by tech companies, law enforcement, commercial interests, and a secretive array of data brokers and other third parties.

In 2019, facial recognition may have finally graduated from dystopian underdog — it was only the fourth- or fifth-most-­frightening thing in Minority Report; it’s never played more than a supporting role on Black Mirror; and in the Terminator movies, it was a crucial safety feature preventing the Terminator from terminating the wrong people — to full-grown modern worry… Read More

March 16, 2019

Instagrammers trammel over California “superbloom.”

➼ Geotagging Will Be Extremely Uncool

Photo: brklynwilde/Instagram; furleighfotography/Instagram; karlysaurman/Instagram; _earthsoulspirit_/Instagram; karissarosas/Instagram by _lacaze/Instagram; jaydenhbecker/Instagram; miss._.melgar/Instagram; i_run_with_scissors_/Instagram; earthmomma_/Instagram; awseibt/Instagram; boomgal_27/Instagram; ericchronicles/Instagram

In leaving their mark on the #superbloom hashtag, visitors also left one on the physical place: Poppies are easily killed by trampling, and footsteps through the flowers created the appearance of a trail, inviting still others to follow and trample them further.

The effects did not go unnoticed. Stories of inconsiderate #super­bloom Instagrammers caused a backlash. In this context, each photo looked less like a dreamy escape than an irresponsible faux pas, showing a subject destroyed in real time by its representation.

Photographic representations of places have always affected those same places, from visitors to Yosemite seeking an IRL Ansel Adams photo to people overrunning an Icelandic canyon after seeing it in a Justin Bieber music video. Already in 1977, Susan Sontag called the photograph “experience captured” and the camera “the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.”

Since then, Instagram has encouraged a contagious rash of acquisitiveness, since the purpose of many Instagram posts is not just to declare “I was here” but to gain attention and inspire imitators. But the consequences of Instagram-fueled desire are a harsh reminder that the world is not an inert shop of wonders for our consumption. Any day now, geotagging a photo to a suddenly popular area might be seen like littering, a digital action with physical consequences. Better yet, maybe we won’t be there in the first place—and I won’t know either way, because you won’t tell me. —Jenny Odell

March 21, 2019

Russian hackers target European polling machines ahead of E.U. elections.

➼ We Will Return to Paper Ballots

“Right now, if there is a hack, if it was the right state in a close election, the entire federal election, you wouldn’t know the result. Eleven states don’t have full backup paper ballots. There are some counties in Florida that don’t have backup paper at all. All of New Jersey doesn’t have a backup paper ballot. Now, it’s one thing if in a governor’s race or a senator’s race you have to do it over. But what are you going to do about a presidential race?” Amy Klobuchar

March 22, 2019

The Mueller investigation ends.

➼ America Will Become a Banana Republic

The investigation that produced no prosecution was just the beginning of a very bad year for American accountability and functioning government. The president refused to cooperate with subpoenas, he held up military aid to get dirt on Joe Biden, and for a few days last summer, Oregon looked like a failed state. Unable to prevent its government from imposing restrictions on carbon emissions through the formal political process, the Republican members of Oregon’s state senate fled the state to deny the Democrats a supermajority quorum. Governor Kate Brown responded by ordering state police to round up the rogue legislators. The Northwest’s right-wing militia community responded by promising to protect the renegade Republicans from Brown’s jackbooted thugs. Oregon Democrats folded; climate action died so that a functional state government might live.

This is a preview of things to come. The tension between our constitutional order and the demands of the climate crisis aren’t going anywhere. As both partisan and urban-rural polarization deepen, the composition of the U.S. Senate will very likely award permanent veto power to the most conservative elements in American society. The Republican Party could easily retain control of the upper chamber throughout the coming decade — even if it perennially loses the popular vote in presidential elections. Unable to pass ambitious climate legislation at the federal level, deep-blue states with economic clout like California will push the envelope on their own authority. When the Trumpified judiciary cracks down on (blue) states’ rights, it will be Democrats’ turn to override the verdict of the formal political system. The nullification crisis will begin. The ensuing conflict may be uncivil. Eric Levitz

March 25, 2019

Global carbon emissions hit a record high in 2018, the IEA announces.

➼ We Will Abandon Hope of Avoiding ‘Catastrophic’ Warming

Doing so would require halving emissions by 2030, though we’re still adding to them.

March 26, 2019

“I am pissed off,” Sean Hannity says on air, about the end of the Mueller investigation, which he considered an injustice.

➼ Lachlan Murdoch’s Fox News Will Be Worse Than His Dad’s

Photo: David Crotty/PMC

“Lachlan Murdoch admonished Shep Smith for bucking the pro-Trump line and told him to dial it back — something that even Roger Ailes wouldn’t do. Without Smith, they’ve dropped that veneer of journalism and have fashioned themselves into a giant torpedo that will be aimed at whatever is standing of our society at that point.” Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America

March 26, 2019

An artificial womb is used to save an extremely premature baby.

➼ Surrogates Will Be Retired

It is, in the end, a bit weird, class-wise, to pay someone else to carry your baby. Much more comfortable to get a Ziploc bag to do it.

March 27, 2019

The number of Americans reporting no sex in the past year grows to 23 percent…

Photo: Source: General Social Survey; Pew Research Center

…and the teen birth rate hits 17.4 per 1,000 females.

Photo: Source: Pew Research Center

➼ At Some Point, We’re Going to Start to Think It’s Weird That No One Is Having Sex

March 29, 2019

Daydreaming about a new body.

➼ I Will Grow a New Part of Me

By Cyrus Grace Dunham

I like taking naps at the end of the day, when the sun is starting to set but my room is still so hot that I can’t be in there without sweating. I took a lot of naps this August and September. I would lie naked on top of the sheets, looking down at my body and out at the mountains turning pink, until I drifted off. Often, in the blurry space between being awake and asleep, I’d have this vision of the future:

I’m lying in my bed, in a different house but still California. I look down at something like a penis, twitching as it rests on my thigh. Still, this urge to say “something like a penis,” instead of just letting it be a penis. I put my right hand under it and lift it up to rest in my palm, bent slightly. The skin is soft and papery, it pulses. It’s a living creature. One I have to protect and tuck away. For a few seconds, I just watch it there in my hand, then place it back on my thigh… Read More

March 29, 2019

Stoic pop witch Billie Eilish releases debut album.

➼ Billie Eilish Will Define the Sound of Smartphone Speakers Like Madonna Did for Stereo …

Photo: Pacific Press Agency/Alamy Stock Photo

For a pop star, Eilish doesn’t appear to obsess much over image or artifice. She dresses vividly but never garishly. She’s affable but no-nonsense in interviews. She’s not clamoring for placements on huge records. Her album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go is a family affair, all hushed, homemade beats and blood harmonies aided by her brother Finneas. It made all the adjacent pop radio hits seem fussy by comparison. And it will last. —Craig Jenkins

… And Will Herald a Return to Repression, Too

We’re due for a neo-Victorian age of restraint, modesty, chastity, and conformity. And not a moment too soon! Social media homogenizes our thinking and joke-making while also making certain emotional outbursts seem inappropriate, pointless, even disgusting. The past 20 years have been a Wild West for sharing feelings and personal information online (I do it constantly), but now that the roads are more paved and the stakes are more apparent, perhaps new generations will become more circumspect. Maybe the current internetty predilection for stoicism is a harbinger of things to come. Also, have you noticed that the coolest young musicians don’t move their faces or express emotion very much? Like Billie Eilish, who seems very in control of her face. No gratuitous eyebrow movement, no unnecessary smiles. Her face is more like a veil than a mask. To me, she embodies how powerful and attractive it is to be calm, controlled, and unreadable. Impassive, removed, an enigma. It feels like a reaction to the oversharing decades of the aughts and ’10s. In this current era, where everyone can know everything, it’s cool to keep things to oneself, hold cards to one’s vest. —Edith Zimmerman

March 29, 2019

58 percent of parents using digital assistants say they worry about surveillance.

➼ There Will Be Such a Thing As a Burner Alexa

March 31, 2019

Disney prepares to announce its Disney+ launch date.

➼ We’ll Begin to Resent Big Entertainment the Way We Resent Big Tech

April 1, 2019

The Impossible Burger debuts at select Burger Kings, part of a rapid mainstreaming of plant-based Frankeneating perfected at restaurants like Noma, where asparagus preserved in mold is regularly served.

➼ You’ll Crave Mold…

Photo: Joseph Weaver

No, things don’t look overly promising now, but the business of food — its cultivation, its manipulation, its production and steady, rabid consumption — is something we fire-ant Homo sapiens have always done ingeniously well during our short, star-crossed time on this planet. Imagine urban centers surrounded by towering vertical farms as the sprawling horizontal model of farming that drove prosperity (along with waste, global warming, and declining health) mercifully disappears from the Earth altogether. Instead of steaks and chops, the fashionable “live food” restaurants will be devoted to the exotic, endlessly diverse realm of the insect kingdom. (“Would you like candied grubs on your kombu porridge, sir?”) Innovative chefs will be less like cooks than scientists, experimenting with edible mold and utilizing a virtual bouquet of chemically enhanced smells and tastes. “Gourmet” dinners will exist, increasingly, not in reality but in the ever-expanding realm of the mind, designed to be enjoyed at vast expense by pale, starved-looking gourmands wearing elaborate sensory helmets in the comfort of their own homes. The rest of us will subsist on increasingly sophisticated faux-meat patties, rehydrated vitamin powders engineered to taste like vanished “home cooked” delicacies (Grandma’s meatballs, chicken potpies, eggplant Parmesan), and Soylent-like substances cranked out on 3-D printers, which those great food innovators at the Pentagon are designing now for troops in the field. And what about the bellicose, opinionated, wine-swilling, foie gras–gobbling restaurant critics who once roamed the great foodways during the vanished Era of Plenty? We will survive, of course, although in slimmer, much less bellicose form, because as long as there is food, nourishment, and human life on the planet, there will always be critics. —Adam Platt

…And Eat Refined Scraps

We asked few chefs to imagine dinner in 2029.

Photo: Melissa Hom/New York Magazine

Savory bar with ancient grains, mushrooms, and seaweed
By Ignacio Mattos, chef-owner at Estela, Flora Bar, and Café Altro Paradiso

Mattos imagines a haute cuisine energy bar. “This bar not only serves as nutritional fuel — but it’s also delicious. There are fermented greens stems, seaweed, and quinoa. Mushrooms need to be there, too, since they play an essential role in improving human and environmental impacts.”

Photo: Melissa Hom/New York Magazine

Maitake mushrooms grilled in kombu with crispy mussels and kelp oil
By Diego Moya, executive chef at Racines

“Mussels, seaweed, and cultivated mushrooms — three ingredients that will always be available,” Moya says. “They are nutritious, plentiful, and will more than likely be staples.”

Photo: Melissa Hom/New York Magazine

Intestine chicharrón, tomato redux, fermented cabbage
By Victoria Blamey, executive chef at Gotham bar and grill

This dish is made entirely of kitchen scraps: “All animal parts, leftover veg, and produce that is no longer beautiful but nutritious,” Blamey says.

Photo: Marvin Orellana/New York Magazine

Seared foie gras with buttered crumpets and pickled market vegetables
By Ashley Rath, former executive chef at Brooklyn’s LaLou

Rath does not see food itself changing much by 2029. The wealthiest individuals will continue to eat whatever they want — even foie gras, which is set to be banned in New York City in 2022.

Photo: Stella Blackmon/New York Magazine

Frog tenders
By Kia Damon, culinary director at Cherry Bombe

The challenge: Make kids’-meal chicken tenders without the environmental and political problems of industrial chicken. The solution: frogs’ legs. “They fry up just like chicken,” says Damon.

April 3, 2019

In Brooklyn Heights, hundreds of residents assemble to argue over the demolition of the aging, outmoded Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

➼ We’ll Have the Opportunity to Design a Post-Car City

The BQE may be in critical condition, but soon enough we’re going to have to figure out what to do about the FDR Drive, too. It’s nearly as old, and the East River pilings on which much of it stands are not going to last forever. (They’re wooden, for one thing. A generation ago, the river was so foul that marine borers could not survive in it, but the water is cleaner now and the worms and various other gribbles have returned.) After San Francisco’s bilevel Embarcadero Freeway along the harbor broke down in a 1989 earthquake, it was removed in favor of a surface-level boulevard augmented with trolley lines and bike lanes, inspired in part by New York’s West Side experience. And what happened? The gracious old Ferry Building on the water, which formerly had the highway cutting across and obscuring its face, came back into view, and became a highly successful food hall. Trees and grass replaced some of the old on- and off-ramps’ right-of-way. The new waterfront road is still car-friendly, but it’s not utterly car-dominated; it’s lined with new buildings and stores to which people can walk. There is 51 percent more housing in the area than there was before. bart ridership in the area went up 15 percent. Some of the automobile traffic from the highway was, in fact, absorbed into the local streets — except for the significant number of car trips that simply were not made. “Traffic shrinkage” is the term of art for this. Christopher Bonanos

April 12, 2019

The president announces he’s considering releasing imprisoned undocumented immigrants into sanctuary cities to spite their liberal mayors.

➼ Trump Will Ruin History

One day in 2029, former President Donald Trump — now 83 years old, pushing 300 pounds, almost entirely confined to his Florida home, but miraculously still alive — will notice a friendly historian from Liberty University appearing on a morning show on Fox News. The guest will say something nice about Trump’s time in office, arguing that despite his lack of appreciation from the liberal historical Establishment, the 45th president fostered peace and prosperity and gave working-class Americans a renewed sense of national pride. Trump will send a tweet quoting the praise and denounce the “corrupt, lying” historians who have rated him one of the worst executives ever to occupy the office.

Of course all of this will happen. Even the most buffoonish or criminal of the former presidents can eventually be rendered statesmanlike by the soft-yellow glow of historical memory — especially when his party marches further into extremism every election cycle. It is easy to imagine that Trump, too, will one day be seen as — well, not bold or farsighted but perhaps merely amusing, even harmless.

But only by part of America — his part. When the rest of the country assesses Trump, it will become obvious he will join a rogues’ gallery of historical villains, the unlucky exceptions to the normalization process. There is in Trump a bit of Andrew Johnson, who was impeached, temperamentally unfit, and notably racist even by the standards of his day. There is also a sprinkling of Joe McCarthy, an uncontrollably mendacious demagogue who briefly electrified the conservative grassroots and intimidated the Republican leadership into acquiescence, and some Richard Nixon, who respected no limits to his authority.

For most of the 20th century, American history was dominated by an assumption of consensus. The polarization of the modern era has stripped away that illusion or at least rendered it obsolete. Whatever our future holds, we will probably not arrive there on a common journey, with a common understanding of the past. The conservative movement has already cultivated its own network of alt-universities, as divorced from their traditional tweedy counterparts as Fox News is from the broadcast networks. Hillsdale, Liberty, Bob Jones, Patrick Henry College, and other temples of conservative Christian higher learning will surely develop a historical analysis that places Trump on their own Mount Rushmore alongside Reagan, George W. Bush, Calvin Coolidge, and Andrew Jackson.

America is headed to a world of everything splitting into red and blue pairs: red and blue news, culture, neighborhoods, sports teams. What we currently think of as “history” will eventually be seen as blue America’s history. It will scorn Trump. But red America’s history will lionize him. Part of Trump’s legacy will be that the very notion of a singular presidential standard against which he can be judged will come to seem naïve and quaint. Jonathan Chait

April 14, 2019

The longtime opening date for the American Dream mall. After many delays, it finally opens in October.

➼ IRL Retail Will Live Only Inside Amusement Parks

By Matthew Schneier

The 16-story indoor ski-and-snowboard park scheduled to open at American Dream. Photo: American Dream

It was not so very many years ago that an artificial intelligence invaded American homes. Once engaged, it barked orders — provided you had supplied it with batteries (not included). “Attention, mall shoppers,” it told its helpless servants. “Sale at the shoe store! Sale at the fashion boutique! Clearance at the sunglass boutique!”

It was Mall Madness, Milton Bradley’s board-game diagnosis of a national fever. We had contracted mall madness. The nerve center of teenage life was the shopping mall, a meet-cute and merch paradise.

That was then. The interceding 30 years have not been kind to the shopping mall, strafed as it has been by online shopping on one side and discounters on the other. Recent years have seen a great mall die-off, and mall vacancy rates this year are at their highest since 2011.

And yet — here we are in 2019, zombie survivors of the “retail apocalypse” surveying the wreckage, and all over New York, here come the malls. The last few years have seen a bubbling up of megaproperties that combine retail, office space, residential space, and dining; and now, nothing less than the American Dream, which opened in October. We have finally achieved the American Dream, and it is a shopping and entertainment center in East Rutherford, New Jersey… Read More

April 23, 2019

Gemini Man trailer is released, starring Will Smith and … Will Smith.

➼ Julia Roberts Will Still Be Starring in New Romantic Comedies. So Will Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis.

Before and after rendering of a young Will Smith in Gemini Man.
Before and after rendering of a young Will Smith in Gemini Man.

In Ang Lee’s new movie Gemini Man, Will Smith plays a middle-aged assassin who finds out his bosses have cloned him and that his younger double — who is also played by Smith, or at least a swarm of pixels moving in his shape and under his control — wants to kill him and steal his job. It might’ve been inspired by a true story.

Gemini Man flopped — it only made $20 million in its first weekend — but think of it as an investment. To create their own clone of Smith, the moviemakers didn’t just airbrush his wrinkles or paste footage of his younger face onto somebody else’s head, like in that deep-fake video where Bill Hader morphs into Arnold Schwarzenegger; they built a complete digital replica of a 23-year-old Smith, with a body and facial muscles that moved on the 51-year-old Smith’s command (he wore a motion-capture suit to perform as his younger self). And now Hollywood has an ageless computer-generated copy of one of the most bankable actors in history to use however it wants — in sequels to Independence Day and Men in Black, or a reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or any other part the real Smith is too old or eventually too dead to play — plus the technology to digitize other stars, too… Read More

April 30, 2019

Instagram tries to remove the LIKE button.

➼ You’ll No Longer Know Precisely How Many Friends You Have

May 1, 2019

Kirsten Gillibrand proposes reforming campaign finance through “democracy dollars.”

➼ At Some Point, One of These Campaign-Finance Reforms Might Actually Take

“Voters could give these 100 ‘democracy dollars’ to any candidate or campaign. This way if you were to get 10,000 American voters behind you, you would raise $1 million in democracy dollars, and then if the lobbyists came waving a $50,000 check at you, you would say, ‘I don’t care about your $50,000 check, I’m getting my money from the people.’ By the math, democracy dollars would wash out lobbyist dollars by a factor of more than five-to-one.” Andrew Yang

May 6, 2019

Showtime starts airing Desus & Mero two times a week.

Desus & Mero Will Define Late-Night TV (And This Is How Its Head Writer* Sees the Future)

Photo: © Daniel DeSlover/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Stock Photo (Lizzo); Tetra Images/Alamy Stock Photo (podium)

Greta Thunberg will be 26, so she’ll still be trying to save the world, but she’ll also be deep into her post-college what-does-it-all-mean-I-guess-I’ll-take-an-improv-class-and-start-a-podcast phase. I’ve been to several Lizzo shows and felt the energy in the room, so I can confidently say that by 2029 she will be a full-on cult leader. (Also, I will definitely be in this cult.) After her imprisonment in the Hague, Ivanka Trump will emerge a changed woman. She’ll be devoting herself to a life of service, renouncing material wealth … or more likely have a Fox News show called Ivanka Now. Having harvested enough zinc oxide to sustain his colony for another dozen millennia, Stephen Miller will finally shed his human exo-skin and slither back to the ancient Arctic crevasse from which he emerged in the mid-’80s. But first he’s got to wow the judges with his paso doble on Dancing With the Stars! Mark Zuckerberg will be forced out of Facebook by the board after the site finally transitions to being a distribution platform for deep fakes of Zendaya reading government propaganda. This will all be covered in The Social Network 2: Macedonian Nights (2029). —*Michael Pielocik

May 9, 2019

Jeff Bezos announces plan to develop a lunar lander called Blue Moon.

➼ Space Travel Will Get Banal — And Depressing

Jeff Bezos introduces his lunar lander. Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images/2019 The Washington Post

Blue Moon is scheduled to launch in 2024. If this mission is successful, its cost to each of us could be profound. What’s it going to feel like for most of us, the non-billionaires, to look up at the moon at night and know that one of Bezos’s toys is strutting around on the surface? The answer might be something similar to what Gil Scott-Heron expressed in his response to Apollo 11: “Whitey on the Moon.” The space class doesn’t have to be practical. Their dreams aren’t tethered to mere terrestrial concerns like health care or student loans; they can afford to throw money away on rockets that blow up and spin out. Meanwhile, the common pleasure of the night sky might come to feel less like an opening to the infinite than a membrane of modern robber-baron excess — something we are trapped under, rather than living within; less ours to admire than theirs to control. Joanne McNeil

May 10, 2019

Electronic musician Holly Herndon releases a pop album, PROTO, using an AI named Spawn.

➼ You Will Love the Music Written by Robots

Photo: Christopher Gower/Unsplash

“We started training it with my voice and [my husband] Mat’s voice, both of which are in the hundreds of megabytes of Spawn’s training info. I made a data set where I sang random phrases within a comfortable range for me, like:

Aluminum cutlery can often be flimsy.

She wore warm, fleecy, woolen overalls.

Alfalfa is healthy for you.

Spawn would digest that information, which could take anywhere from one to 20 minutes. We’d all be on Slack together, and we’d get updates like: “Spawn released a new track.” Pretty soon, we’ll have very accurate voice models of past vocalists, and that’s going to open up questions about what we do with our forefathers’ and foremothers’ voices. I used to say we’ll have infinite Michael Jackson records, but that probably won’t happen anymore. Infinite Aretha Franklin records may be the better example!” Holly Herndon, as told to Andy Beta

May 17, 2019

After passing a fetal-heartbeat bill, members of the Missouri House throw papers in the air to mark the end of the legislative session.

➼ We’ll Perform Abortions at Home

By Irin Carmon

Photo: NICK SCHNELLE/The New York Times/Redux

When Leana Wen introduced herself to America as the new president of Planned Parenthood last fall, she had a story she liked to tell — one that showed exactly why abortion access mattered. It was a sad tale of “a young woman lying on a stretcher, pulseless and unresponsive, because of a home abortion.” Wen, an emergency physician who had been plucked from Baltimore’s Health Department to take over the century-old institution, said the young woman had arrived at her ER in “a pool of blood” because “she didn’t have access to health care, so she had her cousin attempt an abortion on her at home. We did everything we could to resuscitate her, but she died.”

Wen was talking about a time when abortion was technically legal, yet the story rhymed with the pre-Roe era, when doctors and lawyers spoke of being radicalized by women filling their wards with blood and desperation, the same nightmare the familiar pro-choice rhetoric warns will soon be upon us. Behind the scenes, however, a vanguard of the abortion-rights movement implored Wen, directly and through intermediaries, to stop talking about “home abortion” in such dire terms. Not because they weren’t horrified by what had happened to that woman, not because they didn’t want better for her, but because these activists — doctors, lawyers, even people running abortion clinics — have concluded that “home abortions,” or, in their preferred nomenclature, “self-managed abortions,” need to be normalized in the abortion-rights conversation. And they didn’t think the president of the most visible pro-choice organization in the country should be scaremongering about it… Read More

May 17, 2019

UNESCO report says AI voice assistants like Alexa affirm gender stereotypes.

➼ AI Will Make Prejudice Much Worse

If you’re female, the machines may not recognize you as human. They may not see you if you’re trans or a person of color, nor, possibly, if you have poor dental hygiene or carry a cane or are diminutive in stature or extraordinarily tall. The machines understand the world based on the information they’ve been given, and if you aren’t well represented in the data — if the white-male prejudice of history itself has disenfranchised you to date — then chances are to the machine you don’t exist. A dark-skinned woman in the U.K. couldn’t renew her passport online because the digital form looked at her photo and didn’t recognize it as a proper face. Trans people confound airport body scanners and are regularly hauled out of security lines to be frisked as if they were terrorist suspects. Worst-case scenarios are not so far-fetched. A self-driving car knows to brake in the crosswalk when it sees a person. But what does it understand a person to look like? Read More

May 20, 2019

Whitney Houston’s estate announces hologram tour.

Hologram Whitney. Photo: BASE

➼ We Won’t Need Tribute Bands. We’ll Have Hologram Tours.

Frank Zappa and Roy Orbison tour the country. Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse are next. When all of history’s classic rock acts start selling tickets to hologram tours, you’ll never wonder again what to buy your dad for his birthday.

May 21, 2019

23andMe and Airbnb team up.

➼ Advertisers Will Know More About You Than Your Doctor

In May, Airbnb announced a new feature in partnership with the at-home genetic-testing company 23andMe: “dedicated pages that correspond with 23andMe’s genetic populations,” so that users interested in “DNA travel” can book Airbnbs in whatever region their 23andMe test results suggest their ancestors came from. To tech paranoiacs like myself, it was hard not to notice, in the Airbnb press materials, the future of internet advertising — and therefore the future of the internet itself. As the at-home consumer genetic-testing market expands, and as the demand for targeted-advertising profiles increases, what could the outcome possibly be besides DNA-based ad targeting? Data brokers would be able to identify you not just as “white” but as “34 percent Irish” on any major website you visit. You don’t have to be particularly race-obsessed to see the opportunities: Airbnb, language schools, and doctors offering treatments for genetic diseases might all like to target their advertisements based on specific genetic profiles. If nation-states wither away in the face of a globalizing internet, maybe we’ll start to understand national and ethnic identity not as a romantic belief or scientific truth but as an internet-advertising category. Max Read

May 21, 2019

Facebook releases Oculus Quest, its virtual-reality gaming system.

➼ The Next Recession, When It Comes, Will Be So Bleak It Will Spark a VR Boom

Photo: Adrian Deweerdt/Unsplash

May 24, 2019

Booksmart premieres in theaters.

➼ Kaitlyn Dever Will Be Our Jodie Foster

Photo: David Crotty/PMC

Versatile is one of those terms that often gets thrown around when a gifted performer is praised, but it’s an actor like Kaitlyn Dever who helps you truly appreciate the ability to read as authentic and honest in wildly different projects. The 22-year-old broke through with a knockout performance six years ago in Short Term 12, but 2019 solidified the breadth of Dever’s talent, thanks to the female buddy comedy Booksmart and Netflix’s limited series Unbelievable. Dever projects an underlying strength, a sense that these women are just figuring out how much value they bring to the world. The same thing can be said of Dever as an actress. It doesn’t seem outlandish to predict that there’s an Academy Award nomination in her future. I can’t wait to see the exceptional work she does to earn it. Jen Chaney

May 26, 2019

Populists grab around 30 percent of seats in the European Parliament.

➼ Populism Will Breed More Populism Will Breed More Populism Will Breed More Populism …

May 27, 2019

More than a year early, the NFL is renegotiating its collective-bargaining agreement.

➼ A Sports League Will Fold — Or at Least Lose a Season — Because of Labor Issues

If you enjoyed the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the NBA Finals, I hope you savored them. Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA are all fortifying themselves for a labor apocalypse, with owners locking up hard-line stances on their collective-bargaining agreements and players already stowing away game checks for a presumed nuclear labor winter. And the fallout may be significant. Say, for example, a lockout happens in the middle of a season, canceling the rest of it. And then say that the issues are so rancorous the two sides can’t get them settled before having to bag the next season altogether. After a year and a half without play, you’d see competitor leagues start up, and free agents may start to defect. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that a league would have to fold altogether. Every league is indestructible … until it’s not. Will Leitch

June 4, 2019

California legislators push for an affordable-housing referendum against local opposition.

➼ A Unified Theory of Liberal Hypocrisy Will Emerge: Nimbyism

Opposition to wind farms, school integration, and expansive housing policy all shares the same root: a noblesse oblige approach to public policy in which the liberal noblesse don’t feel obliged to sacrifice any of their own privilege (or modify any of their views).

June 7, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco premieres.

➼ Jonathan Majors Will Be Our Daniel Day-Lewis

Photo: Paul Smith/Alamy Stock Photo

There are performances so emotionally bruised and yearning they slip under your skin, grab hold of your heart, and don’t let go. Such is the case for Jonathan Majors. He is just at the beginning of his career, with his first credited film role coming in 2017’s Hostiles. But seeing his work in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, I immediately knew this was a talent to be studied. While the film industry has made strides in regard to diversity, Hollywood history is littered with black and brown actors whose evident gifts weren’t enough for them to have long, satisfying careers. This is always buzzing in the back of my head when I notice a singular black talent such as Majors. But thankfully he has work lined up. He’s caught the attention of Jordan Peele and J. J. Abrams and will star in the upcoming HBO series Lovecraft Country, based on the novel by Matt Ruff, about a road trip across a version of 1950s Jim Crow America incorporating the fantastical monstrousness its title alludes to. Angelica Jade Bastién

June 8, 2019

To preempt a fire, PG&E cuts power to tens of thousands of Californians.

➼ Power Companies Will Be Nationalized

June 11, 2019

Despite protests, cruise ships dock in Venice.

➼ You Will Have to Win a Lottery to See St. Mark’s Basilica

Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

Every summer, Venice sinks a little further into the lagoon, its foundations eroded by decades of cruise-ship wakes and the weight of millions of tourists. And every summer, the few local Venetians left get a little more panicked and a little more fed up. The limits will come. Sure, the rich will no doubt be able to get their visas to see the Biennale and the film festival. The rest of us who want to enjoy the splendor of St. Mark’s will have to enter the lottery for the one cruise a year. Or settle for a postcard.

June 14, 2019

Taylor Swift announces “sustainable fashion” collab with Stella McCartney.

➼ We Will Grow Our Clothing in Labs

A vegan micro-silk hat (left) and a prototype of a Mylo leather bag. Photo: Courtesy of Bolt Threads.
A vegan micro-silk hat (left) and a prototype of a Mylo leather bag. Photo: Courtesy of Bolt Threads.

Biofabrication, or growing fabric from living organisms in labs, has the potential to change the 21st century the way nylon changed the 20th. One way to make a biofabricated textile is by fermenting yeast, sugar, and water. You can program the yeast to produce a certain protein molecule, extract it, and spin it into fibers that can become wool or silk. Modern Meadow, perhaps the best-known biofabrication company, is working specifically on a leather replacement, which the company hopes to bring to market next year. That innovation is particularly exciting because leather doesn’t have a clear ethical alternative. Most vegan leather substitutes are made with plastic. Lab-grown leather, though, doesn’t require any animals and is not made from petrochemicals. Another alternative is Mylo leather, developed by Bolt Threads, which is grown from mycelium and is like a “mat of mushroom.” A mushroom growing a shoe is the future. Sarah Spellings

June 20, 2019

Iran shoots down a U.S. surveillance drone.

➼ We Will Go to (Robot) War With Iran

June 28, 2019

Chris Brown drops extended album clocking in at 123 minutes.

➼ Albums Will Be Hours Long

Ever wonder why most CDs hold an average of 74-to-80 minutes of audio? Like any music-business saga, it is a story about the love of sound but also about competition. In 1979, as record companies finalized plans for the successor to vinyl records and cassette tapes, Sony vice-president Norio Ohga, tasked with setting parameters for the disc format, is said to have used his wife’s favorite piece of music — Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 — as a ruler. The longest recording Ohga found ran 74 minutes. He adjusted his plans accordingly, which is, in part, how we ended up with the 120-mm. discs still in circulation today. Really, Sony made its move because the competition, Phillips, owned a plant capable of making shorter, smaller 115-mm. discs. Longer discs pleased Ohga’s tastes and shifted the playing field to Sony’s advantage; the rest is history. In the ’80s, artists slowly adapted to the space the 80-minute disc allowed. The Cure’s 1989 opus Disintegration carried bonus tracks the vinyl release couldn’t. Post-punk legend Mission of Burma’s 1988 self-titled compilation filled every available minute with music. Miami bass pioneers 2 Live Crew’s controversial 1989 masterpiece, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, clocked in at 79, making De La Soul’s 61-minute 3 Feet High and Rising, released just a month later, seem curt in comparison.

By the end of the ’90s, 70 minutes had become the floor for popular hip-hop and R&B albums like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige’s Mary, Busta Rhymes’s When Disaster Strikes, and OutKast’s Aquemini. But what served the era’s geniuses hurt its lesser artists; for every great long late-’90s hip-hop album, there’s another one loaded with skits and songs that could have been cut. Quality control is a problem again in mainstream rap 20 years later, as musicians have gotten wise to Billboard’s use of streaming data in sales numbers, and some A-list projects have ballooned to 90-to-100 minutes. And they’ll only get longer as the years go on. The Migos album Culture II is nearly twice the size of the original Culture. Drake albums get a little heftier each time; Views posted 20 tracks, then More Life served 22, and Scorpion bowed out at 25. The billion streams Scorpion drew in its first week might seem to confirm that padding track lists is an exercise in gaming the charts, but as an eagle-eyed Rolling Stone reporter noted, 82 percent of the album’s haul can be attributed to just six of its songs. We may reach a point where the album as a unit becomes a junkyard for fans to scavenge for scraps, picking out songs that appeal to us, and letting the rest rust. Are we already there?  Craig Jenkins

June 30, 2019

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory announce parallel-universe experiments.

➼ Scientists Will Keep Talking About Portals (Even If They Never Appear)

It’ll be strange, won’t it, to meet the parallel-universe version of yourself? When you (and your mirror twin) want to figure out how you met, you’ll have to look back to June 2019, when scientists first announced plans to start experimenting with subatomic particles that could open doors to other universes. “It’s pretty wacky,” said lead researcher Leah Broussard, who is using neutron-oscillation experiments to understand what a parallel world may look like.

July 8, 2019

Study shows teen marijuana use drops in states where the drug is legal.

➼ Only Old People Will Smoke Pot

Photo: Liaison/Getty Images

July 9, 2019

Movie theaters across the country host “Discount Tuesdays.”

➼ You’ll Go to the Barber at Three in the Morning to Get the Best Haircut Prices

July 13, 2019

Anarchist attacks Tacoma detention center.