Future Tense Newsletter: Medical Grade Cybersecurity

The latest version?


Greetings, Future Tensers,

When doctors head into surgery, we expect them to scrub down. But as J.M. Porup warns, hospital computers may not be quite so clean, leaving systems responsible for patient care vulnerable to malware. One factor, as Porup notes, is that hospitals fail to update their computers. Don’t be like those hospitals. Just switch to the latest iPhone operating system already, since the newest version fixes various security vulnerabilities. But while we have some responsibility for our own safety, Josephine Wolff stresses that we shouldn’t describe humans as the “weakest link” in cybersecurity protocols—not until the technologies they’re fumbling with are better, at any rate.

You might make a similar point about sites like Twitter, where the issue isn’t terrible people so much as an interface that encourages terrible actions. As Amanda Hess shows, the perpetuation of old offline standards has made it almost impossible to respond to some forms of harassment online. Allaying that situation might mean broad infrastructural change, which would start with proposals like the one David Auerbach offered this week to make Twitter a little less toxic. Still, it’s sometimes wrong to blame technology over the people that use it: For example, Justin Peters looked at reports of criminals using drones to sneak contraband into prisons and concluded that the real problem is with corrupt prison employees who facilitate such schemes.

Meanwhile, drones faced crises of their own during this weekend’s blizzard—which we insist on calling #DavidSnowie, the Weather Channel’s naming conventions be damned. As the snow fell, however, we were thinking about climate from a different angle as this month’s Futurography unit on geoengineering continued. Science-fiction writers have struggled to adequately imagine these technologies, partly because some of them work on such enormous time scales, as I learned from a conversation with novelist Kim Stanley Robinson. To move beyond such conceptual deadlocks, Christophe Jospe proposes that we try rethinking our understanding of geoengineering, evaluating it more directly in terms of its effects. Want to understand those effects a little better? Check out this video that explains some of the basics.

Here are some of the other stories that we read this week while standing still on the escalator:

  • Meatpacking: Rachel E. Gross reports that butcher bots may be the most ethical option in food production, if only because they alleviate some human suffering. (The animals may have to wait.)
  • Gaming: Donald Rumsfeld slapped his name on a super weird solitaire app that’s supposed to honor Winston Churchill. It’s actually sort of fun.
  • War wounds: Far as military drone pilots may be from combat zones, studies indicate that they’re still subject to post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of hardship that afflict soldiers.
  • Privacy: Even if you actually read those long privacy policies from tech companies, you might not get all of the information you need to protect your data.


  • Powerful new technologies are helping us preserve antiquities threatened by ISIS, commercial development, and other forces. Join Future Tense in Washington, D.C., at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28, for a discussion of how present technologies are being used to deliver the past to the future. Click here to RSVP and learn more.
  • Want to further your knowledge of geoengineering? On Monday, Feb. 1, at 12:15 p.m., Future Tense will host a lunch in Washington, D.C., where Oliver Morton, author of The Planet Remade, and Katherine Mangu-Ward, the managing editor of Reason and a Future Tense fellow, will discuss geoengineering’s potential as a climate change fix and the many challenges that would come with it. Click here to RSVP and learn more.

Digging out of the drifts,

Jacob Brogan

for Future Tense