Future Tense Newsletter: Speeding Toward the Digital Economy

Gold coins?

Haluk Köhserli/thinkstock.com

Greetings, Future Tensers,

When you’ve been using the Internet every day for decades, it’s easier to forget how fast it’s grown. To remind us, cybersecurity expert Josephine Wolff visited the online Malware Museum, where she was amused by how quaint the old viruses and exploits it documents seem today. That degree of development isn’t universal, though: Even as the U.N. has declared Internet access a basic human right, huge swaths of the global population are still left out, and initiatives such as Facebook’s Free Basics may not be helping.

The uneven state of worldwide development might come as news to those who are still arguing that “block chain,” the technology underlying bitcoin, has the potential to transform our economy. If anything, such systems may just make it easier to rip people off or support black markets, like the one that allows you to buy Netflix logins for as little as 25 cents. Other objections to digital commerce are lower tech: Last week, Austria’s deputy economy minister proposed that citizens should have the right to pay for goods and services with old-fashioned cash, partly because it helps them protect their anonymity. Plus, what’s Scrooge McDuck going to dive into?

Here are some of the other stories we read this week while ignoring the terms of service:

  • Education: Teachers have access to more classroom technology than ever before, but do they know how to use it? And do they get enough credit for the time they spend learning?
  • Aliens: Now that we know there are trillions of Earth-like planets in the universe, we need to stop asking whether we’re alone. Instead, the question should be: What’s next?
  • Zika: Despite what you may have seen in your Facebook feed, Monsanto isn’t responsible for microcephaly, the birth defect believed to be linked to Zika. Monsanto doesn’t even make the chemical people are blaming!
  • Algorithms: Though the government employs algorithms that shape our lives—determining Social Security benefits and sentencing decisions—we don’t always know how they work. That has to change, says Nicholas Diakopoulos.


  • Nuclear power promises an energy source free of greenhouse-gas emissions. Can you be an environmentalist without embracing it? Join Future Tense at New America in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Feb. 22, at 12:15 p.m. for lunch and a conversation about this topic. For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.
  • The Zika virus presents a public health emergency of a global scale. Can we rid ourselves of it with genetic engineering? Should we? Join Future Tense in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, for a lunchtime conversation. For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.

Swimming through digital gold,

Jacob Brogan

for Future Tense