Future Tense

That Blind Item in New York Magazine About the Futurist Who Dated a Fake Heiress Is the Most Exciting Thing to Ever Happen to Futurists

Wizard-looking man with a mysterious glowing orb.
Thinkstock/Venerala

New York magazine’s juicy feature about a faux heiress who scammed her way through fashionable New York society is worth reading for many reasons: The woman at its center, Anna Delvey, aka Anna Sorokin, is a fascinating, Edith Wharton–worthy villain (or heroine???) for our times, and her relationships offer a damning commentary on the transactional nature of rich-people (or all-people???) friendships. The brands, locales, and names dropped in it are to die for—Céline sunglasses, the Venice Biennale, Macaulay Culkin. Martin Shkreli even shows up at one point, by way of “a letter from the penitentiary.”* But if you’re a reader who keeps an eye on matters technological, the detail in the story that you’ll want to fixate on concerns a futurist that Delvey dated circa 2015, someone “on the TED-Talks circuit who’d been profiled in The New Yorker”:

For about two years, they’d been kind of like a team, showing up in places frequented by the itinerant wealthy, living out of fancy hotels and hosting sceney dinners where the Futurist talked up his app and Delvey spoke of the private club she wanted to open once she turned 25 and came into her trust fund.

The article only mentions this futurist one more time—after failing to launch his app, he reportedly moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2016. But this is a futurist we’re talking about. And the thing about the futurism community is that it’s wonky, specialized—and generally not likely to be invoked in a delicious blind item. Futurists speak at conferences; they don’t date fake heiresses!

A few people on Twitter have also alighted on this detail as ripe for some guesswork:

The New Yorker has indeed profiled Ray Kurzweil and Shingy, though neither of them seem to have lived in the Emirates. Kurzweil, the futurist known for predicting the singularity, works with Google and is 70 years old, so it would be pretty odd if he was Delvey’s former boyfriend. Shingy, aka David Shing, has the title “digital prophet” at Oath, the company that used to be AOL, and some have argued that’s basically code for “con man.” But the Oath gig would seem to disqualify him from being our man in this case, which is a shame, because his shtick is pretty outrageous. Surely there are other futurists out there who fit the criteria—conjecture away!

“Futurist” is a vague enough title that technically anyone can call themselves one, just like practically anyone can be an “entrepreneur.” Elon Musk is a futurist, but then again so are a bunch of random guys you’ve never heard of. A profile in the New Yorker would seem to imply that the futurist in question is somewhat legit, i.e., not a complete grifter, though, given the association with Delvey, he also would need to be at least partly full of it. Does this article imply that all futurists are at least somewhere on the scammer spectrum? Rarely has futurism’s name been dragged through such illustrious mud—and it’s not a coincidence that it might be the most fun the field has ever been. Like the future itself, New York magazine’s blind item is potentially unknowable but endlessly debatable. Who cares about the answer? The fun is in the wild speculation.

Correction, May 30, 2018: This post originally misspelled Martin Shkreli’s last name.