Future Tense Newsletter: The Prodigy Market

Head getting filled up with money like a piggy bank, and then being broken
Doris Liou

Greetings, Future Tensers,

Yesterday, we published “Overvalued,” the latest installment of our Future Tense Fiction series. In it, author Mark Stasenko brings us the story of a future society in which people can buy and sell shares in one another, gambling on human potential. However, as the stakes get higher, the market starts to become much too personal for some. In his response essay to the story, Zachary Karabell writes that a so-called Prodigy Market, where investors bet on the potential of individuals, isn’t a future that’s so far-off. Have you backed someone’s Kickstarter? Become a patron on Patreon? This may be the start. However, while today’s investors might not have qualms about risky financial investments, Karabell points out that betting on human lives is a line most won’t cross.

Elsewhere on Slate, we’ve been writing about other issues related to tech and power. Aaron Mak covered the hundreds of Google employees who signed an open letter asking the company to cease work on a new search engine designed to comply with Chinese state censorship. Josh Lauer explained the Department of Homeland Security’s alarming new proposal to use credit scores as a factor in determining immigration eligibility. And Josephine Wolff looks back on the aftermath of the 2014 Sony breach—and how hard it is to respond to hacks intended to publicly humiliate their targets.

Other things we read while preparing for Taylor Swift’s labor revolution:

Bitcoin’s bust: Last week, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies experienced a serious drop in value. Aaron Mak explains how the threat of continued regulation and other issues contributed to the great cryptocurrency crash.

The remains: April Glaser explains what it’s like for law enforcement, emergency-management teams, and first responders as they scour the Camp Fire’s evacuation zone for human remains.

An Apple tax: The most expensive iPhone could get even more expensive. Aaron Mak looks at what President Trump’s off-the-cuff threats to impose higher tariffs on goods imported from China might mean for the future prices of Apple products.

The brave little microwave: Justin Peters lays out the pros and cons of putting Amazon’s Alexa in control of your microwave.

Bionic babies: Mara Hvistendahl explains how a Chinese researcher’s claim that he used CRISPR to genetically edit babies is placing a spotlight on bioethics in the People’s Republic.

Facebook’s Black Friday: Aaron Mak rounds up all the admissions Facebook dumped just before Thanksgiving when it thought no one would notice.


Join Future Tense in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Dec. 4, for a conversation with Anne-Marie Slaughter and Tim Wu, author of the new book The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, about the dangers corporate concentration poses for democracy. You can RSVP here.

Then, that evening, join us for a screening of People’s Republic of Desire, the 2018 SXSW Grand Jury Award–winning documentary that shows viewers the darker side of China’s booming livestreaming culture. After the movie, we’ll be hosting a conversation with director and Future Tense Fellow Hao Wu. RSVP to attend here.

Still taking advantage of Cyber Monday deals,

Anthony Nguyen

For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.