Future Tense Newsletter: “Please Cough Into This Tissue”

Oh, Robot!
Lisa Larson-Walker

Happy New Year, Future Tensers,

In case you missed it amid your holiday festivities, we recommend you add “When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis,” the latest installment of our Future Tense Fiction series, to your 2019 reading list. In it, author Annalee Newitz brings us the story of Robot, a disease-fighting CDC drone tasked with surveying people across East St. Louis to identify epidemics before they start. But when the CDC loses funding for the program, Robot loses its human administrator, and its social programming gets put to the test. In a response essay to the story, A.I. researcher Janelle Shane explains why an adorable talking drone like Robot remains a thing of the far future—and warns that shouldn’t expect our real-life algorithms to behave like fairy tales.

Elsewhere on Future Tense, we’ve been writing about the intersection of social media, censorship, and government. Mark Joseph Stern covered the recent court ruling that affirmed a 2017 decision that lawmakers cannot block their critics on Facebook. Sarah Esther Lageson explains how, thanks to the internet, people are encountering difficulties carrying out criminal-record expungement laws that require wiping records clean. And Nate Cardozo looks at the new plan by the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters that will undermine encryption and fundamentally change the trust relationship between users and service providers.

Other things we read between rereading 2018’s Future Tense Fiction stories:

Hidden figures: Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal investigator of NASA’s Psyche mission, explains why more women are starting to lead in the traditionally macho field of space exploration.

Origin story: Morten Bay writes an ode to Lawrence Roberts, the ARPANET pioneer who died last month, and his lasting legacy on the internet of today.

An act of man: Kyle Piscioniere argues that the term “act of God” is no longer a relevant concept now that we understand that human activity is driving and exacerbating extreme weather events and climate change.

The king is dead: The once-slick iPhone is no longer an object of magic and delight, writes Will Oremus. Why? Because Apple no longer thinks the future of computing lies in the devices in your pocket.

Rotten apples: Aaron Mak interviews DigiChina’s Graham Webster about why Apple may be underperforming in the Chinese market.

More bust than boom: Jeremy Straub explains how the fervor over 3D-printed firearms overlooks how dangerous these weapons can be for shooters themselves.


Join Future Tense at the Eighteenth Street Lounge in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 23 for a happy hour conversation with Chris Molanphy of Slate, Cherie Hu of Billboard, Kevin Erickson of the Future of Music Coalition, and Elahe Izadi of the Washington Post to discuss how streaming is changing the music industry. You can RSVP here.

To Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s captioned Instagram stories,

Anthony Nguyen

For Future Tense

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

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.