Future Tense Newsletter: Life Everlasting

“Mpendulo: The Answer”
Lisa Larson-Walker

Greetings, Future Tensers,

Last week, we published “Mpendulo: The Answer,” the latest installment of our Future Tense Fiction series. In it, author Nosipho Dumisa imagines what life and humanity might mean to a “synthetic person”—in this fictional world, someone born out of artificially created stem cells—and what their experience of their own humanity might be like while living in a society fraught with discrimination. In a response essay to the story, tech journalist Sarah Elizabeth Richards looks at the major global debates we’ve already seen over real advances in reproductive technology, and what public fears over things like “playing God” with in vitro fertilization or “designer babies” with progress in genetics say about how we think about being human.

Elsewhere on Future Tense, we’ve been exploring the wild world of tech enforcement. Charles Duan argues that the move to change the rules for patenting laws of nature seems eerily similar to a related attempt to do so in 1923. Joshua A. Geltzer explains how the president and Congress still don’t understand this important internet liability law they’re considering changing. And Josephine Wolff gives us a better idea of how big a deal it was that the U.S. Cyber Command (briefly) shut off a Russian troll farm’s internet access.

Other things we read while watching these tech critics respond to IBM’s “Dear Tech” Oscars ad:

Your VPN and you: Virtual private networks have become must-have privacy tool. But, as Will Oremus states, good luck figuring out which ones will actually make you safer online.

The singularity: Seth Lloyd re-examines Norbert Wiener’s seminal 1950 book, The Human Use of Human Beings, to determine what the father of cybernetics would think about A.I. today.

Benefits: New America’s Justin King and Afua Bruce dive into how technology is helping people aided by the social safety net to advocate for themselves.

Clear and present danger: Why is a text-generating algorithm reigniting a debate over when a technology is too dangerous to be released to the public?

At what cost? Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò on how Green New Deal policies could exacerbate climate colonialism.

Eyes on you: Shannon Palus offers a dispatch from the frozen food aisle of a New York Walgreens, where new, “smart” cooler screens are tracking and profiling customers in real time.

Trolls 2020: It sure looks like online trolls are weaponizing callout culture to weaken Democratic candidates vying for the White House, reports April Glaser.


Could your at-home DNA test be used to crack a cold case? Join Future Tense on March 20 in D.C. for a happy hour conversation on how genetic genealogy—the use of DNA testing in conjunction with family-tree mapping—has become the new cutting-edge technology for solving decades-old crimes. We’ll be joined by the hosts of the hit true crime podcast Bear Brook and experts on DNA, law enforcement, and privacy. RSVP here.

To self-lacing sneakers,

Anthony Nguyen

For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New 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.