Future Tense Newsletter: The Forms That Will Determine Our Future

Hands leafing through documents, with lines of code streaming in the background.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by XiXinXing/Getty Images.

Greetings, Future Tensers,

How many forms have you filled out this week? A medical form at the doctor or dentist, perhaps? A driver’s license renewal? A lease? A release? A loan application? A 1040 tax return? A job application? A payment form? A newsletter sign-up?

It’s easy to forget the loads of paperwork required in life—and, despite the forms’ mundanity, how much what we’re asked to fill out, what we put in them, and how they’re evaluated shapes our lives. As our every day becomes increasingly entangled with new technologies, our paperwork (if we’ll still call it that) will also evolve to reflect new realities. But what might forms look like in the future, and what will they reveal about our future lives? That’s the question Rose Eveleth set out to answer in our new Future Tense series, Forms From the Future. She imagines the kinds of bureaucracy we’ll be complaining about in 2040, looks into how your digital presence might affect your credit score, envisions a workplace of tomorrow where HR teams are required to fill out forms to justify hiring a human employee over using cheaper A.I., and asks whether our end-of-life care might one day involve us checking a box indicating where to upload our brains.

Other things we read while avoiding the racist comments that flooded the YouTube livestream of this week’s congressional hearing on white nationalism:

Reply STOP: You may think you’ll be able to block out 2020 election ads online and on TV. But are you prepared to contend with presidential campaigns texting you all the time too?

For the fans: The millions of contributors to this sprawling, primarily women-run fan fiction platform just got nominated for a Hugo Award. Casey Feisler, a professor who studies online communities, explains why that’s such a huge deal.

Do not pass go: Should CEOs face jail time over massive user data breaches? Elizabeth Warren is proposing legislation to make that possible.

Do not disturb: April Glaser argues that plants and wild animals need online privacy too.

Self-censorship: David Sullivan argues against the rush to legislate internet content in the wake of tragedies like the Christchurch attack.

Top secret: John Bowers explains how the Pentagon’s move to streamline the security clearance process by relying on A.I. could have dangerous consequences.


TONIGHT: How will climate change transform American democracy? Join Future Tense tonight in D.C. for a happy hour conversation on how we can work to prevent and mitigate the worst of climate change’s effects. We’ll be joined by David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, and the Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk. RSVP or stream online here.

To self-loathing on LinkedIn,

Anthony Nguyen
For Future Tense

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