Future Tense

Future Tense Newsletter: Desperately Seeking Ufological Secrets

TOPSHOT - The entrance to Alienstock festival is marked on the road in Rachel, Nevada on September 20, 2019. - A joke Facebook event named "Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All of Us," was created in June 2019. As of September 13, more than 2 million people had signed up for the event and a 1.5 million more had marked themselves as "interested." Multiple alien related events are now set to take place over the weekend of September 20, 2019 along state Route 375 also known as the "Extraterrestrial Highway." (Photo by Bridget BENNETT / AFP) (Photo by BRIDGET BENNETT/AFP via Getty Images)
The entrance to Alienstock festival in Rachel, Nevada on Sept. 20, 2019. The festival was held near Area 51. BRIDGET BENNETT/Getty Images

Hi Future Tensers,

The gloves are off in the 2020 presidential primary, and I’ve found myself almost missing the days of 20-plus candidates taking turns telling us what they’d do on day one in office. Kirsten Gillibrand said she would’ve Cloroxed the Oval Office. Bernie Sanders would legalize marijuana, and Elizabeth Warren has made 24 day-one promises, the most of any candidate. But I wish one of our candidates would cop to the truth: On day one as president, wouldn’t you ask whether we have an alien?


In our latest Future Tense fiction short story, “It Came from Cruden Farm,” Max Barry, author of funny/alarming sci-fi novels like Jennifer Government, imagines a newly inaugurated president meeting a “sentient sofa” held in Area 51, and it raises all sorts of questions, starting with: What’s the proper pronoun to use?


After you read Max’s story, check out the response essay by Sarah Scholes, author of They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers. Scoles takes on the widespread suspicion that the government is hiding an extraterrestrial something from us: “Bill Clinton revealed that during his time in office, he’d asked his people to look into both the Area 51 and Roswell files … but if you’re inclined to believe in a cover-up, isn’t this affirmative just further evidence of disinformation?” For Scoles, the Area 51 conspiracy (and Barry’s short story) has legs because “the government has the means to pull off an alien coverup.” The truth is out there!


Here are some of the best articles we published recently:

Wish We’d Published This
How Big Tech Hijacked Its Sharpest, Funniest Critics” by Tim Maughan, MIT Technology Review

Three Questions for a Smart Person
Lucianne Walkowicz is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium and co-founder of the JustSpace Alliance. I spoke with them about exoplanets and extraterrestrials.

Margaret: Of all the alien arrival flicks, which one gets it best?
Lucianne: I really like Arrival best. A lot of other movies about alien arrivals put it as something that is universally feared, but Arrival does an amazing job at showing the diversity of reactions that humans would have.


What’s your favorite exoplanet?
Obviously, the answer is the TOI700 System that my student Emily Gilbert just found. She’s a University of Chicago student who’s working with me and a team of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and just discovered the first habitable zone Earth-sized planet from the TESS mission. So, yeah, no big deal.


What do you wish you could tell all these billionaire space explorers?
Space exploration is a collaborative human endeavor and that’s something you can’t buy.


Want to learn more? Check out this Future Tense story where Lucianne tells us “the problem with terraforming Mars.”

Future Tense Recommends
I recently discovered the photos of Alastair Philip Wiper, a British-born, Copenhagen-based artist. He photographs places and things that are normally unseen, but which make the modern world possible: factories, shipyards, laboratories, and machines—lots of gigantic, complex machines. The photographs in Wiper’s new book, Unintended Beauty, offer the visual satisfactions of symmetry and eye-popping color and intricate detail.* But for all their precisionist beauty, the images are also shadowed by what’s been sacrificed to these machines—the slaughtered animals, the wrecked landscapes, the thousands of low-paid workers—that we usually take for granted.—Jason Lloyd, managing editor of Issues in Science and Technology


What Next: TBD
In the latest episode of Slate’s technology podcast, Lizzie O’Leary interviews Karen Hao, artificial intelligence reporter for MIT Technology Review, about how money corrupted the idealism of OpenAI. Also, check out last week’s episode, in which Lizzie spoke with Kate Klonick about “Facebook’s Supreme Court.”

Upcoming Future Tense Events
On March 5, bring your devices and join us for How to Protect Yourself Online, a happy hour/hands-on cyber self-defense workshop we are hosting with New America’s Open Technology Institute, PEN America, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The event will be held in Washington and starts at 6 p.m.

—Margaret from Future Tense

Update, March 2, 2020: This article was updated to reflect that Alastair Philip Wiper’s book Unintended Beauty is available now through his website.

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