Future Tense

Future Tense Newsletter: Congratulations, You’re Almost Halfway Through 2020

A white robot with a tablet that says "Hello"
A 5G robot at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 4, 2020 Mladen Antonov/Getty Images

Hi Future Tensers,

2020 is only now hitting the halfway mark, but it has already proven an epochal year. In our final week of our Social Distancing Socials, we will be considering whether 2020 is causing a revolutionary reckoning across Big Tech, and science journalism has responded to the pandemic. We hope you can join us for these at 4 p.m. Eastern:

Tuesday, June 23: Free Speech Project: What’s a Gatekeeper to Do?

Thursday, June 25: Science Journalism’s Finest Moment


Tuesday, June 30: How Will 2020 Change Big Tech?

And for those of you venturing to fly this summer, you might want to read Natasha Frost’s story “Airport Surveillance Is About to Reach a Whole New Level of Ridiculousness.” Since 9/11 we’ve gotten used to compromising our privacy when we fly, but COVID-19 surveillance initiatives like temperature screening and “digital ankle bracelets” don’t increase safety: “Many of the proposed initiatives actually don’t seem to do the job, raising concerns that they may be little more than health security theater, designed to encourage passengers to return to the skies,” writes Frost.

Best of Future Tense


Three Questions for a Smart Person 

Mallory Pickett is a freelance journalist covering science, technology, and the environment. I spoke with her about her research on climate change and the Napa wine industry for her recent Future Tense piece “Cabernet With a Side of Carbon.” Our phone conversation has been condensed and lightly edited.


Margaret: How does carbon farming work?
Mallory: Carbon farming is a bunch of different practices farmers can use with the goal to keep as much organic matter in the ground as possible. One of the most common practices is to not till the land as much. Another technique is to add compost over the field; compost is basically carbon, and using it is putting decaying organic matter back into the soil.

What’s the worst case of climate washing hype you’ve seen in the wine industry?
I didn’t come across anything that bad. While there were ideas about carbon farming that seemed overly optimistic, I encountered wineries that were making a genuine effort to be as sustainable as possible. It’s in their interest to be doing the real thing, especially in a place like Napa.


Will Napa honeymoons survive climate change?
Well, hopefully they’ll survive the coronavirus. There will be big changes: from the season that you might go to the kinds of grapes they use and how they’re grown. There are a lot of people who are working hard to keep Napa tourism and wine alive, so I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere soon.

Future Tense Recommends 

Since we’re all talking about autonomous zones and anarchic communes, it’s the perfect time to read The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia by Ursula K. Le Guin. While it was published in 1974 and takes place on a hyper-capitalist planet (with pet otters!) and an anarchist moon colony, its revolutionary themes have never felt more down to earth. The Dispossessed is a perfect example of how speculative fiction allows us to step out of our own frameworks. Alongside the brain-food theory elements, it’s a vivid read that’s unafraid to portray the ambiguity of utopia.—Margaret

What Next: TBD

On Friday on Slate’s technology podcast, Lizzie O’Leary spoke with Dana Goldstein of the New York Times about why remote learning, necessitated by the pandemic, has failed so far. And last week, Lizzie spoke with Deb Raji, technology fellow at the AI Now Institute, about the fight over facial recognition technology.

—Margaret from Future Tense

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