Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Ghosts in the machine

Futures starts the New Year with Ghosts in the machine, a disorientating tale from Aaron Moskalik. Aaron is a software architect and speculative-fiction writer living near Detroit, and this story marks his debut in Futures. He very kindly took some time out to explain what inspired his tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Ghosts in the machine

A number of news articles about fitness trackers used to either substantiate or repudiate alibis in criminal cases have surfaced recently. There has to be a story there somewhere … perhaps a hard-boiled social-media detective? No, that’s a bit too obvious … 

Fitness monitoring does present a privacy issue. It’s easy to imagine life- and health-insurance companies demanding this information for coverage. Health care in the United States being what it is, employers might use these data for hiring in a frantic attempt to keep the costs of health benefits affordable.

Regardless of the pitfalls, the popularity of these devices will drive them to be more than just pedometers and heart-rate monitors. How about automatic blood testing for diabetics, infection alerts from a detected immune response, or real-time assessments of our gut fauna?

Such a rich source of data would be irresistible to governments. Policies would be put in place to placate privacy advocates, but most of us, seduced by convenience, will give our data freely to whomever. Eventually, even the most stubborn must participate or be marginalized.

Technology drives economic progress. Economic progress, unaware of fairness and immune to sentiment, is inexorable. These are familiar themes in science fiction, but there is a flipside also worth exploring. As the world careens along ever faster, older economic paradigms and their vestigial artefacts do survive, albeit as pale imitations of what they once were. Canals, coal plants, qwerty keyboards … mere ghosts in the machine.

How long before that’s us?


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