Into The Future: What's Coming Up

Christopher Fowler
internet-1593378_1920-796x400 At this time of the year newspapers are full of predictions; Nitrate-free bacon is coming! And highways of driverless cars! And miraculous medical advances! Sadly, most of them not in my lifetime but maybe in yours. When technology geared up for the next great leap forward none of us realised that its two biggest manifestations, the internet and AI, would eventually merge. Reading the signs, we should have seen that tech-revolutions no longer break like waves but produce continuous quiet ripples that incrementally change our lives. People-Power Technology The Uber revolution introduced electric cars to London overnight, but the innovative taxi service is controversial. The San Francisco company continually tests ethical boundaries with its aggressive
lack of corporate responsibility, and is banned in many European territories. It is currently under review in the UK. In London, one accidental side-effect involves thorny racial issues; Uber drivers are mostly BAME. The drivers of London's luxurious black taxis are nearly all white. While governments feel uneasy about Uber the public loves it, and the peer-review safety system keeps the company's most visibly aggressive tendencies in check.
Likewise, AirB&B faces legal problems around the world for their lack of corporate responsibility, but is loved by users. But when it comes to paying taxes, what first appeared to be the application of people power in these innovations has proven to be corporate arrogance on a scale that even Coca-Cola never managed. Supply-demand economics have long been due for an overhaul, and now, with surge pricing, virtual markets and the rise of consumer power we're seeing an electronic takeover. We chase the easiest, cheapest options, and the internet is helping us. The HomeEnt Revolution The creation of multiple hardware devices to control programme input not only swept the world but made watching TV insanely complicated. God knows how elderly people manage to sort out their Apple TV, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and subsidiary delivery services from their Blu-Ray, 4K and streamed film services. The studios are now insects compared to these producer-behemoths, and once they enter the world of film production we'll see the collapse of the traditional Hollywood system. Netflix tested the waters by making 'War Machine', an enjoyable if heavy-handed Brad Pitt satire that flopped, but it also bought 'Okja', outraging many in the industry. Having purchased the film at Cannes, Netflix prevented it from being seen in cinemas, and added it to their online roster before entering it in the Oscar race. 'Okja' was made for a big screen debut, something its buyers prevented it from having, so how can it be nominated for film awards? The answer to this is that Netflix, Amazon, Apple et al want to remove the distinction between formats. Movies don't make or break their carriers, so if one does badly it doesn't damage the brand. Theatrical releases in the USA are dying faster than anyone foresaw and studios need to future-proof their business. The Chinese and Indian box office is now more important than America. Just around the corner is a barely noticed film, 'Spiderman - Into the Spiderverse', which crushes together photo-realistic settings and animated characters. The dream has long been to eliminate actors from blockbusters, and the East is far more accepting than the West. Such films could also remove the entertainment lines between East and West. Spidey won't do it, but someone else might. Home AI may not be quite as all-conquering as it first seemed. The front door, phones, TV, music and heating in my flat are all controlled by AI accessible on my phone from anywhere in the world. It has incredible capabilities that I barely use. Apparently my electronic key fob contains more technology that the Voyager space program. Of course, advances only catch on if they're needed. Amazon became a kind of Woolworths home delivery service, Uber, AirB&B, One Fine Stay, Netflix and Apple have all become indispensable. But the most loudly touted advances often turn into the biggest casualties. The Death of Paper It's surprising that e-books found themselves with only a limited market; a brilliant portable tool for any student, an e-reader drops notes and highlights onto your laptop, defines words, remembers characters - and isn't as enjoyable to read as a book. Sadly, before its sales slowed it managed to kill off the paperback. In the UK book sales are healthy. In the US they're in very deep trouble. Newspapers are folding, traditional TV networks are dying and everything is consolidating into personal device formats. It turns out that most people don't care about picture quality, colour, sharpness or surround sound. What they want is portability. American males have all but given up reading in favour of browsing. What happens in Great Britain always used to happen first in the USA. But America's international standing is changing fast, and perhaps this time we won't follow their POTUS's lead. There's one subject upon which all financial experts agree; pulling away from the EU is already costing us dearly, and it's only just the start. How we turn this one around is anyone's guess. The future may arrive with a bill we can't afford.


SimonB (not verified) Fri, 29/12/2017 - 16:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If I had read this about five years ago (with appropriate explanations!) I'm not sure I would have been able to tell if it were truth or fiction. Especially if I had been told you were a horror author. The future has never seemed scarier to me.

Anyway, Happy New Year (he said, non-ironically) and hope the eyes keep seeing things for you.

Arthur (not verified) Fri, 29/12/2017 - 22:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Im a white U.S.male. I bought a kindle when I lived in India and used my Amazon account. (BTW, bookstores and reading are thriving in India) I knew I'd be moving back, and didn't haul the books back to the U.S. I missed paper. But have completely switched to the digital version of the NY Times. (I read the Guardian and BBC, too). Thanks for the Bryant and May series. Just finished "Wild Chamber". Happy New Year to you, and please don't do whatever our POTUS does

Ian Luck (not verified) Sat, 30/12/2017 - 03:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm a bit of a 'man out of his time' kind of person who only bothers getting tech when it is necessary, and not before. I prefer physical objects, not virtual or download. Seeing none of the cool stuff that we were promised we'd get in the future when I was a kid appear, and things got worse, and dirtier, not better and cleaner, I rather gave up on listening to 'futureologists'. Most of them are stab-in-the-dark guessers, who spout what they'd like to see, rather than what might happen. I, therefore, am a pessimist, and, as such, am never disappointed. Saying that, I hope that your eyes are healing, and I wish you, sincerely, a Happy New Year.

Brit Ray (not verified) Sat, 30/12/2017 - 07:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, you Brits had the EU debacle this year. But, as all the world knows, we in America are in the midst of an ongoing horror story that no one could have predicted. Democracy, science, women, minorities, the environment - all under attack by our own government, not to mention the increased threat of nuclear war. Nevertheless, medical science advances st an astonishing pace, along with artificial intelligence and other . technology. It's also encouraging that more and more people are becoming vegetarian and even vegan. Not only do a few innocent animals get to have longer, happier lives, but look how many people are living into their hundreds! As for paper vs virtual reading- even though my husband and I like computers, we still prefer real books. We read at least a book a week, most of them new - but we also reread all the works by all the Golden Age of mystery writers every few years. We get the paper versions of the NYTimes,the New Yorker, and several science magazines, but we do the Times crossword puzzle on my iPad. No
more messy erasures! It's great. But we do still get GAMES Magazine in paper. We watch old and new movies and TV shows, mostly on Netfix or On Demand. Like most people. Of course I use the computer for creative writing. My experience with computer graphics is minimal. We do our art work in real paint, ink, and clay. I'm 78 (the new 58) and I hope to stick around for a long time and see what's going to happen next. And to keep on reading great mystery and fantasy novels like yours.

Christopher Fowler Sat, 30/12/2017 - 09:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you Brit; I'll take all of the above except the veganism (I don't eat much red meat, and very little processed food). The other trends that keep coming up are the purchase of 'experiences' over materialism and the choice of sobriety/ healthy living - but of course these are also class/wealth issues that further divide society.

Denise Treadwell (not verified) Sat, 30/12/2017 - 14:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If that is where you want to go!

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 30/12/2017 - 15:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"...n the US they're (book sales) in very deep trouble." A little fact checking, please. If you're hearing this from your agent, your agent is an idiot.

Over what time period are we measuring? The volume of retail sales is down over the past 5 yrs by about 25% but profits are up substantially. Hard cover continues to do well, including adult non-fiction, Publishers Weekly data. As I suspected, reading habits are shifting--more history, politics and economics, science, and less fiction. Cheap mass market has been hit but who cares.

Remember we have very contentious politics here which sucks the energy for reading and/or sends people scurrying for books that support their viewpoint. And we have rock star corporations and CEO's; people gobble up books about Amazon, Google, etc.

Cheer up-- the data says mysteries and crime are driving fiction sales, book and digital. Keep doing what you are doing. But it would help if people in the US could get your books.

Felicia Kraft (not verified) Sat, 30/12/2017 - 23:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I read every day and prefer an actual book to Kindle. Kindle however, is sometimes the only format available. I haven't bought a book at a bookstore in years. If I know I want to read a book, I check my library's on-line catalog first. Just read the Wild Chamber after putting it on hold at the library. If a book is not available through the library, I check Amazon for a used copy and Kindle is last. I thank Amazon for making books by U.K. Authors like Laura Wilson, Caro Fraser and the late Diana Norman available to U.S. audiences. With Amazon I can find titles that might have taken me years to find through forays to used book stores. I think the internet has improved book availability. I used to live in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and there was a real dearth of bookstores.

Bill (not verified) Sun, 31/12/2017 - 01:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The HomeEnt Revolution - I guess that means home entertainment?

The evening after Christmas I watched as three of my -what, contemporaries, peers, middle-aged folk quickly advancing on seniority?- attempt to put together a TV and get it off the ground. Interestingly, it had lain in its box for the better part of a year before it was pulled out.

After some effort, it was plugged in, and - there were directions as to how to get the damn thing to work! It took two hours of phone conversations from techies of varying patience to get it going. Even then, an intrusive voice would break in, announcing the need to connect to some box or other; not needed, the TV upstairs was so connected.

Well, at one time we got a TV, plugged it in, and, hey presto, we got- Jack Benny! Howdy Doody! Ed Sullivan! Jackie Gleason! So simple.

Once, I went looking for a TV, and found out I'd have to get a cable connection to make any new TV work. A racket. A monopoly. I walked out. Eventually, I caved in. Now, I have no TV. I just finished a book about Branwell Bronte I'd have never read if I dropped in front of a TV nightly. Next, I'll dip into a nifty book by Christopher Hitchens about the Elgin Marbles event.

I'm so out of it I can't even piece together the themes and point of the administrator's post; I can piece together that I'm quickly off to the margins of today's society.

I must say the pictures on modern TVs are quite a wonder.

Happy New Year to all.

Helen Martin (not verified) Mon, 01/01/2018 - 06:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My friends all used to laugh at me with my flip phone - bought when my Mother was in care and I couldn't be reached after 3:30 - but the one I was given by the company that won't support the old phone is so difficult to operate that it wouldn't contact me when the nurses were trying to talk to me about my husband. I'm sure it's something I'm doing wrong, but it shouldn't be this hard.
The most popular courses at our seniors' college are the ones that teach you how to handle digital photographs, using your iPad, and using Facebook and the other sites. People who are interested in the world usually are interested in everything. I'm one of those that can live without most of the electronic stuff. (Some of the wiring in our house is knob and tube, which is perfectly safe as long as it is protected and not disturbed.)

Ian Luck (not verified) Tue, 02/01/2018 - 01:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Helen - you got a cell phone for exactly the same reason I did. My mother had terminal cancer and was in our local hospice. I thought: 'If I must have a mobile, I'll get the best one available', and got the then futuristic Motarola K3 RAZR, which looks (I still have it) like a Star Trek communicator (deliberately so, I later found out). I make very, very few phone calls, and if it were not for the internet use, I could quite well do without a mobile phone. Happy new year to you.