How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

Photo: Artwork by Ayatgali Tuleubek

In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and “premium” websites — i.e., established and legitimate publications — on which to host them.

The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist. Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.” Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

In the future, when I look back from the high-tech gamer jail in which President PewDiePie will have imprisoned me, I will remember 2018 as the year the internet passed the Inversion, not in some strict numerical sense, since bots already outnumber humans online more years than not, but in the perceptual sense. The internet has always played host in its dark corners to schools of catfish and embassies of Nigerian princes, but that darkness now pervades its every aspect: Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real. The “fakeness” of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience — the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not “real” but is also undeniably not “fake,” and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head.

The metrics are fake.

Take something as seemingly simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence undergirds the advertising business that drives our biggest social and search platforms. Yet not even Facebook, the world’s greatest data–gathering organization, seems able to produce genuine figures. In October, small advertisers filed suit against the social-media giant, accusing it of covering up, for a year, its significant overstatements of the time users spent watching videos on the platform (by 60 to 80 percent, Facebook says; by 150 to 900 percent, the plaintiffs say). According to an exhaustive list at MarketingLand, over the past two years Facebook has admitted to misreporting the reach of posts on Facebook Pages (in two different ways), the rate at which viewers complete ad videos, the average time spent reading its “Instant Articles,” the amount of referral traffic from Facebook to external websites, the number of views that videos received via Facebook’s mobile site, and the number of video views in Instant Articles.

Can we still trust the metrics? After the Inversion, what’s the point? Even when we put our faith in their accuracy, there’s something not quite real about them: My favorite statistic this year was Facebook’s claim that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook Watch videos every day — though, as Facebook admitted, the 60 seconds in that one minute didn’t need to be watched consecutively. Real videos, real people, fake minutes.

The people are fake.

And maybe we shouldn’t even assume that the people are real. Over at YouTube, the business of buying and selling video views is “flourishing,” as the Times reminded readers with a lengthy investigation in August. The company says only “a tiny fraction” of its traffic is fake, but fake subscribers are enough of a problem that the site undertook a purge of “spam accounts” in mid-December. These days, the Times found, you can buy 5,000 YouTube views — 30 seconds of a video counts as a view — for as low as $15; oftentimes, customers are led to believe that the views they purchase come from real people. More likely, they come from bots. On some platforms, video views and app downloads can be forged in lucrative industrial counterfeiting operations. If you want a picture of what the Inversion looks like, find a video of a “click farm”: hundreds of individual smartphones, arranged in rows on shelves or racks in professional-looking offices, each watching the same video or downloading the same app.This is obviously not real human traffic. But what would real human traffic look like? The Inversion gives rise to some odd philosophical quandaries: If a Russian troll using a Brazilian man’s photograph to masquerade as an American Trump supporter watches a video on Facebook, is that view “real”? Not only do we have bots masquerading as humans and humans masquerading as other humans, but also sometimes humans masquerading as bots, pretending to be “artificial-intelligence personal assistants,” like Facebook’s “M,” in order to help tech companies appear to possess cutting-edge AI. We even have whatever CGI Instagram influencer Lil Miquela is: a fake human with a real body, a fake face, and real influence. Even humans who aren’t masquerading can contort themselves through layers of diminishing reality: The Atlantic reports that non-CGI human influencers are posting fake sponsored content — that is, content meant to look like content that is meant to look authentic, for free — to attract attention from brand reps, who, they hope, will pay them real money.

click farm

The businesses are fake.

The money is usually real. Not always — ask someone who enthusiastically got into cryptocurrency this time last year — but often enough to be an engine of the Inversion. If the money is real, why does anything else need to be? Earlier this year, the writer and artist Jenny Odell began to look into an Amazon reseller that had bought goods from other Amazon resellers and resold them, again on Amazon, at higher prices. Odell discovered an elaborate network of fake price-gouging and copyright-stealing businesses connected to the cultlike Evangelical church whose followers resurrected Newsweek in 2013 as a zombie search-engine-optimized spam farm. She visited a strange bookstore operated by the resellers in San Francisco and found a stunted concrete reproduction of the dazzlingly phony storefronts she’d encountered on Amazon, arranged haphazardly with best-selling books, plastic tchotchkes, and beauty products apparently bought from wholesalers. “At some point I began to feel like I was in a dream,” she wrote. “Or that I was half-awake, unable to distinguish the virtual from the real, the local from the global, a product from a Photoshop image, the sincere from the insincere.”

The content is fake.

The only site that gives me that dizzying sensation of unreality as often as Amazon does is YouTube, which plays host to weeks’ worth of inverted, inhuman content. TV episodes that have been mirror-flipped to avoid copyright takedowns air next to huckster vloggers flogging merch who air next to anonymously produced videos that are ostensibly for children. An animated video of Spider-Man and Elsa from Frozen riding tractors is not, you know, not real: Some poor soul animated it and gave voice to its actors, and I have no doubt that some number (dozens? Hundreds? Millions? Sure, why not?) of kids have sat and watched it and found some mystifying, occult enjoyment in it. But it’s certainly not “official,” and it’s hard, watching it onscreen as an adult, to understand where it came from and what it means that the view count beneath it is continually ticking up.

These, at least, are mostly bootleg videos of popular fictional characters, i.e., counterfeit unreality. Counterfeit reality is still more difficult to find—for now. In January 2018, an anonymous Redditor created a relatively easy-to-use desktop-app implementation of “deepfakes,” the now-infamous technology that uses artificial-intelligence image processing to replace one face in a video with another — putting, say, a politician’s over a porn star’s. A recent academic paper from researchers at the graphics-card company Nvidia demonstrates a similar technique used to create images of computer-generated “human” faces that look shockingly like photographs of real people. (Next time Russians want to puppeteer a group of invented Americans on Facebook, they won’t even need to steal photos of real people.) Contrary to what you might expect, a world suffused with deepfakes and other artificially generated photographic images won’t be one in which “fake” images are routinely believed to be real, but one in which “real” images are routinely believed to be fake — simply because, in the wake of the Inversion, who’ll be able to tell the difference?

Our politics are fake.

Such a loss of any anchoring “reality” only makes us pine for it more. Our politics have been inverted along with everything else, suffused with a Gnostic sense that we’re being scammed and defrauded and lied to but that a “real truth” still lurks somewhere. Adolescents are deeply engaged by YouTube videos that promise to show the hard reality beneath the “scams” of feminism and diversity — a process they call “red-pilling” after the scene in The Matrix when the computer simulation falls away and reality appears. Political arguments now involve trading accusations of “virtue signaling” — the idea that liberals are faking their politics for social reward — against charges of being Russian bots. The only thing anyone can agree on is that everyone online is lying and fake.

We ourselves are fake.

Which, well. Everywhere I went online this year, I was asked to prove I’m a human. Can you retype this distorted word? Can you transcribe this house number? Can you select the images that contain a motorcycle? I found myself prostrate daily at the feet of robot bouncers, frantically showing off my highly developed pattern-matching skills — does a Vespa count as a motorcycle, even? — so I could get into nightclubs I’m not even sure I want to enter. Once inside, I was directed by dopamine-feedback loops to scroll well past any healthy point, manipulated by emotionally charged headlines and posts to click on things I didn’t care about, and harried and hectored and sweet-talked into arguments and purchases and relationships so algorithmically determined it was hard to describe them as real.

Where does that leave us? I’m not sure the solution is to seek out some pre-Inversion authenticity — to red-pill ourselves back to “reality.” What’s gone from the internet, after all, isn’t “truth,” but trust: the sense that the people and things we encounter are what they represent themselves to be. Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces, have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online — to be disingenuous and cynical, to lie and cheat, to misrepresent and distort — than it does to be real. Fixing that would require cultural and political reform in Silicon Valley and around the world, but it’s our only choice. Otherwise we’ll all end up on the bot internet of fake people, fake clicks, fake sites, and fake computers, where the only real thing is the ads.

 

By , December 26, 2018, first appearing on New York Magazine: Intelligencer
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The State of Net Neutrality

A coast-to-coast roundup of efforts to restore the open internet

net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO) took effect June 11, 2018, overturning the net neutrality rules the agency established with 2015’s Open Internet Order. Since then, many individual states and other entities have taken it upon themselves to try to restore net neutrality protections. The following is a review of those efforts—successful, failed, and in progress—around the US.

More than 35 states have introduced legislation to protect net neutrality, although only four (California, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have passed laws. Several governors have also issued executive orders related to net neutrality.

The details of state net neutrality actions vary significantly, but common provisions are:

  • prohibiting all internet service providers (ISPs) in a state from blocking lawful content, applications, services, or devices; impairing or degrading the speed of lawful internet traffic based on content, application, service, or device; engaging in paid prioritization of traffic; or unreasonably interfering with a user’s ability to select, access, or use broadband internet service
  • requiring ISPs to meet the net neutrality provisions above to be considered for state contracts (in some cases, these acts apply to contracts for municipalities as well)
  • requiring ISPs to transparently disclose their network management principles
  • establishing certification systems or registries of ISPs that meet net neutrality requirements
  • issuing resolutions urging the US Congress to implement net neutrality requirements but having no regulatory power on their own

“Having 50 different approaches to net neutrality is not optimal for anybody,” observes Larra Clark, deputy director of public policy for the American Library Association’s Washington Office and the Public Library Association. However, in addition to providing net neutrality in the states where they’ve been implemented, state activities are valuable in advocating for meaningful protections nationally.

“States taking these leadership roles makes it more likely that the FCC will come to the table and the telecommunications companies that have fought us on this issue will work to find a compromise,” she says.

State legislation passed

California

On September 30, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill (S.B.) 822, requiring ISPs in the state to comply with net neutrality principles and disclose network management practices. The bill goes beyond the Obama-era regulations by also limiting certain forms of “zero rating,” in which ISPs favor certain information by not counting content or websites they own against data limits.

The bill’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) called it “the strongest in the nation.” However, the US Justice Department filed suit against the law the same day Brown signed it. This suit has been postponed, and California has agreed not to enforce its law until the D.C. District Court decides on the state attorneys general suit on RIFO.

Brown also signed Assembly Bill (A.B.) 1999 on September 30, requiring broadband networks created by local governments to follow net neutrality.

Oregon

Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill (H.B.) 4155 on April 9. The law prohibits public bodies from contracting with ISPs that do not abide by net neutrality.

Vermont

May 22 Gov. Phil Scott signed S.B. 289, requiring state agencies to contract only with ISPs that practice net neutrality, directing the state Secretary of Administration to develop a process to certify ISPs that practice net neutrality, and directing the state attorney general to study the extent to which the state should enact net neutrality rules. It also requires ISPs to disclose their network management practices. The law followed Executive Order 2-18, issued February 15, that required state agencies to contract only with ISPs that follow net neutrality.

Even though the scope of this law is narrower than California’s, industry groups filed suit to block it October 18 in the US District Court in Vermont.

Washington

Gov. Jay Inslee signed H.B. 2282 on March 5. The law requires ISPs to practice net neutrality and to accurately disclose network management practices.

Executive orders

In addition to Vermont, governors in the following states have issued executive orders related to net neutrality. Each of these orders requires ISPs to follow net neutrality principles to receive state contracts.

Hawaii

Gov. David Ige issued Executive Order 18-02 on February 5.

Montana

Gov. Steve Bullock issued Executive Order 3-2018 on January 22.

New Jersey

Gov. Philip D. Murphy issued Executive Order 9 on February 5.

New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 175 on January 24.

Rhode Island

Gov. Gina Raimondo issued Executive Order 18-02 on April 24.

Bills introduced but not enacted

Alaska

Neither of the proposed bills requiring ISPs to practice net neutrality (H.B. 277 and S.B. 160), nor House Joint Resolution 31 and Senate Joint Resolution 12 urging the US Congress to overturn the FCC’s order, were acted on in committee.

Colorado

H.B. 18-1312 would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality to receive money from the High Cost Support Mechanism, the state’s implementation of the FCC’s Connect America Fund, which provides funds for deploying broadband in rural areas. The bill passed the house but failed in the Senate Committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs.

Connecticut

The senate passed S.B. 366, requiring ISPs in the state to practice net neutrality and disclose network management practices. However, the house did not vote on the measure. H.B. 5260 and S.B. 2, which would have required ISPs to adopt net neutrality policies to qualify for state contracts, both failed in committee.

Georgia

Neither of the bills related to net neutrality introduced in the house or senate progressed out of committee. S.B. 310 would have required all ISPs to follow net neutrality, while H.B. 1066 would have prohibited the state from contracting with ISPs that don’t provide a certification of net neutrality.

Hawaii 

S.B. 2644, which would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and disclose network management practices, passed the senate unanimously, but its house companion, H.B. 2256, stalled in committee. The similar S.B. 2088 was deferred in committee.
In addition to requiring net neutrality, H.B. 1995 would have established a task force to examine the costs and benefits of a state-owned public utility to provide broadband internet service. Two of three house committees recommended passage of the bill, but the Finance Committee did not act on it.

Idaho 

H.B. 425, which would require ISPs to comply with net neutrality, was not acted on in committee.

Illinois 

H.B. 4819, which would have required state contractors to comply with net neutrality and other ISPs to notify consumers of any deviations from those principles, passed out of the House Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, and IT Committee, but the house re-referred it to the Rules Committee and did not vote on it.

Two other measures did not advance out of committee: H.B. 5094, which would have required ISPs in the state to abide by net neutrality, and S.B. 2816, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality to qualify for state contracts.

Iowa

Neither Senate File 2286 nor House File 2287, which would have required ISPs to provide service in accordance with net neutrality, advanced out of committee.

Kansas

H.B. 2682, which would have prohibited state contracts with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality, died in committee.

Kentucky

The Small Business and Information Technology committee did not act on H.B. 418, which would have required state contractors to practice net neutrality.

Maryland

H.B. 1654, which would prohibit state agencies from contracting with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality and require ISPs to notify customers about the types of personal data they collect and disclose, passed the house, but the senate did not vote on it. The similar H.B. 1655, which would also authorize local governments to grant franchises for broadband internet service, did not pass out of committee.

S.B. 287, which would require the state to only contract with ISPs that follow net neutrality, did not pass out of committee.

Massachusetts 

Senate Order S2263, establishing a special senate committee on net neutrality and consumer protection to review RIFO, was adopted January 18. The committee issued its report March 23 as S.B. 2376. This report accompanied S.B. 2336, a bill that would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality.

S.B. 2336 was replaced by S.B. 2610, which would direct the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable to create standards for a Massachusetts Net Neutrality and Consumer Privacy Seal to identify ISPs that abide by net neutrality and provide consumers with an easy way to opt out of providing third parties access to personal information. It would also establish a registry of broadband service providers in the state and list their network management practices and privacy policies. The bill passed the senate July 19 and has been referred to the House Ways and Means committee.

H.B. 4151, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality, was replaced by House Order 4684, authorizing the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy to study documents concerning several bills, including those on net neutrality. This order also covered H.B. 4222, requiring ISPs to follow net neutrality and establishing the Massachusetts Internet Service Provider Registry to provide service quality and pricing information to customers.

Minnesota

Two bills have been introduced in both the house and the senate that would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and prohibit state agencies and political subdivisions from contracting with ISPs that do not. None of the bills—S.B. 2880, S.B. 3968, H.B. 3033, and H.B. 4411—has been acted on in committee.

Missouri

H.B. 1994, which would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and publicly disclose their network management practices, was not acted on in committee.

Nebraska 

Legislative Bill 856, which would require net neutrality, was indefinitely postponed.

New Jersey 

S.B. 1577 and A.B. 1767, identical bills that would require all ISPs in the state to abide by net neutrality, have not been acted on by their respective committees.

A.B. 2131, which would prohibit the installation of broadband telecommunications infrastructure on public rights-of-way or underground facilities owned by public utilities or cable television companies unless the ISP follows net neutrality, was favorably reported out of committee. The senate has not acted on the identical S.B. 2458.

A.B. 2132, which would require state agencies to reject all contract bids from ISPs that do not follow net neutrality, was reported out of committee. The senate companion, S.B. 1802, has not been acted on in committee.

A.B. 2139, which would require cable companies that provide internet service to follow net neutrality principles, passed out of committee.

New Mexico 

H.B. 95 and S.B. 39 would amend the state Unfair Practices Act to require ISPs to follow net neutrality; both have been postponed indefinitely.

S.B. 155, which was similar to those bills but would also allocate $250,000 to the state attorney general in FY2018 and FY2019 to review RIFO and to file or join a lawsuit challenging the decision, was also postponed indefinitely.

New York

A.B. 8882, which would direct the state Public Service Commission to develop a plan for monitoring broadband ISPs and create a certification for ISPs that comply with net neutrality, passed the assembly June 19. Under this bill, only certified ISPs would be eligible for state agency contracts. The senate has not acted on its version, S.B. 7183.

Other bills have not made it out of committee, including: S.B. 8321, which would require net neutrality, provide regulatory control by the state Public Service Commission, prohibit zero-rating of certain content in a category but not the entire category, and require ISPs to comply with net neutrality to be granted permission to attach broadband infrastructure to utility poles; S.B. 7175 and A.B. 9057, which would require state agencies to contract only with ISPs that adhere to net neutrality and appropriate $250 million to a fund to establish municipal ISPs; and A.B. 9059, which would establish a commission to study and report on potential implementation of net neutrality rules.

North Carolina

Neither S.B. 736, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality, nor H.B. 1016, which would have applied only to state contractors, passed out of committee.

Oklahoma

S.B. 1543, which would have required state agencies to contract only with ISPs that follow net neutrality and created a fund to support municipalities attempting to create their own ISPs, was not acted on in committee.

Pennsylvania

H.B. 2062, which would have required ISPs to abide by net neutrality, did not make it out of committee. The same fate befell S.B. 1033, which also would have prohibited state contracts with ISPs that don’t follow net neutrality and required ISPs to disclose network management practices.

Rhode Island 

S.B. 2008, which would have required state agencies to award contracts only to ISPs that follow net neutrality, passed the senate June 19. The House Corporations Committee has not acted on it.

That committee recommended that H.B. 7076, which would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and require the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to annually certify ISPs, be held for further study. It made the same recommendation for H.B. 7422, which would require net neutrality and obligate ISPs to disclose their network management practices.

South Carolina

Neither H.B. 4614 nor H.B. 4706, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality and disclose their network management practices, passed out of committee.

South Dakota

The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted February 6 not to send S.B. 195 to the full senate, killing the measure. The bill would have required ISPs to abide by net neutrality and disclose network management practices to receive contracts from the state.

Tennessee

Several bills were introduced but did not pass out of committee, including H.B. 1755 and S.B. 1756, which would have required ISPs to abide by net neutrality and disclose their network management practices, and prohibit state agencies or local governments from contracting with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality; S.B. 2183 and H.B. 2253, which would have prohibited state governmental entities from contracting with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality; and H.B. 2405 and S.B. 2449, which would have created a task force to study issues relating to RIFO.

Virginia

H.B. 705, which would have required ISPs to practice net neutrality, stalled in the Commerce and Labor Committee.

S.B. 948, which would have required ISPs to practice net neutrality and prohibited them from knowingly disclosing personally identifiable information about customers, did not pass out of committee.

West Virginia 

Neither H.B. 4399, which would have required ISPs to practice net neutrality and disclose network management practices to receive state contracts, nor S.B. 396, which would have applied to all ISPs in the state, passed out of committee.

Wisconsin 

The assembly voted against taking up A.B. 909, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality and limited disclosure of personally identifying information. Senate counterpart S.B. 743 did not pass out of committee.

Neither S.B. 740 nor A.B. 908, which would have applied only to state contractors, were acted on by committee.

Resolutions

California 

In February, Senate Resolution (S.R.) 74, urging the US Congress to reinstate the 2015 rules, passed.

Delaware

Senate Concurrent Resolution 44, expressing the state assembly’s opposition to RIFO and urging the US Congress to enact legislation preserving net neutrality, passed the senate in January.

District of Columbia

A round table hearing was held in January 2018 on Proposed Resolution 22-0691 opposing RIFO. While it was cosponsored by all 13 members of the council, no vote has been taken.

Georgia

House Resolution 1161, a resolution that would have encouraged state agencies to establish policies requiring contract recipients to adhere to net neutrality, was introduced, but it did not progress out of committee.

Illinois

S.R. 1196, which would have urged the US Congress and the Trump administration to advocate for permanent adoption of net neutrality rules, did not advance out of committee.

Michigan

S.R. 131, which would have urged the governor to issue an executive order requiring ISPs with state contracts to abide by net neutrality, has not been acted on in committee.

Missouri

House Concurrent Resolution (H.C.R.) 84, which would urge the US Congress to pass legislation restoring net neutrality, has not been acted on in committee.

New Mexico

Senate Joint Memorial 17, urging the US Congress to review RIFO, passed, but the house postponed action indefinitely.

Ohio

The Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations did not act on H.C.R. 18, which would have urged the president and US Congress to protect net neutrality and open internet access.

 January 2, 2019, first appearing on American Libraries Magazine

5 Ways That Technology’s Evolution Pushes the Boundary of Fiction

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

The Martian. Science fiction, or not? For many the answer is obvious: it’s about an astronaut living on Mars. Pure SF. Hard SF. No question about it. And yet it turns out the answer is something of a black-and-gold dress or, to use a more recent mind-bending metaphor, can be heard as either “Laurel” or “Yanny.”

I attended a local book club recently (not one limited to SF books) to discuss The Martian. The group of twenty was pretty evenly split as to whether or not it was SF. And it was all down to how the individual reader perceived the likelihood of the events, and the technology being portrayed. “We landed on the Moon,” “People live in the desert to simulate this stuff,” “Pathfinder is a real thing,” “We’ve got robots on Mars!”

For what it’s worth, I see The Martian as very much SF. But the discussion was interesting and it got me thinking about the interaction between technology and storytelling and, in particular, how the evolution of technology pushes at the boundary of fiction and science fiction.

Here are five ways in which technology and storytelling interrelate, in no particular order.

1. Fictional technology quickly becomes reality: I grew up watching “Star Trek: TNG” and, while the show rests primarily on the premise of warp drive, the little nuggets of day to day technology were the things that at once seemed so real and yet were completely out of reach: food replicators, holodecks, tablet computers…

Younger members of my family are far less impressed. Tablets are in all our homes, and aren’t replicators just fancy 3D printers? Travelling in the opposite direction, when my parents first watched the original “Star Trek,” the things that stood out to them were handheld communicators and doors that opened automatically when someone approached them – neither of which appeared at all odd to me when I was watching it!

One of the most interesting aspects of this phenomenon is the feedback loop between fiction and technology: those consuming science fiction shows tend to try and create the amazing tech that they’ve watched as a child. After all, who wouldn’t want a go on Marty McFly’s hoverboard?

2. Technology changes the rules: While technology does open new possibilities for storytelling, its rule benders can also pose serious problems for authors. Two examples are the cellphone and the internet. After all, how can a protagonist be put in danger when they can simply call for help? And how can satisfying puzzles be set for our characters, when those same cellphones give them access to the sum of humanity’s knowledge?

The fact that technology is constantly changing doesn’t just cause headaches for science fiction. Would we believe a story, for instance, that didn’t include characters using credit cards (which first appeared in Edward Bellamy’s 1887 story, Looking Backward)? Or a modern crime novel that didn’t include forensics, etc. etc.?

When writing my new novel, The Synapse Sequence, I was thinking about some of the ways in which policing is likely to change in the very near future. So when a teenage girl goes missing, would the police assign a grizzled detective to the case – or would they be more likely to get an AI to judge the evidence and use facial recognition to try and find her? At the time of writing, I considered this to be very much science fiction. Now though, I can almost hear the members of my book group objecting – and certainly similar systems are being introduced in certain parts of the world (notably China).

The main component of The Synapse Sequence, however, is more speculative. It involves the use of technology that allows an investigator to explore the memories of witnesses. A little more far-fetched than using AI’s and algorithms? Nope. All stuff that’s in development, and being reported on in science journals.

3. The world becomes both smaller and larger: In the decades leading up to the end of the 20th Century, technology was increasing the scope of stories, and opening up constrained settings: Phileas Fogg traveled around the world in eighty days, whereas nowadays it takes a few hours. Similarly, it’s possible to find out what’s happening on the other side of the globe on the evening news. So our stories are not limited to a single place, and characters like James Bond can hop from the Caribbean to Moscow to Japan between a few chapters…

…but this effect has also led to revisions to once staple story elements. We now know there is no life on Venus or Mars, we can be certain there are no sea creatures that once adorned ancient maps, and the rough sketches of exotic animals drawn by early explorers have long since been replaced by definitive photos. The answer? We’ve had to create more complex alien worlds and fantastical settings. The aliens no longer inhabit Mars, but interdimensional spaces!

4. Technology allows us to tell stories in different ways: I live quite close to the only place in the UK which has cave art (dating back 13,000 years). Alongside oral traditions, it represents some of the earliest forms of storytelling. Of course, writing itself can be viewed as a technology. The development of the printing press allowed mass communication and (arguably) accelerated the loss of local languages. And the personal computer has transformed our ability to edit and craft our work.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to claim we’re living through a period of rapid storytelling innovation. As some debate whether the novel is “doomed,” storytelling itself seems to be in rude health. A Golden Age in television drama is giving us hours of astonishingly complex worlds and plotting; computer games are delivering on the promise of truly interactive entertainment; and new social media tools (Twitter/Instagram) are quickly becoming a hybrid of oral, printed word, and visual traditions.

5. Technology changes the way we look at ourselves: One of the most important contributions of the space race was to transform our understanding of Earth’s place in the universe. The Hubble Space telescope – and its astonishing deep field view – provided a glimpse of thousands of galaxies from a tiny segment of space. Many have written about the environmental narrative being strengthened by photos of the pale blue dot, but I would also suggest that it has had another more subtle impact. Aliens are no longer of sole interest to science fiction – there is growing mainstream scientific interest in the search for life beyond our planet and indeed our solar system. The view increasingly seems to be that we are not alone, which might explain growing interest in speculative fiction within mainstream genre circles.

* * *

And that’s my list (typed on a very old, but serviceable, laptop). So how will technology affect storytelling in future? I can’t wait to find out!

8 Books to Help You Navigate Modern Technology

Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

Do you feel behind on today’s tech? Do you feel lost in our hyper-connected, fast-paced world?

Have no fear, we’re here to help. The eight books below will help you to catch up with everyone around you, utilize technology to get ahead, and achieve your goals in an efficient and timely manner.
The cover of the book Hit MakersHit Makers
Derek Thompson
In this national bestseller, Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson explains the psychology behind our interests and the economics of the cultural markets that shape our lives. He deconstructs the myths of hit-making that dominate pop culture and business, shows that quality does not equal success, and demonstrates how to appeal to the consumer based on their needs and wants. This book is perfect for anyone who wants to start a business or promote themselves, and stand out from the countless others trying to make it to the top.

 

The cover of the book How to Break Up with Your PhoneHow to Break Up with Your Phone
Catherine Price
This book is essential for everyone that’s addicted to their phone. How do you know if you fall into this category? If you reach for your phone when you first wake up, constantly throughout the day, and then before you sleep, you are guilty of having an addiction to it. Award-winning journalist Catherine Price presents an easy-to-follow guide to breaking up – and making up – with your phone.

 

The cover of the book The Square and the TowerThe Square and the Tower
Niall Ferguson
This instant New York Times bestseller documents the pivotal points in world history, including the one we’re currently living through, where old power is fading and new social networks are dominating everything we do. In The Square and the Tower, Niall Ferguson argues that networks – like the social network we currently have – have always been with us, from the structure of the brain to the food chain, from the family tree to freemasonry. Throughout history, hierarchies housed in high towers have claimed to rule, but often real power has resided in the networks in the town square below.

 

The cover of the book IrresistibleIrresistible
Adam Alter
We live in an age of behavioral addiction. Half of the American population is addicted to at least one behavior – whether it be our phones, our social media, our TV shows, or our work. In this revolutionary book, Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, tracks the rise of behavioral addiction, and explains why we can’t help but be addicted to certain things. Adam explains how we can use our addictions to improve ourselves and help others, and minimize the damaging effects on our well-being and our society.

 

The cover of the book Zen CameraZen Camera
David Ulrich
In this beautifully illustrated book, David Ulrich draws on the principles of Zen practice and his forty years of photography experience to offer six life-changing lessons for developing self-expression. Zen Camera is a never-before-seen photography practice that helps artists to channel their inner creativity using nothing more than their vision and a camera – even a phone camera will do. Containing eighty-three photographs, this book will allow readers to achieve clarity in an age of distraction, and create photographs that are breathtaking and unique.

 

The cover of the book Build Your Dream NetworkBuild Your Dream Network
J. Kelly Hoey
One thing that we hear constantly in the workplace today is “networking is very important.” But how do you make valuable connections and stand out from the crowd in our increasingly digital world? Acclaimed business columnist and networking expert J. Kelly Hoey offers advice for mastering this old skill in a world where posting, liking, and friending has taken over the way we do things. J. Kelly shows how making small changes in your daily routine, generosity, and goal-focused efforts are all it takes to set you apart from others and make meaningful connections that will lead to opportunity and success.

 

The cover of the book Blockchain RevolutionBlockchain Revolution
Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott
Blockchain technology is the revolutionary protocol that allows transactions to be simultaneously anonymous and secure by maintaining a tamperproof public ledger of value, and it’s powering our future (it’s best known as the technology that drives bitcoin and other digital cur­rencies). Don Tapscott, the bestselling author of Wikinomics, and his son, blockchain expert Alex Tapscott, bring us a highly researched and easy-to-understand book about the blockchain technology that is driving our future, and explain where it can lead us in the next decade and beyond.

 

The cover of the book New PowerNew Power
Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms
In this informative guide to navigating the twenty-first century, two visionary thinkers – Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms – reveal that the rules of power have changed in our society, and are reshaping politics, business, and life. They tackle the rise of huge companies like Facebook, Uber, and AirBnB, the unexpected outcomes of our presidential elections, and the emergence of movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. New Power sheds light on the cultural phenomena of our day, revealing the new power that contributed to their success. This groundbreaking book offers us a new way to understand the world around us and our role in it.

12 OF THE BEST WORD GAME APPS THAT WORD NERDS WILL LOVE

If you’re a sucker for words (and of course you are), there’s a whole host of absolutely fun games to play on your phone. Beyond kid’s games, there are so many challenging word game apps out there that are meant for adults to play (and play again). Take part in the daily New York Times crossword, build an army of dancing bears, or stomp your friends with your vocabulary skills with the best of the best word game apps available in 2018.

12 Of The Best Word Game Apps In 2018 That Word Nerds Will Love | Book Riot

1. WORDSCAPES
Type of game: A crossword style game, combined with word search

Devices: iOS | Android | Windows

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: This game is easy at first, but quickly gets harder over time. It also only takes a few minutes to play each round, so it’s great for some quick brain stretching during the day to improve your vocabulary. And, the soothing backgrounds are pretty to look at and the game’s interface is easy to use.

Wordscapes game app screenshot

2. ALPHABEAR
Type of game: A wholly original word/strategy game, with elements of word search

Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: With cute dancing bears, lots of vocabulary building, and a few gamified elements that are missing in other word game apps (like power-ups and boss fights), Alphabear is an absolute blast to play. You not only try to make words, you also help your bears get bigger for more points. (See also, the sequel Alphabear 2.)

Alphabear game app screenshot

 

3. TYPESHIFT
Type of game: Anagrams meets word search meets crosswords

Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: This one goes beyond the normal “find word repeat” type of word game apps by introducing multiple columns of letters you have shift around in order to spell out words in the center row. Beautiful to play, and quickly challenging.

Typeshift game app screenshot

 

4. FOUR LETTERS
Type of game: Timed word search game

Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: Like all word game apps, Four Letters starts out simple but quickly progresses to harder and harder puzzles to solve. With only four letters, you have to make a word as quickly as possible. Smooth and easy to play in small pockets of downtime to improve your vocabulary.

Four Letters game app screenshot

5. BLACKBAR
Type of game: Guess the word game, with an underlying story

Devices: iOS | Android

Price: $1.99 Android, $2.99 iOS

Why you’ll love it: If you’re looking for something a bit more immersive than typical word game apps, check out Blackbar. By playing, you’ll read through a story told in a dystopian future where censorship is blotting out key words (that you have to then guess). It can be a difficult game to master, but always entertaining.

Blackbar game app screenshot

 

6. WORDS WITH FRIENDS (2)
Type of game: Basically Scrabble

Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: This is the highly-popular word game that you’ve probably already played. However, it’s still one of the best word game apps for straight fun and multi-player functionality. The redesign, Friends 2, allows you to play fictional characters in solo challenge events and includes new lightning rounds.

Words with Friends game app screenshot

 

7. NEW YORK TIMES CROSSWORD
Type of game: Crossword puzzle

Devices: iOS | Android | Windows

Price: Free to demo for a week, then $6.99/month or $39.99/year subscription options

Why you’ll love it: It’s THE classic crossword and now you can take it with you wherever you go. You’ll be able to play the daily New York Times newspaper puzzle or get access to mini puzzles, puzzle packs, or access to the 20+ years of past puzzles.

New York Times crossword game app screenshot

 

8. WORD COOKIES
Type of game: Word search style game

Devices:  iOS | Android | Windows

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: It’s basically a modified word search game, but like WordScapes, the fun is in the little extras. With a nice and clean interface, it’s simple to play. And, you’re making cookies so win-win!

Word Cookies game app screenshot

 

9. WHEEL OF FORTUNE
Type of game: Guess the word game

Devices: iOS | Android | Windows

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: If you love the TV show, this game gives you the ability to take your own turn at the wheel and guess the show’s puzzles. Play with friends and family, compete for prizes, and play lightning-quick rounds for a fast brain workout.

Wheel of Fortune game app screenshot

 

10. LETTERPRESS
Type of game: Scrabble style game

Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: The game boasts a minimal, easy-to-use interface where you can play against friends to capture the board, or challenge a bot to play. Beyond figuring out words, it’s a strategy game that’s always challenging.

Letterpress game app screenshot

 

11. WORD SEARCH PRO
Type of game: Word search

Devices: iOS | Android

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: If you’re looking for a simple, fun, and beautiful app to play word search games with, this is the one for you. It has a bright colorful look, daily challenges, unlimited puzzles, and three difficulty levels that make it always fun to play. With elegant animations and night mode settings, it was definitely made with mobile users in mind. And, likely because of this, it’s the #1 rated word game app in the iOS store.

Word Search Pro game app screenshot

 

12. WORD CONNECT
Type of game: A crossword style game, combined with word search

Devices: iOS | Android | Windows

Price: Free, with in-app purchases

Why you’ll love it: This one has the classic look and feel of old school games, with loads of playability. With over 3,000 levels and no time limits, it’s a relaxing way to improve your vocabulary a little bit every day.

Word Connect game app screenshot

By , October 
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