Future Tense: anticipating implications of emerging technologies

Future Tense channel on Slate

Two and a half years ago, ASU embarked on an experimental partnership with the New America Foundation and Slate magazine. The initiative, Future Tense, was designed and built to explore emerging technologies and their potential radical effect on policy, society and culture.

The partnership originated as a series of live events in Washington, D.C., that is webcast on ASUtv. The events take on many topics, since the notion of emerging technologies is broad and at times difficult to define. Future Tense events “ask how we can govern technologies that barely exist yet – an important question to bring to the sometimes insular conversations of Washington, D.C.,” says Joel Garreau, ASU faculty member and co-director of Future Tense.

Since its inception, Future Tense has hosted more than 30 events. Last academic year, 10 ASU faculty members participated in Future Tense events on topics ranging from the future of energy, with Sander van der Leeuw, dean of the School of Sustainability, to how the DIY movement is spurring innovation, with Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of the College of Technology & Innovation.

Each event has corresponding articles featured on Slate magazine, Future Tense’s media partner. As a publication, Slate offers analysis and commentary about politics, news and culture. Slate is known for its strong editorial voice and witty take on a wide range of topics, making it an ideal partner for Future Tense.

As a result of the success and great interest in Future Tense articles, last August, Slate launched a channel exclusively for Future Tense content. The channel features daily blog posts and full-length articles. Last year, 13 ASU faculty members and students contributed 43 articles or blog posts to the Future Tense channel. (Download an overview of the 2011-2012 academic year.)

In the past year, the channel has seen substantial growth, with an average of 2 million viewers each month for the past four months. 

“The Future Tense channel has helped bring discussion of serious science and technology issues – especially those related to policy – from a niche group of experts to a wide audience,” said Torie Bosch, editor of the Future Tense channel at Slate. “We go beyond the specs of the latest iPhone and the viral cat video of the day, but we keep the conversation engaging. That’s important, because these technologies are going to change people’s lives drastically.”

The fall season of Future Tense events and articles is under way. On Oct. 9, Future Tense will hold a discussion on the presidential candidates’ science and tech platforms. This event is accompanied by a two-part series written by ASU physicist and author Lawrence Krauss (Bombing the Test and Whose Space Exploration Policy is Better – Obama’s or Romney’s). And on Oct. 12, Denis Simon, ASU vice provost for International Strategic Initiatives, will join Future Tense for an event focused on the question of China and innovation.