Welcome to our new series at Techworld: Culture Crossover. Each week we will pick up examples of projects, exhibitions, events and artefacts that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture.
We'll be reviewing exhibitions, giving you a heads up on cultural events or talks coming up in the UK and highlighting techy art that tantalises both the senses and the intellect - our showcase today being a prime example.
This week: T. Coraghessan Boyle
Techno-dystopian themes have been extensively explored in TV and film. By now we're all familiar with Black Mirror's well-trodden 'If X was taken to its horrifying logical extreme' formula. But given less cultural airtime is literature that explores the same themes.
T. Coraghessan Boyle is an American novelist and short story author who has published 16 novels, including 'The Terranauts' and 'The Harder They Come', and more than 100 short stories, often incorporating the technologies of the near future into desolate worlds not that far removed from ours.
You can read a recent story in The New Yorker, called Asleep at the Wheel, inspired by a real event in which the San Francisco S.P.C.A. hired out a robotic security guard to dissuade homeless people from sleeping on its property.
Discussing the story in an interview with The New Yorker, Boyle said: "It's the grimly comical situation of the future creeping into the now. We talk about depersonalization - of the migrants at the border, for instance, or of the hordes threatening us from their "shithole countries," as our chief executive so eloquently expressed it - but here it is, the ultimate nonperson, a machine, keeping order in our streets. Truly, we are living in one of the bad sci-fi flicks of the nineteen-seventies."
The same story features driverless cars you can hop in for a free ride - but only if you successfully ignore all the prompts to make the most of deals from your favourite retailers and food outlets, based on the intimate record of your shopping history that the AI programme has absorbed.
The hopelessness of humanity against the seemingly unstoppable tide of AI-enabled devices plays a prominent role. Especially Boyle's characters, who often represent the worst frailties and flaws of the human character.
Boyle explores a whole range of technologies across his stories. A 2017 collection of short stories called The Relive Box allows people to replay their past in the form of a cinematic, 3D experience - similar to the concept featured in The Whole History of You, an early Black Mirror episode. However, the technology is addictive, prompting people to closet themselves away with a reel of their favourite memories played on a hyperloop.
This draws expertly on the obsessive quality our pasts can take on when enshrined in technology - encouraging us to pour over Facebook 'memories' and pictures - as well as fears over the potentially addictive qualities of VR gaming in the near future.