This is a Top Ten list of books, stories, and one documentary film written by or about my all-time, favorite futurists…a label, by the way, that several (most?) of them might have resisted.
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932) — I’ve always favored this vision of the future more than Orwell’s dystopian vision in 1984 because it has rung truer. For me, the future is less likely one where we are tortured and frightened into submission, but moreso one in which we are seduced and willingly manipulated into complacency.
On Computable Numbers, Alan Turing (1936) — I’m amazed at the genius of this paper, produced by Turing when he was at university. He literally invented the concept for the modern computer out of pure thought.
The Veldt, Ray Bradbury (1950) — Bradbury is my all-time favorite science fiction writer. This short story of unanticipated consequences of well-intentioned technology (a frequent theme) was a first introduction for me to concepts we see in virtual reality and smart home tech today.
The Cuckoo’s Egg, Clifford Stoll (1989) — Stoll’s book on tracking a cybersecurity break-in, written like a thriller, was my first exposure to the hidden world of hackers, white and black hats, and the global threats & protections that are part of our worldwide networks.
Heavy Weather, Bruce Sterling (1994) — I go see Sterling speak every year at SXSW Interactive. This book was my first exposure to climate change…published a dozen years before Al Gore’s breakthrough documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Marc Seifer (1996) — Tesla is the prototypical, 20th century example of a person who struggles all of their life to achieve the level of financial and professional success that, upon historical reflection, they seem due — even when they have both the genius and the work ethic, during their lifetime, that most would say are “all you need.” In certain respects, I think Tesla’s life is one of the great reminders of the career cliché “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
The Cluetrain Manifesto, Rick Levine and others (2000) — the guys nailed the open source and social media waves to come, upon the commercialization of the internet and the world-wide web. They are great examples of modern-day futurists, whose rewards are more reputational than financial.
The Singularity Is Near, Ray Kurzweil (2006) — there is no greater, present manifesto supporting the unwavering truth of an AI-dominant future. In other words, this book makes clear “the question isn’t ‘if’ it’s ‘when'” the singularity occurs and how we have prepared for that moment.
You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier (2010) — if Kurzweil is the gas pedal, then I view Lanier as the break pedal. Not a fully fair analogy, because both have thrown fuel and water on the fires of tech hype. But this book and Lanier’s 2013 follow-up, Who Owns the Future, are counterpoint appeals to putting the needs of individual people first — especially the creative class — ahead of technology.
David Bowie: Five Years, Francis Whately (2013) — this documentary, somewhat like the biography of Tesla, captures the lightning of genius. Watching it provides glimpses, through the stories of others, of what it’s like to be a member of the supporting cast of a one-of-a-kind creator, in real-time, during the most productive and iconic phases of their lives.