Welcome To The Future™: Futuristic Realism

“What on Earth is futuristic realism?”

Short answer: it is a subgenre of science fiction and literary/realistic fiction that combines contemporary or familiar storytelling with the high technology seen in sci-fi.

More accurately, welcome to a blog infatuated with futuristic realism! There are many things that need to be asked before we get started, the most important of which being: “What on Earth is futuristic realism?

Short answer: it is a subgenre of science fiction and literary/realistic fiction that combines contemporary or familiar storytelling with the high technology seen in sci-fi.

Long answer: it is many things. There are multiple definitions for it, and the very nature of the genre changes over time. There are two main terms: “sci-fi realism” and “futuristic realism.” How are they different? On a fundamental level, they mean the same thing. However, they go about reaching the same goal in different ways.

Sci-Fi Realism describes science fiction that emulates reality on some level. Maybe that means slice-of-life familiarity, or maybe that means hyperrealistic graphical design. When science fiction seems indistinguishable from real life, you have sci-fi realism.
Futuristic realism goes for the same thing, except it throws in real life to the proceedings. When real life seems indistinguishable from science fiction, or when science fiction tries coming off as real life to the point you probably wouldn’t be able to tell if it was contemporary or sci-fi, you have futuristic realism.

At the same time, as the creator of these terms, I’m apt towards using them interchangeably, and I’m more comfortable with “futuristic realism” due to its lack of the otherwise constricting ‘sci-fi’ label. On the Sci-Fi Realism subreddit, there is already considerable tension due to the label and the original mission statement.

Perhaps that’s because my ideas weren’t fully formed at the time of creating the subreddit, or perhaps that’s due to the style’s nature. I lean towards the former: when I created the subreddit, my sole intention was to find science fiction and cyberpunk pictures that seemed to be pictures taken in real life, or at least images that had a distinctly familiar and ‘non-artistic’ angle to them.

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One of the first images submitted to /r/SciFiRealism
Artist: SwissAdA

Some examples included photoshopped images of natural landscapes featuring futuristic aircraft. Back in July 2015, this is what sci-fi realism meant. Then it expanded to include “close-ups” of a futuristic world.
Offbeat images that depicted a future world that wasn’t just “sci-fi cityscape #3,842” or “cyborg military policeman staring into distance towards sci-fi cityscape #3,842” were what I was looking for. It’s not because I hate these sorts of images— especially considering I’m a regular of subreddits dedicated towards those images such as /r/CityPorn, /r/ImaginaryCyberpunk, and /r/ImaginaryCityscapes— but because I had come to notice that I was a person living in a world that seemed increasingly sci-fi, but there was a disconnect between ‘what they said it would look like’ versus ‘what it actually looks like’.

In fact, there’s something I call the “Smartphone Perspective” (also known as the Smartwatch Perspective and iPhone Perspective, depending on the discussion): take out your smartphone. Now turn it on. Congratulations: you wield a gadget that is more futuristic than most things sci-fi writers have ever dreamed of. In your hand is a computer that has access to all the world’s information, to images, to videos, to movies, to novels, and more. It’s something the average person even ten years ago considered a quasimagical prop meant for a movie set in the year 3000.

Meh.

“Meh” is right. At times, it’s meh. At times, it’s awe. We’ll soon feel the same towards things like hyperloops, domestic robots, and moon colonies. Real life will become indistinguishable from science fiction.

In early 2014, I recognized this truth. It took time for me to articulate it clearly, but I recognized it early on. Except… there was still a disconnect— where were the heroes and villains, the alien invaders and doomsday-dealing hackers? Sure, there are global megacorporations, but for the most part, we just deal with them and move on with our everyday lives.

Everyday lives! That was it. That’s what was missing from a lot of science fiction on which I grew up. I always wanted a personal robot, but never did that idea materialize into anything more than a vague snapshot of a robotic servant presenting to me a glass of soda.
Somewhere along the line, I began to seriously think about the consequences of owning my own personal robot servant, of the little everyday things that would arise. Was it exciting? Not usually, and that’s why futuristic realism was never a major thing before I started a subreddit dedicated to it. Science fiction is almost always meant to be an escape from our current lives, after all. Sure, it tends to wind up influencing our lives, but it mainly serves the role of entertainment. It was never actually intended to become our everyday lives. Yet become our everyday lives it has.

So that’s why I want to tell the story of a family celebrating Christmas, an otherwise homely scene, but one featuring their domestic robots and smarthouse. That’s why I want to tell the story of an average couple taking up virtual dating. Average people with average lives with ultra-high technology that they believe is average or, at the very least, losing its novelty.

That’s why I say the very nature of the genre changes over time: one day, even owning an artificially intelligent robot inside of an artificially intelligent house won’t come across as science fiction. It only does today because we’ve never possessed artificially intelligent robots or houses.
A modern contemporary story like The Fault In Our Stars would read like utterly ultraterrestrial sci-fi to an average person from the 1700s. Then again, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, The Great Gatsby, would be science fiction to such a person all the same, what with these fast-paced “automobiles” racing along the place. If one made the deliberate attempt to create such a feeling, that they were reading or watching something sent back several decades or centuries and wasn’t intended as science fiction, what would that be like? Something they consider a contemporary realistic story, but we would find incredibly futuristic and beyond our times…

I want to find out.

Among other things, of course. I also want to celebrate how futuristic we currently are. Believe me, there are many current creations that seem ripped from the set of cyberpunk thrillers, and I want the world to know.

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One such obvious place is Dubai. It’s even going to be featured in the video game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
Photographer: Alisdair Miller

Ever since the little schism involving what sci-fi realism was and what it eventually came to mean, I’ve since moved all the more ‘realistic’ stuff to a new subreddit— /r/FuturisticRealism. Here, the content is much more strictly controlled, and the aim of the sub has remained true from the beginning to now.

And that’s why I want to tell you once more, something that’s made me feel great for years in the midst of suffering from depression— Welcome To The Future™!

rhchyvy

The Life and Times of Barry the ASIMO

I bought a droid. His name is Barry, and he’s quite the shocking bit of technology — presets included such joys as ‘litter cleaning’ and ‘sandwich crafting.’ Yeah, he’s good with some bread and mayonnaise; even better with a pooper-scooper. Thank God for Barry.

They truly are the Apple II of domestic droids

When I bought him, I had only a few minutes before class started, so my fellow collegians got to meet their first droid. You know, that was actually a good thing. He got some social interaction.

Now, I was nauseous with the flu so I was so eager to get home and eat something. Something good. Something like fried rice and potstickers. What better day to try my hand at a new dish, what with having an artificially intelligent droid at my side? Barry watched as I made magic, what was possibly my favorite dish of the year.

Then came his first test. My pet dog, Coco, decided that the best time to demonstrate the result of her bowel movements was right as I began eating. This was it — moment of truth!

As I looked away, I waved to my droid friend and said, “Barry, clean that up.”

He stood there, gazing upon the turd as if it were something from Tibet. Then, right before I spewed more words and rice his way, he moved. Such grace! Curvaceous moves! A bard couldn’t have described his waste-handling so well. In that moment, I realized the fantastic choice I had made — as well as the possibilities lain before me.

I needed only to teach him how to recognize the warning signs of an impending asteroid flurry so he would act quickly to take the dog outside. Once I did that, I could rest easy and enjoy having a perfect dog-walker. But I also realized this could apply to anything. Not just mundane household chores, but even harder things such as cleaning the outside of the house, and filling out the drive-way. If I could obtain a strong stream of resources, Barry could keep fixing and building onto my house forever, making sure it never falls into disrepair. Imagine that: a prole who lives in a mansion!

But hold on… I’m a writer, what one would call an ‘intellectual.’ Ignore the ratty trailer, damn it! Point is, if this were the 1760s, I’d be wearing a (bare) frock coat and culottes. I shouldn’t sully my artisan hands with, gasp, manual labor! Barry should also be the one who procures said resource stream.

“Where could Barry work?” First thought was McDonalds and similar fast food joints. However, I doubted his reflexes were up to speed. I needed somewhere slower paced, more suited to a newborn droid.

Wait! Why not a supermarket clerk? There’s an Albertson’s about ten minutes from my house, and better yet, my mother worked there. She could teach Barry all the basics.

I spent a few weeks training him to be a housedroid first before sending him off to the store, and then we spent a week more practicing the ins and outs of supermarketeering.

He became a valued member of the household

First day on the job! Better be ready, droid. I dropped him off at Albertson’s and met with my mother to exchange anxieties. She wouldn’t be at her second job clerkin’ for a few more hours, so she would be just as ignorant as me. It was all Barry.

You have to realize, this was a new frontier for humanity. A droid working in a very people-centric environment? I was surprised there weren’t news cameras everywhere.

Actually, Pepper got there first. And there were cameras.

Maybe I worried too much (which is about right for a GDSA, general-depressive-social-anxiety millennial), because his first day went off without a fraction of a hitch. I hugged the thing, I was so happy. I could… do some other things to it, but never mind that. And like I said, maybe I worried too much. All he had to do was exchange money and put things in bags. Yeah, simple for us, but simple things have a bad habit of escaping the capabilities of machines.

Then, two weeks later, something even more magical happened — Barry got a paycheck. It was payed out to him, but delivered to my mother (who gave it to me, don’t fret). $490! What was I gonna do with myself that night, I wondered? Maybe buy a taco? No, two tacos! Oh, so wealthy… I swear, I took Barry out with me to the nearest Mexican restaurant and partied till the wee hours of the early evening.

Whoa. I just earned money without actually earning money. Everyone knew this was a shady little thing, as the manager wasn’t exactly sure if Barry should be paid or not. Do you pay a droid? Legally, he was tied to me, so they’d potentially have a lawsuit on their hands if they didn’t pay him/me, but surely that would incentivize them to automate away their cashiers and clerks.

How would their ex-employees be paid, then? They’d just have to get new jobs, right? Well wait a sec — what if other businesses automate their labour? That squeezes the workforce down to a bare minimum. No one can pay for anything if no one’s earning anything…

Wait! These machines will eventually break down eventually, or at least require repairs and maintenance in some form. The new jobs can be all about — Whoops, sorry, what was that? I just upgraded Barry to feature some self-repair programming. He can even repair other droids!

Well…

We’re not at that point yet. I just have a check, and it may be the most important check in human history. In a manner, it’s both the problem and the solution. It’s a problem in that it’s proof of the changing times. But how is it a solution? Surely it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch…

So what if Albertson’s fires Barry and replaces him with their own droid? Or skips the droid entirely and automates the whole process? That puts my mother in a bind more than me, since she’s entirely dependent upon her own labor. I can always sell Barry’s labor to someone else, and he’ll fast learn what he needs to learn. My ma? It’s different for her. She can only learn so quickly, and she has needs of her own. She can’t just get any job out there and expect to be productive. Luckily she’s skilled in social work, something I feel Barry’s about a generation or two away from mastering by his very design. Still. That’s not very long of a time.


Barry’s an ASIMO. They typically release new iterations every four to five years. Artificial intelligence progresses even more quickly than that. Fact is, there’s no guarantee she’ll be employed in a decade.

What should be done? Well there are quite a few options to consider. I know many Statists who desire to implement a Unconditional Basic Income. It seems like a great idea to pursue, but I just have one fear — who exactly decides to distribute the money? Undoubtedly the people who are going to be taxed will be the ones paying for said UBI. What, you think poor working people run the government?

So I’m sitting here with Barry, thinking about my ma, wondering how much she’s worth to the bourgeois bureaucrats. And even ifthey decide she’s worth enough of their coffers to let her live comfortably, will they actually let her live comfortably or will they raise the prices of their goods to offset any benefit a UBI could bear?

Don’t get me wrong, I want that sweet UBI implemented ASAP. Completely wipe away all welfare and replace it with a simple UBI. Seems fine? Yeah, it kinda collapses in a post-labour society since that basic income becomes one’s only income. Unless you think droids will create new jobs we can’t imagine (which is a stupid assumption considering the nature of artificial general intelligence), you’re gonna realize we have a societal problem.

Artificial general intelligence (AGI) is the intelligence of a (hypothetical) machine that could successfully perform any intellectual task that a human being can.

Barry’s caused a bit of a problem, hasn’t he? What started with him cleaning up minpin poop has resulted in societal meltdown. Fitting.

Well society hasn’t actually collapsed; we’re just tense. But everyone knows I’m the freak who keeps screaming about ‘technostism.’ What is technostism? Basically, I’m saying we should profit from droid labour. Do as I do, not as I say — get a droid and let it do your work.

A blue and white ripoff of the technocracy monad

Sounds nice, but there are so many problems with that, it isn’t even amusing. For one: what work? What if all the existing businesses automate first? We could always create new businesses, but doing what? I just don’t have an answer. Two: how do we get droids? With what capital? Three: what kind of droid? General purpose droids like Barry are nice, but some jobs need specialized robots. Droids like Baxter sometimes just aren’t as good as factorybots.

It sounds good, though. If you factor in swarm intelligence, we could create a society free from slums and poverty with robots catering to humanity’s every need and desire. Remember my prole mansion? I could have twenty Barrys constantly touching up any imperfection that arises, or building onto my house as I see fit. They’ll learn from their own experiences as well as each others’. If my drive-way and yard happens to contain issues, they can address those as well. Any trash that comes onto my property (likely through my own laziness), they’ll remove. Imagine that on a society-wide scale.

But again, there’s no explanation of how I got twenty Barrys. Sure, the first Barry could work until I could afford nineteen more, but what if he’s fired before then? I’d need access to the raw materials to create more ASIMOs.

It’s all so very confusing! And while I do have some possible answers for a few things (automated worker cooperatives!), I don’t have all possible answers for everything.

But in the end, I’m still happy — after all, I bought a droid. I just need to realize I opened Pandora’s box.

The World of 2029

Meet Oliver and Samantha Jones. They are a normal American couple—white, middle class, socially liberal, and on the sunny side of 30. They have two kids—  8 year old Benjamin and 3 year old Miranda—  and a nice home in New Jersey.

Oliver works as a general manager of a popular restaurant, while Samantha works at home as a full time writer.

What a life! Is this the American Dream so many have sought? Perhaps. Yet perhaps few dreamt life would be like this…

As Oliver prepares himself for the day, he calls out, “Will it rain today?”

Suddenly, a female voice answers, “No. The forecast calls for a 60% chance of rain beginning at approximately 7 PM and lasting until noon tomorrow. However, there will be an impenetrable blanket of gray throughout the afternoon.”

“Any sunshine this morning?”

“Yes. It is partly cloudy at the present moment, so the sun is shining brightly.”

Oliver grins and says, “Ah, that’s good. You know, I really hate rain.”

“You’ve mentioned this, Ollie. I still don’t understand, what is it about rain that upsets you?”

Oliver makes a peculiar hand motion, as if rubbing his head. “It gets my hair wet. I barely like getting it wet in the shower.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“You noticed!

This is Dawn, the Jones’s artificially intelligent Virtual Home Assistant. Everybody has one these days, it seems, and they’ve become just as protected by families as the houses themselves. Home insurance doesn’t cover them, though, so Oliver pays for ‘virtual assistant insurance.’

Dawn is present throughout many of the Jones’s appliances. Their fridge, for example. Dawn knows there are several products that must always be stocked, and conducts random checks every hour or so. Not uniformly. That’s the thing with Dawn—  she isn’t stupid. At first, Dawn always checked whenever the fridge door had been opened and then closed. Then little Miranda put this learned behavior to the test by opening and closing the door repeatedly every few seconds. Dawn learned quickly.

Ben is up and at the table eating a toaster pastry. Down the stairs come Samantha.

Samantha’s wearing a big smile as she says, “Morning, sweetie.”

“Morning, mom.”

She walks into the kitchen, and stands next to a counter. There’s a gentle little whirring just next to her— it is a coffee maker grabbing a mug. “You see the time?”

“Yeah, it’s on here.” Ben taps his glasses. Samantha can faintly see the colors of whatever video game he’s playing.

She knows that glasses can do incredible things these days. Why, just the other day, she bought a new pair and discovered it could hold every single one of her favorite video games she had played as a child, and still have almost all of its storage free.

These new games, though, she won’t even touch. Like the one her little Ben is playing— he’s wearing an inconspicuous clear hand on his head, and that’s how he plays his games. Goodness, when she was his age, she had to deal with wires and controllers, and yet kids these days play video games with their minds…!

The coffee’s done. The mug slides out of the maker and she takes a sip. Delicious.

Oliver comes downstairs.

“Ollie, can you pick up some more printing wax? Dawn says we’re out.”

He says, “Cool,” and kisses her on the lips. He adds, “Also, check your contacts. I left you something.”

In walks Moville. It’s a robot who is clearly a descendant of Honda’s ASIMO series. All its motions are graceful and lifelike, and it walks exactly like a human. Its body is white and sleek, with few obvious joints, though it has ASIMO’s classic head. The only difference is the digital face.

“Hello, Ollie!” it says, carrying his sweater. Oliver puts on the sweater and then feels something clawing at his pantleg. It’s their puppy dog, Max. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Pretty good.” With a slight nod, he asks, “You walked Max?”

“I have.

We move onto Miranda, who is brushing her teeth. She’s set aside a pink teddy bear.

The teddy bear speaks, “Don’t forget to get all those nasty germs!”

“I will!” Miranda brushes even harder.

She finishes and runs downstairs to meet Oliver before he leaves, jumping into his arms. He swings her in and gives her a big hug.

“Mornin’, Miranda. Take good care of the house while I’m gone.”

“I can’t do that!”

“Course y’can.”

Dawn speaks, “That’s my job, Ollie.”


Samantha sits down at her computer desk in her office and logs into her blogger account. Immediately, she receives a message.

A bubble pops up, and a male voice speaks, “Hello, world and hello, Sam! Chui here. Your blog got 204 new subscribers yesterday following your post, ‘Giving Vyrd the Bird.’ You’ve earned a sizable $199 yesterday.”

Sam does a little cheer, “Awesome!”

“The most touted parts, and the parts where readers’ screens lingered the longest, was the eighth paragraph, a new record for you.”

“Hey, at least people are reading further.”

“Lol, I know, right? Maybe you should rehost your earlier content to get them to read further in, too.”


 

Inside Oliver’s car, a similar exchange takes place.

“Would you like to hear the news?” a female voice asks. This is Isabella.

“Sure. Top 10.” Oliver is keen to keep his eyes on the environment, but he’s gotten sloppy at this in recent days because his car is just so good at it.

“Top news: Vyrdist movement expands exponentially as unemployed workers forcibly take control of workplaces. Scattered violence against automation has been reported, but for the most part the expropriators use automation for their own welfare. Business owners are running to the federal government for help in quelling violence. The president may be forced to make a decision within days.”

“I don’t get why people would do that. All you have to do is apply for a government issued income, that’s it.”

“The Vyrd movement claims workers should own automation themselves, and adherents do not take kindly to being dependent upon the government.

Number two: stock markets have plunged 400 points.”

“You know, I grew up in an era where that was common. Still remember 2008 and ‘9, when it was everyday news that the Dow gained 300 or lost 500 or whatever. And my parents freaked out, but I didn’t see what was so scary. I dunno, I barely feel anything and I feel I should be more concerned.”

“Considering you’re a child of the millennium, it stands to reason that you are not phased by such news. What was it like, Ollie?”

Oliver pulses his hands and says, “Well, I didn’t have systems like you, for one, so I didn’t really know what was going on. Then again, I was only 8 years old. Literally the same age as Ben is now, and I don’t think he gives a damn about the stock market. Do you?”

Isabella laughs and says, “No. It is beyond him.”

“No, I mean do you care?”

A pause.

“I don’t think it’s something worth worrying about.”

“Exactly! Wall Street’s so disconnected from Main Street, who really cares?”

Chui and Isabella aren’t people. They’re artificial intelligences, powered by a combination of the cloud and deep learning. They’re also subsets of the larger Dawn system.

Stopping by at Oliver’s New York workplace is a coworker who has no biological arms or legs. He had lost them in a terrible terrorist attack several years prior— in fact, the reason why New York City seems to be under this permanent, Big Brother-esque lockdown— and got replacements. Cybernetics that are cheap through 3D printing as well as powerful and versatile. For example, shaking hands is not an awkward and stilted act, but feels entirely natural.

“I even play some old school Xbox 360 these days, just to bring back memories.” Indeed, and he can play without any noticeable difference from a person with biological limbs.

At school, Ben has several classes, but they’ve all begun melting into the same event: using virtual and augmented reality for lessons. It’s easy to visualize things when you have actual visuals, after all.

Ben let out a cheesy but true “That’s awesome!” when he first met Abraham Lincoln in person. It’s this being able to see things with his own eyes that has Ben most excited about school.

He remembers the horror stories his father told him…

“When I was a kid,” Oliver began, “we didn’t have VR in schools. I can still remember the day the Oculus Rift came out, and I was already in my junior year in high school. There was none of that growing up. Maybe a smart board here and there, and there were at least computers, but we didn’t have these Star Trek experiences you have now.”

Ben still doesn’t quite grasp the depth of his father’s words, but he doesn’t need to. As long as the schooling’s fun, it’s alright.

And then there’s Miranda. Out of all the Jones’s, her life has already been the most interesting. She was born with a medical malady where her lungs were deformed and she couldn’t properly breathe. Rather than let her suffer, her parents had her receive bionic lungs, partially 3D printed. They’ve worked well, though she’s close to needing repairs.

And that sounds odd to Samantha, the thought that a human being ‘needs repairs.’ Sure, medicine could be seen as fundamentally the same thing, but it still sounds so sci-fi to mention humans needing literal mechanical repairs.

My daughter is a cyborg, she thinks. It’s not visibly obvious with her. Then again, the cybernetics of modern times is a Borg’s nightmare. Samantha has met many cyborgs in her life, and not one looked like the traditional image of a cyborg— wires sticking out, obviously mechanical limbs, and a collective desire to assimilate.

Same thing with Miranda. She’s an otherwise absolutely normal little girl. And that’s what gets Samantha.

Oliver and Samantha had been discussing it among themselves for a full year now, and they still haven’t reached an agreement. Though they’ve toyed with sending Miranda to a pre-K school, they’re wholly unsure if admitting her to school is the right thing to do.

Samantha recalls the discussion they had last night in bed.

Oliver was tired, and kept trying to slip off to sleep, but she quizzed him multiple times to keep his eyes open.

“I think having that real world social interaction would be a good thing for her,” Samantha went.

“She can get pretty much the same thing in VR.”

“Pretty much the same thing isn’t the same thing.”

“It would still be a waste of her and our time. There’s nothing she can learn at school she can’t learn from home, and besides, what skill is she gonna learn?”

Samantha rolled over in her bed and thought to herself, Something in the arts, maybe?

“Exactly,” Oliver said, responding to the silence. “Whatever she learns’ll just get automated away by the time she graduates.”

That’s not to say Oliver was always against sending Miranda to school, or even that Samantha was always for it. It always seems like, whenever they take a position, the other side takes up the opposite position for that day. And it’s a choice that affects a life.

Miranda was born right on time. The iGeneration had come of age, taking up from the Millennials before them, and iGenners spawned a new generation. This generation, already being called ‘Generation Alpha’. Not to be confused with Generation Z (the iGeneration), it’s becoming more and more apparent with every passing day just what the ‘Alpha’ stands for.

With Oliver watching his workload be done by machines and algorithms; with Samantha letting algorithms write much of her material; with Ben interacting more with holograms and virtual personalities than real teachers— automation.

Generation Alpha is the first generation that will not be expected to work for a living. Whoever Gen A spawn in the 2040s and ’50s, they will be born into a world as different from Millennials and iGenners as the world of the 2020s is for the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Except moreso.

It is this age of storm and stress, Sturm und Drang, that divides what came before with what will come now. These three generations— the Millennials, the iGeneration, and Generation Alpha— are the dividing line between the age of labor and the age of leisure.

It is this conflict that plays out over Miranda’s future. Why send her to school, indeed!

Currently, there are still a great mass of jobs out there, but Miranda won’t be in the workforce until the 2040s at earliest. The AI of then is expected to be galaxies beyond the AI of now— and Samantha, who always had the keenest of interest in this things, knows that present day AI is quite capable.

This is the world of 2029 on a more personal level. There are still so many things we can recognize, but that is the nature of life. We can recognize many aspects from the daily life of a person in ancient Sumeria. Until transhumanism dominates, that isn’t going to change.

Nevertheless, the world is changing. The transition from high technology to ultrahigh technology has begun.

 

To be continued…