The Shape of Things to Come

Video: Superstruct: the Final Threat

"We are living in interesting times," science fiction author Charles Stross observed on his blog last week. "In fact, they're so interesting that it is not currently possible to write near-future SF." The makers of Superstruct, a new project created by the Institute for the Future, would disagree. The IFTF has launched what they're calling "the world's first massively multiplayer forecasting game;" in it, players are asked to imagine themselves ten years from now, then flesh out the details of that near-future world through posts to a wiki, discussion forums, Facebook, Superstruct's own site, and elsewhere. But players won't be creating this collective vision of tomorrow from scratch: the game provides a core set of hot-button issues that need to be addressed in 2019 -- couched as reports from the Global Extinction Awareness System -- which include a growing pandemic, the immanent collapse of the world's food supplies, power struggles over energy sources, and the "diaspora of diasporas" of displaced masses. Using a speculative fiction to ask thousands of users to cobble together potentially useful solutions to very real problems, Superstruct can be seen as an online variant of alternative reality gaming, juiced up with elements of crowdsourcing, prediction markets and the collaborative authorship of expanded universes. The very premise of this new mutation in science fiction writing says a great deal about what we think about our own life now in these interesting times: the future is not so much a brave new world to be explored, but a complex problem to be solved. - Ed Halter

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