Our sci-fi future: stuff we’re geeked about + book list

Photo by Chrys Wu

Photo by Chrys Wu

Today at the MIT/Knight Civic Media Conference, I led an unconference session called “Our sci-fi future, news in 20 years”. Chrys Wu was kind enough to transcribe the concepts we discussed and help me annotate the list with related works of science fiction. Here’s what we wrote down:

Influencing factors are in italics, related books and films are in bold:

All your data in the cloud


Instantaneous backstory (I want the machine to know what I know and only give me what’s news to me)
Diamond Age

Worldview mapping

Conversion tracking (like in advertising) for information, track the impact of the reporting

Virtual connections w/ physical stimuli

Implants for sensory input
Altered Carbon

Heads up displays
Mona Lisa Overdrive

Real-time maps of information spread

Millions of little flying cameras, ubiquitous surveillance
Counting Heads

Infinite bandwidth, infinite processing

Machine translation/transcription (babelfish)
Hitchhikers Guide

Computer Q&A

More ambient experiences (like the radio, not the radio)

Individually relevant metrics (Mint, Bedpost)

Gargoyles (permanently plugged in)
Snow Crash

The singularity (when human and machine become indistinguishable)
The Way of All Flesh
House of Suns

Info valet / personal information assistant
Counting Heads

The map of information consumption

Augmented Reality
Rainbows End

Pervasive advertising
Jennifer Government

Attention markets (trade your attention, certain people’s time worth more than others)
Crystal Express
Little Brother

Embodied news narratives

Authentication/authority systems
A Fire Upon the Deep

Other reads, unassociated with a particular topic listed above:
Maul, Tricia Sullivan
Summer Wars
Ghost in the Shell
Iron Sunrise
Marq’ssnan Cycle
The Information

Photo by Waldo Jaquith

Photo by Waldo Jaquith

Let’s think science-fictionally

This post is one of many that will be collected in the thrilling return of the Carnival of Journalism.

Brother Cavil: In all your travels, have you ever seen a star go supernova?

Ellen Tigh: No.

Brother Cavil: No? Well, I have. I saw a star explode and send out the building blocks of the Universe. Other stars, other planets and eventually other life. A supernova! Creation itself! I was there. I wanted to see it and be part of the moment. And you know how I perceived one of the most glorious events in the universe? With these ridiculous gelatinous orbs in my skull! With eyes designed to perceive only a tiny fraction of the EM spectrum. With ears designed only to hear vibrations in the air.

Ellen Tigh: The five of us designed you to be as human as possible.

Brother Cavil: I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to – I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to – I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws! And feel the wind of a supernova flowing over me! I’m a machine! And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I’m trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way!


Have you had a moment when you felt like you were breathing the network? When the waft of knowledge hit your nose and you could taste the data?

I have.

It’s a fleeting feeling, but I know it. For a taste, throw on your headphones, fire up TweetDeck and watch a crisis pan out. It’s thrilling.

And it’s where we’re headed. Totally immersive immediacy. I don’t know what the technologies will be. The data will ride on my 3d goggles and my conductive underwear, or my surround-view Kinect room, or my sensory deprivation in-ear headphones and holographic display… whatever the medium, I’m gonna *feel* it.

What is media literacy in that world? What does journalism become, when everything is ephemeral, when the Tweets wash over your mind, neighbor to your own thoughts?

Hell if I know.

But that’s what we need to be thinking about.

Catch up reading:

Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge
Counting Heads by David Marusek
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Links from APME 2010


Our team blog: http://blog.apps.chicagotribune.com/

Open data

Tracking Homicides in Chicago: http://homicides.redeyechicago.com/

City Council’s $3.7 Million Allowance: http://councilexpenses.apps.chicagotribune.com/

Personal context

Illinois Nursing Home Safety Reports: http://nursinghomes.apps.chicagotribune.com/

Just cuz

Illinois School Report Cards: http://schools.chicagotribune.com/

TribLocal: http://triblocal.com/

So, you wanna do this stuff?

Great tools:

Blagojevich trial documents: http://media.apps.chicagotribune.com/blago/documents.html (bult with DocumentCloud)

MuckRock: http://www.muckrock.com/

Great people:

LocalFourth: http://localfourth.com/ (see Rich’s post for more)

Sunlight Labs: http://sunlightlabs.com/

Our job listings: http://blog.apps.chicagotribune.com/category/jobs/

Draft: Kick-ass news apps, part deux! More projects to inspire journos.

Our first week at the Trib, Joe and I put together a list of apps that we hoped would inspire the newsroom. We’ll soon be at it again, and here’s my first whack at a list of recently inspiring projects.

I’d love to to know what y’all liked this year. Leave a comment? 🙂

  • 5/18 Update: added ProPublica/Frontline/Times-Picayune’s Law & Disorder
  • 5/19 Update: added Talking Point Memo’s PollTracker

ProPublica’ Unemployment Insurance Tracker

ProPublica's Unemployment Insurance Tracker

The unemployment insurance system is in crisis due to a combination skyrocketing unemployment and – in some cases – poor planning. … Using near real-time data on state revenues and the benefits they pay out, we estimate how long state trust funds will hold up.

Best part? The nerd page.

New York Times’ Fractions of a Second: An Olympic Musical

New York Times' Fractions of a Second: An Olympic Musical

At the Olympics, the blink of an eye can be all that separates the gold medalist from the 10th-place finisher. In some events, this is obvious. But in others, with athletes racing one by one, the closeness of the race is harder to perceive. Listen to the differences below.

In general, I don’t care much for multimedia/flashy apps, but this thing is neat. The win: Using audio to distinguish small intervals of time. Our ears’ are way better at that than our eyes, and the numbers are hard to imagine.

Los Angeles Times’ Homicide Report

The L.A. Times' Homicide Report

From an NPR piece aired this weekend:

Here in the L.A. area, county officials recorded 740 homicides last year. That’s an average of 14 violent deaths every week. And with few exceptions, most victims simply become statistics – numbers. … The Los Angeles Times set out to dig beneath those numbers and tell the story of each and every person on a blog called The Homicide Report.

The project has been around for a couple years, but the mapping app is new. Through simple aggregation and mapping, it creates powerful context. (And our team repurposed their code to create a sister site for the RedEye!)

PBS Newshour’s Oil Spill Widget

PBS Newshour's Oil Spill Widget

We built the meter… to give a ballpark figure of how much oil may have leaked into the Gulf based on each scenario (by multiplying the rate of leakage by the amount of time passed since the rupture). You can embed this meter on your own site or blog. We’ll keep monitoring the situation and check on updates to our calculations as needed.

Like the olympic times, this kind of data is hard to imagine — this helps relate the gravity of the situation. Would be even cooler if it gave you an idea of how much stuff a million gallons really is.

Document Cloud

Document Cloud annotation

DocumentCloud is an index of primary source documents and a tool for annotating, organizing and publishing them on the web. …contributed by journalists, researchers and archivists. If your organization does document-driven investigations, we’d love to have you join us.

We used Document Cloud to annotate redactions in Blagojevich’s motion to subpoena President Obama.

Chicago Tribune’s Nursing Home Safety Reports

Chicago Tribune's Nursing Home Safety Reports

This site provides safety reports on nursing homes in Illinois,
including information not searchable on government sites:

  • Citations for misuse of psychotropic medication
  • The number of residents who are convicted felons and sex offenders
  • Crimes reported at Chicago nursing homes
  • Fines levied because of deficiencies in care

The work I’m most proud of — apologies for bragging. Nearly a year later, we’re finally seeing impact.

ProPublica/Frontline/Times-Picayune’s Law & Disorder

Propublica/Frontline/Times-Picyaune's Law & Disorder

More like an amazingly executed story gallery than an app, but that’s what’s great about it. It’s a convergence of data and storytelling. Don’t miss the tips page — they’ve made flyers to help find sources:

Propublica/Frontline/Times-Picyaune's Law & Disorder Tip Page


Talking Points Memo’s PollTracker

Talking Points Memo's PollTracker

Talking Points Memo's PollTracker

Puts the polls in context over time, in a self-explanatory interface. Tidy.

What work from the last 12 months would you highlight as kick-ass?