Part 2: What sci-fi foresees for news
Science fiction has accurately predicted the future many times over (and failed as much). Here are some plausible futures for news and media based on various forms of sci-fi.
Journalists in space
- A journalist as a sci-fi novel's main character is rare. But here's an exception: James Smythe's 2012 novel The Explorer is about "a group of astronauts selected for the first mission into deep space, but things go horribly wrong and the crew begins dying off. The last survivor is Cormac Easton, the journalist selected to record the mission." ... It's plausible that future deep-space missions will include a journalist; indeed, it's to be expected. But why would a human be chosen to document the mission? After all, Cormac will be consuming air, water, and food – all precious commodities on a long space flight. A human correspondent on board makes for compelling narrative choices by the author (though The Explorer gets middling reviews on most book-review sites), but that's an improbable selection for such a space mission.
- A more plausible, likely choice for documenting a future deep-space flight would be an AI (artificial intelligence) system built into the ship's system, with its mission to share the experiences of the flight's human crew, images and video, and scientific data which are OK for public consumption, and transmitting that news stream to earthbound audiences. Such an "artificial journalist" might handle all or most of the engagement with fans and followers of the mission, and fulfill fan requests such as answering questions. An angle open to guesswork is whether such an "AI correspondent/journalist" would be entirely controlled by a space agency (a la NASA), or if earthbound editors at, say, BBC News would get to perform some of the system's reporting duties remotely.
- Deep-space flights are still a long way off, but the same concept could be applied to home-planet news. Might it be better, for example, for a remote or AI journalist to be embedded with military units during a war, rather than a human correspondent who might get killed?
The smart mob and the connected journalist
- In Existence by David Brin, a news reporter in 2045 finds herself aboard a passenger Zeppelin that perhaps has been turned into a weapon of terror. No one will listen — not the government nor the Zep company. No one, that is, except a semi-random band of amateurs, scattered around the globe. ... That reporter, Tor, is one of the principal characters in this lengthy but worth it sci-fi novel, but she and a future vision of journalism are but one subplot among many.
- Existence, published in 2012, is a significant work in terms of imagining a likely future for news reporting. Tor is a young, rising news star in a future giant media conglomerate, MediaCorp., previously having gained incredible "cred" on the internets which launched her into a professional career. For the Zeppelin story, she is in constant contact with — and regularly reporting and investigating in collaboration with — “smart mobs.” These are virtual, sometimes-large crowds of her followers who she can summon and communicate with at any time and from anywhere to seek ideas, answer questions, sample the group’s desire for what story she should cover next, or assign tasks to in order to help her finish an investigation. (The latter is the plot line for Existence's Zeppelin action.)
- We see the early stages of such a journalist-plus-smart-crowd future today. It's reasonable to imagine that by 2045 nearly everyone will be easily and routinely connected, and that nearly everyone will be sharing much more about themselves and their personal data than in 2015. With the right tools, just imagine what a skilled journalist could do with access to all that realtime data and a fan base willing to interact and assist with research and reporting.
- Speaking of tools, the most powerful in Tor's on-body arsenal are her "tru-view" glasses (think Google Glass advanced a thousand times) and implanted-tooth communicator/controller. Tru-views allow Tor to communicate with the crowd, experts, her editors, etc.; seek answers in real-time; pull up real-time news streams; view ubiquitous layers of “augmented reality” digital information, and more. Tor can even live-stream a point-of-view video from her glasses to the world, unfiltered — as she does when she finds herself in the middle of that big Zeppelin-terror story.
- Below, listen to author Brin read from chapter 3 of Existence, which covers Tor's life as a journalist of the future.
No need for journalists?
- Norman Spinrad's 1979 novel, A World Between, posits a world (not Earth, but colonized by Earthlings) with no need for journalists. Rather, citizens of Pacifica can get all the news and information they need by plugging into the Galactic Media Web, which the author describes as a media network. Here's an excerpt from a paper by journalism scholar Loren Ghiglione about Spinrad's media vision:
- "Through cameras, microphones, and screens," each person's hearing and sight "became not only planetwide but multiplex and compounded like the vision of an inset." Everyone's face and voice on worlds beyond, all of human history since videotape's invention, and current news from every perspective "might march before her eyes at whim."
- That sounds like serious information overload! Still, with the tools to filter all that to what an individual needs to know and wants to know based on interests and context, this would be pretty darn informative — and dystopian, of course. (For a more recent sci-fi novel about dystopian information-everywhere overload, check out The Circle, by Dave Eggers, published in 2013.)
A reporter and his/her drone
- This futuristic soldier (via DeviantArt.com) suggests a likely future for warfare: a warrior and his drone. The advantages of a small drone assigned to an individual soldier should be obvious, but most important is a drone's ability to get the soldier's eyes in places where he/she can't safely go. ... With drone technology continuing to become more sophisticated, smaller, and less costly, it's reasonable to expect that in the future such drone helpers will become useful to journalists working in danger zones. Just imagine the images and video that a reporter-drone can get that no human would dare. A drone also should be useful for providing sensor readings to its owner/journalist; for instance, reporting back on toxins and poisons in the air of a neighborhood suspected of being targeted in a government gas attack on the civilian population.
- Even with domestic reporting, a human-drone reporting team might end up covering news events like wildfires and tornado aftermath. (Actually, live drone footage while a tornado tears through a city is a plausible and likely future.) Eventually, odds are high that "TV cameramen" will be replaced by smart camera drones which serve as highly automated tools for solo reporters.