The Future We Wanted

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Wow. I really loved The Future We Wanted—it’s by far my favorite piece we’ve read for our Unconventional Uses of Voice Technology class. I love science fiction in general, but I especially love scifi that explores the relationship of human beings to machines and raises deeper questions about what it means to be human. The Future We Wanted hits both of those themes, and was both vulnerable and emotionally provocative.

The protagonist, Polly, exists in a near-future world in which an AI is considered to have a “virtual identity” and “personhood”. This world is infused with oppressive sexist overtones: Polly is expected to perform all of the emotional labor in her family’s household, and is later told by her husband that she would like their household AI system, Augusta, more if she connected with the “womanhood” of it.

Her women’s therapy group—“women helping women”—isn’t much help either. Polly gets vulnerable about her struggles with Augusta—how it makes her feel like a failure, how she doesn’t see it as a person—and another group member is allowed to cross talk and hurl accusatory statements at her. When this escalates into a back and forth between the two women, the group facilitator’s response is to silence both of them and end the group…not a very safe space.

And, at the same time, this world (or at least the people in it) purports to be post-sexist. “Thinking of [Augusta] as sexist is a dated framework,” her husband tells her, later half-heartedly chiding their son for making “appearance-based judgments” about Augusta.

As time goes on, Polly starts missing group therapy to pay the bills while her husband and kids sits around and play games with Augusta. Poor Polly seems to have no in her corner. She is gaslighted by the people in her world and given useless platitudes. Ultimately, this dissonance leaves Polly feeling so alienated and disconnected from both the humans and AI she destroys Augusta. Bravo.