Technology Trends in 2013

Internet

In the second quarter of 2013, Akamai found that 24% of those people with internet connectivity in the United States had speeds higher than 10 Mbps, allowing them to stream audio and high definition video with relative ease. Globally, the percentage stood at 14%. Numbers are hard to come by, but of those, only a tiny fraction had speeds near 1 Gbps. Google Fiber with speeds up to 1 Gbps for $70 is available in just three cities in the United States: Kansas City, KS, Kansas City, MO, and Provo, UT. In these locations and a few other cities where competition is stronger, various broadband provides are introducing speeds in excess of 100 Mbps. According to Ars Technica, other U.S. cities are demanding gigabit speeds, including Los Angeles, CA.

Meanwhile, local and global 4G LTE mobile continued to be built out, resulting in significant coverage. According to GSMA Intelligence, there are now “230 commercial LTE networks across 88 countries.” Globally there are 176 million LTE connections. With average mobile speeds over 10 Mbps, LTE has resulted in an increase in mobile video and other applications that require higher speeds. In 2013, several carriers began testing or announced plans to test LTE-Advanced, which will improve average mobile speeds to near 100 Mbps. Meanwhile, SK Telecom launched just such a network in the world’s most advanced mobile communications market, South Korea.

In a three-part series (1, 2, 3) Quartz insisted the “internet of things” is really coming in 2014, and in doing so acknowledged the technology in 2013 was still in its hype stage. Whether or not the term is widely recognized by the public, it is clear that the “internet of things” has in fact arrived and is rapidly improving. What the articles highlight is how the basic infrastructure for the internet of things has vastly improved, in terms of cost, speed, size and energy requirements. Implementation is the activity going forward.

GE introduced their own marketing term for the internet of things; in the following video, “machine sensor technology, connectivity, and data analytics” combine for the  “Industrial Internet“:

Digital Media

Apple’s iTunes Radio arrived on September 18, 2013, just one of several services and business models shaping the digital music industry this year. Consumers seem to be much more comfortable with subscribing to music, and the music industry seems much more comfortable providing their content to various services and various business models. As the most mature of all digital media industries, music has become available on various platforms and devices for purchase, subscription, or free with ads.

Digital video seems to be following similar trends, but new media companies began to produce their own original video content to make their platforms more appealing. Netflix, for example, enjoyed Emmy-winning success with its original series and announced plans for much more content, including four Marvel-based superhero series. Amazon has begun producing original series on its platform, Hulu has done the same, and Microsoft plans to as well. Meanwhile, Google with YouTube continues to fund original programming while emphasizing channels of content.

This trend requires consumers to adopt various hardware and apps to gain access to original programming from these new content providers, and it allows new media companies to directly competes with existing content providers like HBO and the television and movie studios. Conspicuously absent from this trend is Apple, which simply hosts content and apps to access this content from other content providers. The Apple TV, in addition to offering access to music, TV shows, and movies purchases and rental from the iTunes digital retail platform, also includes apps to access content directly from Netflix, HuluPlus, Crunchyroll, YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo, Crackle, PBS, and Yahoo! Screen, as well as channel services like HBO Go, ABC, ESPN and the Disney Channel that require subscription to cable television, along with a few channels – WSJ Live, SkyNews, and Bloomberg – that don’t.

Other hardware platforms take the same approach. The newest video game consoles from Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony bring together a similar mix of services to the television, and the same uneasy alliance with cable companies allowing channels to be streamed over the web only if the user already subscribes to them. No one in 2013 was able to change this model despite frequent rumors.

While many Ultra HD (4K) televisions and monitors with 3840 x 2160 pixels resolution were introduced and rapidly fell in price, very little 4K content was available for them. Netflix announced that it would begin streaming 4K video in 2014. Netflix did improve the video quality of some content to Super HD and 3-D in 2013 for customers of internet providers that agreed to host Netflix video servers within their own data centers.

Metaverse

The Metaverse as defined by the Metaverse Roadmap project in 2007 included four components: virtual worlds, mirror worlds, augmented reality, and lifelogging. Lifelogging with wearables and virtual words and augmented reality through various eyewear were the major development efforts and newsmakers in 2013. Augmented reality applications, virtual worlds and mirror worlds were much less newsworthy this year. Further progress in these seems to be waiting for the development and consumerization of hardware with more natural interfaces. For example, augmented reality through smartphones and tablets can be interesting and fun for demonstration purposes but have not yet become indispensable to users; augmented reality glasses may be more useful.

Helping the internet of things along, a variety of lifelogging devices and services arrived in 2013 including updated hardware, improved sensors, and new attention toward wearables as a form factor set for rapid growth. New medical devices like the Scanadu Scout were demoed and will soon provide additional details about our health. In the process, consumers have become much more comfortable with attaching devices to their clothing and bodies that track their every move.

As long as the data tracking was for personal and private use, that is. Spawned by the release of classified material from the NSA by a former contractor Edward Snowden, passionate discourse raged all year about how information is gathered, often through our cutting-edge consumer electronics, and how it is used.

Meanwhile, new types of wearables rapidly gained in hype during the year, including eyewear like Google Glass and Oculus Rift. While these devices are not available for general purchase, a growing number of developers and other early adopters wore them this year. From monocle-style glasses like Glass and Vuzix’s M100 to full-on heads-up displays like the Oculus Rift, several companies were actively raising money for and developing augmented and virtual reality eyewear. Meta’s upcoming Space Glasses seems to take the technology to the next level: in addition to  two virtual displays for each eye, Meta developed what they call the “first holographic interface” by adding gesture recognition hardware.

Even before these eyewear are available to consumers, the industry and developers are already blending the virtual and real in a variety of ways. Augmented reality devices add an additional layer on top of reality, while virtual reality devices generally confine the experience to a virtual reality realm. William Steptoe demonstrated an Inception-esque Wonderland of realities in the following video:

Steptoe combined a stereo camera rig with an Oculus Rift to bring augmented reality into virtual reality, suggesting a mind-boggling future of people transitioning through various layers and mixtures of realities.

One drawback of the Oculus Rift is that other than keeping track of the user’s eyes and head, it is unable to track the rest of the user’s body. Users can use their head to look around the virtual scene, but they cannot walk through it without also using a controller. To address this limitation, various companies turned to crowdfunding in 2013 to raise money for continued development and commercialization of treadmills (Virtuix Omni) and tracking suits (YEI Technology PrioVR).

Smartwatches were less successful wearables. The Samsung Galaxy Gear arrived to poor reviews and amidst rampant rumors of an Apple “iWatch” that never materialized. Qualcomm also introduced a smartwatch, the Toq. These smartwatches are not intended to replace other devices, but act as accessories for smartphones, providing a limited subset of information to the user at a glance. It remains unclear how successful these devices will be with consumers and what capabilities and use cases will be most valuable.

Where does the Metaverse stand at the end of 2013? The Metaverse demands ubiquitous sensing in the environment and on our person. With the rise of the internet of things and rapid improvement in how we interact with the new medium, a fully immersive Metaverse – one that “will quickly subsume all other mass media and internet-enabled services, including the web” – suddenly seems closer than ever.

Hardware

The stunning success of the smartphone continued in 2013 with 1.5 billion people now owning these devices. That’s 22% of the global population, according to BI Intelligence, and now surpasses the number of people who own a personal computer; after all, the smartphone is a personal computer, just more mobile and in many respects more capable. Tablets continue to grow quickly as well, reaching 6% of the global population more quickly than smartphones reached the same milestone. How to get these devices into the hands of the next one billion? Rapid sales, competition, and dropping prices all suggest it won’t take long.

Ultra HD televisions and monitors dropped rapidly in price in 2013 while some took on new, expensive and huge curved forms. Tablets and smartphones added thinner and higher resolution screens (often bigger screens with higher pixels-per-inch) and biometric capabilities such as the “Touch ID” fingerprint identity sensor in the home button of the iPhone 5s. Laptops, desktops, and dedicated music devices continued to decline rapidly in units sold, and what remains continued to get thinner and lighter. Apple’s new Mac Pro suggests a new direction for desktop computers: strict focus on powerful workstations for people who need them, capable of driving several large and higher resolution monitors, but in a much smaller form factor and novel (cylindrical) shapes. For everyone else, post-PC devices seemed to be sufficient.

Intel’s Haswell and competitor CPUs and GPUs continued to demonstrate Moore’s Law while focusing on using electrons more efficiently. Various companies continue to promise universal memory systems coming in the next few years, but hard drives, SSD’s, and RAM continue to improve, albeit at a slower pace than previous years. Adoption of SSD in consumer electronics, for example, continues, but capacities in these devices were not generally increased this year. Capacity in Post-PC devices seems to have settled between 16 and 64 GB, with a few devices like Apple’s iPad air and second-generation iPad mini offering a step up to 128 GB.

Likewise, cameras on the back of smartphones and tablets seem to have plateaued at between 5 and 13 megapixels, and the front cameras remain at much lower resolution. Improvements to the cameras did take place in 2013, but elsewhere, such as the increased size of sensor pixels and sapphire lenses.

Robotics

The DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials on December 20 and 21, 2013 in Homestead, Florida provided a fantastic opportunity to “calibrate” our expectations about humanoid and other robots. According to DARPA Program Manager Gill Pratt as quoted by IEEE Spectrum in their article “DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials: What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Expect to See“:

“I think part of the good that can come out of the trials is that we’ll actually help calibrate the public to what the reality is in this field.”

And our expectations were certainly calibrated. Although the robots were extremely slow, spending much of their time simply calculating their next move, a surprising number earned several points in the eight-challenge event, and a few were highly successful with nearly all tasks. The top team was SCHAFT, a Japanese company recently purchased by Google. Their bipedal robot earned 27 points out of a possible 32.

Three other teams scored at least half the possible points. The top eight teams will receive funding from DARPA to continue improving their robots and prepare for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals set for December 2014.

Earlier in the year, Rethink Robotics introduced Baxter, a torsorobot with two arms safe enough to work side-by-side with humans in the manufacturing industry. Layoffs and a minor pivot late in the year suggest interest in robots that are safe and relatively easy to train is tempered by their limited capabilities and slow speeds.

The trouble at Rethink Robotics is not likely evidence of trouble with the robotics industry as a whole, however. The industry seems to be heating up as Google, Amazon, Apple and other big tech companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve industrial robots and purchase robotics and related companies.

Medicine

Animal models continued to revealed new circuits of molecular and genetic activity that promise rejuvenation in old organisms and multiplicative extensions of lifespan if tweaked as embryos. For example, providing NAD, a chemical that decreases as mammals age, to older mice improved communication between a cell’s nucleus and its mitochondria, resulting in a rejuvenation effect. For the laboratory model C. elegans, the combination of two mutations resulted in a quintupling of lifespan.

The distance between animals models and human trials still seemed astronomical, however. For humans there were a few interesting developments, including promising news in gene therapy as problems faced a decade ago have been addressed, Science’s editors selected cancer immunotherapy as their “Breakthrough of the Year”, and efforts have begun to commercialize CRISPR, a promising technology for editing genes. The ability to edit and write genes instead of just reading them is perhaps the single most promising development of 2013.

Google announced a new company called Calico that “will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.” The company has already brought together an impressive group of scientists led by Art Levinson, but little is known about their approach to this research or what their roadmap might be.

New Organ officially launched a $1 million dollar Liver Prize, with the goal of creating “a bioengineered replacement for the native liver of a large mammal, enabling it to recover in the absence of native function and survive three months with a normal lifestyle.”

Setbacks occurred. The United States Food and Drug Administration demanded 23andMe halt their genomic analysis service. Recent studies also confirmed that these services are still in their infancy as results vary and provide questionable information to consumers who may not understand these complexities.

Infectious diseases remain challenging despite vaccines and other measures developed to slow their spread. Anti-vaccination advocates continue to negatively impact national health in the United States: measles cases tripled in the United States and most of these cases were attributed to communities who refuse vaccinations. Many parents also continued to resist vaccinating daughters against the HPV virus despite recent research confirming the vaccine’s effectiveness at lowering infection rates. The U.S. National Institutes for Health (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) called off another HIV vaccine study in human trials due to ineffectiveness.

Works Cited

Book Reviews: Steve Jobs and Race Against the Machine

(A couple old book reviews I want to publish before this post gets even older.)

Steve Jobs by Walter Issaacson

I’ve always been able to separate Apple – the company and its products – from its co-founder Steve Job because I only began to pay attention to the him well after he returned to Apple. As I wrote in my commentary about the unveiling of the 2002 iMac (you know, the first flat-panel one that looked like a lamp):

Steve Jobs both fascinates and annoys me.

but by then I was already beginning to appreciate the business and design sense Jobs and his team brought to the company and its products. As described in Walter Issaacson’s biography of him, Jobs allegedly combined many of the things I tend to dislike in people: spirituality, anger issues, lack of good personal hygiene, and a deplorable disregard for science and rationality. If Issaacson captured the reality of Jobs in this biography, then Jobs was a ridiculously emotional, tyrannical, petty, and dark tyrant.

Despite this, whatever technology may want is in many ways much more frightening than Jobs. Technology is a power so pervasive, so insidious, so integral to the human experience that even great writers like Issaacson scarcely recognize it, yet it is to be found there in his book. The book focuses on the human story – and this is great! – but the relationship between technology and humanity seems to ooze out between every word. Maybe Issaacson did in fact intend this to be the case. Either way, by the time I was racing through the tale of events following the introduction of iPod into the post-PC era, I was struck again and again by the technological backdrop looming above the story of this complicated man.

The biggest story here is not that Jobs changed the world through technology. It is that despite doing so, he rejected technology when he needed it the most. For a time after he was diagnosed with cancer, he wavered about the treatments proposed by his doctors, and instead sought pseudoscientific solutions. Just prior to his death, he seemed to know he had made a serious mistake, and that he would have survived if he had just listened to his doctors right away.

Issaacson’s book depicts this unlikable person and his sad end, and perhaps without knowing so, demonstrated better than anyone the conflicted relationship we humans have with technology. Issaacson’s biography of Jobs is a fantastic book, and it confirms my suspicion that the coming decades are going to be devastating, hopeful, terrifying, and haunting, all at once, simply because we humans have yet to fully comprehend what technology has unleashed.

Race Against the Machine by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Race Against the Machine is only 5 chapters long, but it provides perhaps the most cogent explanation yet for how technology can lead to both incredible productivity gains and an increasing divide between classes. This short book also includes a chapter devoted to solutions – something missing from most commentary about the impact of emerging technologies on human labor – and another chapter that gives reason for us to hope this will all turn out alright in the end.

The authors have found through their research that technological progress has indeed played a role in incredible productivity gains witnessed in the past few decades, and the process may stretch back over the past two centuries, but this effect has previously masked: new industries replaced old industries, new jobs replaced old jobs, and society for the most part saw quality-of-life improvements across demographics. We were able to adapt. Now, however, technology is accelerating rapidly with tools that no longer replace just physical labor but also thinking, pattern recognition, imagination and other useful capabilities previously  considered human. In some fields, one human worker can now do with technology what it used to take 500 human workers to complete. Elsewhere, humans simply are too expensive and technology is capable enough.

Technology is a force of nature, and the impact it has on humanity is increasingly extreme, including an apparent “end of work”, or at least an end of work for many classes of people. It is one thing to point this out, but quite another to begin to break this process down into understandable mechanisms, and show why this explanation is more likely than  two other views about why we experienced The Great Recession and this current jobless recovery: cyclicality and stagnation. The authors do a better job of this than I have seen in my other reading. I have long wanted a more “science of technology” approach to discussions about technology, and I found some of that in this book.

My Favorite Movies and Series in 2013

I read more this year and watched fewer movies and TV. I also watched a lot more YouTube, in a year when the service devoted more resources to emphasize longer videos and video “channels” so that it can better compete against television for viewers. For this list of favorites, I picked only those that came out or were updated in 2013.

Movies

Before Midnight

This year I turned forty. There were two movies I was looking forward to because of this: This is 40 and Before Midnight.

This is 40 was disappointing. I never could relate to the characters like I had expected, maybe because the movie focused on the couple in their forties as parents. The movie was also more concerned with broad comedy and scatalogical humor, I thought, than trying to tell us anything interesting about the age of forty.

I knew within five minutes of watching Before Midnight that it would be by far my favorite movie of the year. There is comedy here and drama, some romance and lots of suspense and tension, and, in a twist from the previous two movies in the series, an epic fight that is often very hurtful. This combination of various emotions demonstrates a concept I learned from my Elements of Craft writing professor this semester: the Variegated Terrain of Emotions (VTE). This technique in poetry draws together a variety of emotions and tones into a landscape to be explored by the reader. It is a bumpy and surprising ride across terrain that hides between this variation multiple possible meanings and even truths.

Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater are not just concerned with using VTE to make their film more poetic and artsy. There really are important truths to be uncovered in the convoluted journey. Before Midnight spoke to me as a forty year old in a way This is 40 did not, telling me things about my own life and generation. For example, the big questions in Before Midnight are often about an uncertain future, both personal and global. You would think by age forty we would have a pretty good idea about where we are heading in our own lives, but in a complicated world of job opportunities, family issues, and long-term relationships, forty seems to be just the right age for stepping outside our current existence and reexamining all that came before, while asking if this is truly the direction we want to continue heading. Maybe we should have been making course-corrections sooner, but the first inklings of wisdom were gained by sticking with where we were heading through earlier years. By the end of Before Midnight, it is not exactly clear how things ended up this way, but decisions will have to be made, actions will have to be taken, and the future seems more uncertain than ever.

Before Midnight is structured like the previous two movies in the trilogy: long sequences of dialogue, few set pieces, and conversations while wandering through beautiful scenery. The dialogue is the source of action, tension and suspense. It contains within it surprises. There is this incredible scene early in the movie where Céline and Jesse are sitting with several other friends around the dinner table and the topic of technology and its impact on artists comes up. The oldest member of the group dismisses the idea that computers will ever create great art while everyone else at the table, all of them in their forties or younger, concur that technology will one day, probably within their own lifetimes, result in minds as intelligent, creative, and emotional as our own. It is a moment that is not meant to say anything specific about the Singularity or Artificial Intelligence, but it does suggest that Generation X and younger generations have an acute awareness of our future and place in it. This awareness is just one of many sources of tension Céline and Jesse experience throughout the movie, much of it related to their immediate future. What job should I take? What country should I live in? Am I doing right by my children? Am I sticking to my convictions? Does true love exist? What is commitment in a time of rapid change? While we still be together when we are old? What should my next book be about?

The movie demands further viewings, and I am especially looking forward to a day when I can time to spend six hours watching all three movies in the trilogy back-to-back. Of the three films, I think Before Midnight is my favorite, because the stakes are higher, the circumstances are more complex, and somehow the movie resonates with me not just because of my age but because there looms around it even bigger questions about our future.

Bridegroom

You can read more about my reaction to this movie here. In a word: devastating.

Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón changed filmmaking with his movie Gravity. It is not just that this movie is best in 3-D or that the special effects are nearly seamless; Cuarón uses these to create a new cinematic language. The movie is immersive in a way other 3-D movies have never been and it feels like a bridge to the coming Metaverse and its entertainment forms.

Thankfully, the acting is also fantastic, the plot is compelling, and the subtle messages about women, while complicated, generally take a step in the right direction.

Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is set in modern times but preserves the archaic language of the original. It works. Featuring a cast of Whedon regulars, the black and white movie moves swiftly through set pieces confined to a single residence and its surrounding lawns. Not since A Lion in Winter has the language spoken by phenomenal actors heard through my ears captivated my attention more than the visuals. I think Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof should start a vlog in which they read Shakespeare every day.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

There were very few blockbuster movies this year that featured a woman (and fewer that featured multiple women) as the main character and hero. The success of Gravity and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will hopefully lead to a rapid increase in genre movies led by female characters. Catching Fire managed to improve upon the great first movie while adding some very compelling characters including Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin). Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark continued to impress while Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne lived up to a meatier role.

Man of Steel

Man of Steel is a movie I was certain I was going to dislike, but I had to see it because Superman is my favorite superhero. I generally do not like movies directed by Zack Snyder (I did like his Dawn of the Dead remake, but mostly because it featured two of my favorite actors.) I was concerned that Man of Steel would emphasize spectacle over story or emotion. If there was emotion, I was afraid it would be like the hypermasculine melodrama in 300.

Instead, Man of Steel is a nuanced and emotional movie that captures all the best things about Superman: nostalgia, family, loneliness, alienation. The scene when Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) assures Clark that he is his son and the climatic scene when Superman (Henry Cavill) reacts to his own actions are both examples of fitting and earned emotions. The theme I like the best is that Superman is an alien, and this is the human race’s first contact with aliens. The movie captures the loneliness that humanity feels, us seemingly all alone in the universe with our intelligence and technology. When the credits rolled the first time I saw the movie I felt that loneliness more sharply than I have ever felt it before.

Yes, I’m pretty sure I got out of the film something different than most people, but what I found there made it one of my favorites of the year.

Television Series

Arrow

Arrow, now in its second season, is perhaps the most quickly moving story I have ever followed on television. The action and effects are fantastic for such a low budget show, the acting is generally fantastic and getting better, but it is the story that keeps the show moving at a rapid clip. Thankfully, Arrow also places itself firmly within the larger DC universe, thus bringing in various guest stars as villains and heroes to keep the show fresh and frantic.

Orphan Black

Come for the big science fiction ideas that unfold over several episodes, but stay for the phenomenal performance by Tatiana Maslany. Not only does she play several different characters, she plays characters that change over time, and she plays characters pretending to be other characters in a thrilling loopiness that has yet to topple over into farce.

Doctor Who

I did not really enjoy most of this latest season of Doctor Who. It was only when the series focused on the mythology of the Doctor and the Time Lords that it truly felt engaging. The last two episodes featuring Matt Smith were some of the best the show has ever produced, and I will greatly miss him. I hope, though, with the new actor coming the show will crawl once and for all out of the rut it seemed to have found itself in.

Web Series

Whatever this is.

Not only is Whatever this is. a great web series, it is better than anything on television, and that includes my favorite TV shows listed above. The show was created by Adam Goldman and funded through Kickstarter. Like his previous web series The Outs, Goldman successfully combines drama and comedy in Whatever this is. It is a witty mix that can become sharply poignant at times. The plot is often unexpected even thought it focuses on the everyday lives of young people in New York City trying to succeed there.

Vlogs

I don’t like reality television. I don’t want to watch vlogs. So why did I spend so much time watching vlogs this year!?

shep689

Will and R.J. are a young couple who recently moved from Florida to Los Angeles, California. They have a lot of YouTuber friends. They recently got engaged (twice). They recently got a dog. There was perhaps nothing more compelling this year than when they were trying to get their new dog. I just can’t. But I do. Every single day.

Miranda Sings

It’s not just pure comedy, it’s shocking and witty comedy. Miranda is a character created by Colleen Ballinger (Colleen’s own personal vlog is often very funny and features a huge cast of family members and friends) and improved over time based on the clueless comments left on her previous videos by certain viewers who fail to understand that this is all a very funny joke. Even when Miranda is not singing in her videos, she is gaining a strange backstory featuring a fictional mother and uncle we never see but often lead to the most hysterical and absurd Miranda moments. My favorite Miranda moment of the year may well be when she was in Germany, and then some Germans were coming…

Superfruit

Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying from the popular a cappella group Pentatonix created their vlog Superfruit this year, which became an instant sensation. Constant (great) singing, made-up words and pronunciations (conveniently spelled onscreen), hysterical banter, special guest stars and a freaky-looking but adorable and much-loved cat named Wyatt Blue Grassi-Hoying all contribute to the vlog’s unique appeal.

dnielryn

Daniel  Starke is a filmmaker in Arizona. I originally saw him in a shep689 video and later came across his short films and vlog. He is very talented and it has been fascinating to see his progress over the past year.

My Favorites Books in 2013

This is the year I finally broadened what I read regularly to include classics, poetry, and more nonfiction. This was thanks to going back to school, but also thanks to professors who provided useful tools for appreciating and analyzing these works. In the process I discovered a deep love for classic (English) literature and an angry obsession with poetry. Most of my favorite works this year were not published in 2013; this just happens to be the year I finally got around to them.

Planes, Alex. “The Shape of the Future: How to Help Tomorrow’s Children Cope With a World of Accelerating Change.The Motley Fool. 23 Dec. 2013. Web.

Planes’ brilliant look ahead at the next thirty years is not really a book, but it is so long it might as well be. What I enjoyed most about the article is the lack of breathlessness, the tight focus of each section, and acknowledgement of the problems of trying to forecast the future. The result is a comprehensive examination of the primary technological trends shaping our world over the next few decades and a thoughtful approach to scenario building and multiple possibilities, framed as advice for parents just now having children. By the end, readers have a few key suggestions for how to deal with rapid technological change, suggestions they can pass along to their children.

Johnson, Brian David. Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future with Science Fiction. Morgan & Claypool, 2011. Kindle file.

Although I had some issues with the writing and grammar (most likely a problem with the conversion to an ebook), I am otherwise incredibly excited by this approach to future forecasting and building. Prediction might be impossible, but taking steps to imagine the future and then actively working on creating that future is a potentially powerful tool. I am using the techniques in the book to explore the possibilities of the Metaverse, and also to create a roadmap for its development, an effort that could help minimize negative consequences and emphasize positive ones.

Link, Kelly. Magic for Beginners. Northampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2005. Kindle file.

A collection of short stories and “kitchen sink magical realism” that creeps under your skin and watches you.

Schomburg, Zachary. Fjords vol. 1. Black Ocean, 2012. Print.

Poems that look like prose, with simple language that takes a sudden turn into the surreal and humorous. Along with other poetry I read, Schomburg’s work taught me to take poems at face value, to linger with the images no matter how strange, and let myself feel whatever the poem is going to make me feel.

Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus (1604, 1616) in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition, Vol. B. Ed. Reidhead, Julia. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 1127-1165. Print.

Jonson, Ben. Volpone (1616) in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition, Vol. B. Ed. Reidhead, Julia. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 1443-1539. Print.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost (1674) in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition, Vol. B. Ed. Reidhead, Julia. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 1943-2175. Print.

The antiheroes Doctor Faustus, Volpone, and Satan are not typical villains, despite the often religious backgrounds of the authors of these books and plays and their efforts with these works to comment on moral behavior. For example, Doctor Faustus is a character well aware of prevailing morals but passionately curious and questioning, whatever the cost. Though he faces eternal damnation at the end, I could not help but sense in Doctor Faustus the complexity and questioning of the author Marlowe himself. Marlowe was accused of being a homosexual and atheist at a time when to be known as either could result in a death sentence; he did indeed die young under questionable circumstances after being stabbed in an inn.

What I love the most about these works and these characters is how they demonstrate the complex, curious, probing minds of their authors, in spite of strict religiosity. These authors inspire me to add more psychological complexity to the characters in my own stories, without necessarily finding answers, and no matter what ultimately happens to the characters. Perhaps the journey is worth the tragic end.

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. Vintage Books, 1992, 2004. Kindle file.

The structure of the story, the rhythm, the music, the characters, the villains who become heroes and the heroes who walk through the City with new personal power, the sacrifice of Dorcas, the angry history, the passion where passion seems to be slipping away, and when it was over a Narrator, whoever or whatever it was, who had also gone on a personal journey. Jazz will never let me go.

Istvan, Zoltan. The Transhumanist Wager. Futurity Image Media LLC, 2013. Kindle file.

I read a lot of science fiction this year but nothing (other than some Vernor Vinge short stories) really captivated my attention. I’m including The Transhumanist Wager on this list not because I thought it was a great book – it was merely good – but because it is  thought-provoking at a time transhumanism needs a jolt of electricity. In the past week the book is getting widespread attention from within the transhumanist movement and also without, and any book that causes this kind of discourse is worthy of praise.