No One’s Driving

The big boat may be unstuck, but our deeply technologized, infinitely complex economy is just beginning to get jammed

Photo: DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d/Getty Images

Welcome to No One’s Driving, a column by novelist and tech writer Tim Maughan about how to understand a world governed by systems and technologies that are spiraling out of control.

As I write this, I have an extra tab open in my browser, which has been open all week. It’s there so that I a captive of my increasingly frayed, exhausted attention span can compulsively check it at any given time. It’s a livestream of news updates from the Suez Canal, where the 220,000-ton Ever Given and its cargo of 10,000 shipping containers ran aground and blocked…


No One’s Driving

Automation and complex distribution software created a nightmare scenario we’re still unpacking

Healthcare worker wearing PPE.
Healthcare worker wearing PPE.
Photo: skaman306/Getty Images

Welcome to No One’s Driving, a column by novelist and tech writer Tim Maughan about how to understand a world governed by systems and technologies that are spiraling out of control.

“The mask is the perfect prism with which to understand the world in 2021,” John tells me on a Zoom call from California. John is the co-founder of a mask company that manufactures its product in China, and that is not his real name; he’s asked for anonymity because he’s worried that discussing these topics would ruin his business there. “Politically, economically, culturally… it explains so much of the…


If only we’d have listened 30 years ago

Image sources: Anadolu Agency, Kwanchai Lerttanapunyaporn/Getty Images, CD Projekt Red

Up until last month, I’d not “seriously” played any video games for nearly a decade. I’d quit after a frustrating career as a producer in the console games industry left me exhausted by the precariousness and working conditions, which in turn had tainted the whole hobby for me. I still kept half an eye on news and trends because as a tech-cultural phenomenon, it fascinated me, but gaming had started to feel like a relic of a past life, something I’d left behind. And then 2020 happened. Like many, I found myself looking for activities that let me turn off…


No One’s Driving

Vast systems, from automated supply chains to high-frequency trading, now undergird our daily lives — and we’re losing control of all of them

A photo collage of a shipping dock, a graph of a stock market activity, and an automated warehouse
A photo collage of a shipping dock, a graph of a stock market activity, and an automated warehouse
Photo illustration, sources: Jesper Klausen/Science Photo Library/Sukanya Sitthikongsak/yoh4nn/Getty Images

Welcome to No One’s Driving — a column by novelist and tech writer Tim Maughan about how to understand a world governed by systems and technologies that are spiraling out of control.

One of the dominant themes of the last few years is that nothing makes sense. Donald Trump is president, QAnon has mainstreamed fringe conspiracy theories, and hundreds of thousands are dead from a pandemic and climate change while many Americans do not believe that the pandemic or climate change are deadly. It’s incomprehensible.

I am here to tell you that the reason so much of the world seems…


In order to stop a power grab from surveillance companies and tech giants, we need to define what policing is

Officers watch the streets of Camden, NJ on high definition monitors from the city’s police headquarters on May 24, 2017. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The weeks of uprisings across America in response to the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others have been overshadowed by just one thing: the response to that response. Protests against police brutality and violence have been met with unprecedented police brutality and violence.

As frightening as it has been to watch, the response also provides a glimmer of hope: For perhaps the first time, a serious discussion about defunding the police is taking place in mainstream American politics and media. “Regardless of your view on police power — whether you want to get rid…


What ‘Blade Runner,’ cyberpunk, and Octavia Butler had to say about the age we’re entering now

Photo: Ning Li/Getty Images

When you imagine the future, what’s the first date that comes into your mind? 2050? 2070? The year that pops into your head is almost certainly related to how old you are — some point within our lifetimes yet distant enough to be mysterious, still just outside our grasp. For those of us growing up in the 1980s and ’90s — and for a large number of science fiction writers working in those decades — the 2020s felt like that future. A decade we would presumably live to see but also seemed sufficiently far away that it could be a…


Over the summer of 2014, writer Tim Maughan accompanied the Unknown Fields Division — ‘a nomadic design studio’ lead by speculative architects Liam Young and Kate Davies — on an expedition to follow the supply chain back to the source of our consumer goods. On the way they visited Shenzhen, China’s most successful Special Economic Zone. This story was inspired by a visit to one of Shenzhen’s many electronics factories, where GPS tracking and vehicle monitoring units designed to retrofit buses for ‘smart city’ projects were being tested.

14.05

Dai takes the next unit off the green conveyor belt in…


Using design fiction to cut through the relentless TEDTalk-like optimism of ed tech marketing

By sava saheli singh and Tim Maughan

People talk about the future of technology in education as though it’s right around the corner, but most of us get to that corner and see it disappearing around the next. This innovation-obsessed cycle continues as we are endlessly dissatisfied with how little difference these promises make to the people implicated in these futures. …


Before ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Alien,’ a failed project would change Hollywood forever

Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune — a galaxy spanning tale of power, religion, and aristocratic family rivalries that served as an analogy for everything from middle east oil-politics and the environment to feminism and ‘60s drug culture — was a book that undeniably changed science fiction literature forever. It seemed fitting then that in 1975 the experimental Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky would set out to adapt the book into a movie that would change cinema forever. …

Tim Maughan

Writer. Debut novel INFINITE DETAIL out now on FSG. Bylines at BBC, Motherboard, New Scientist. http://timmaughanbooks.com

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