Scout: Exploring the Social Implications of Technology

It took me 28 years to realize the power of science-fiction.

I’d worked with my family for 15 of those running Future in Review, a $6,000 a head conference that brings together C-level executives, world-class scientists, economists, filmmakers, and, yes, science-fiction authors, to talk about where technology is headed in the next 5–10 years.

Interviewing Cory Doctorow and Ramez Naam at Future in Review. Photo: Kris Krug.

But it wasn’t until my co-founder & husband, Brett Horvath, insisted that my book club read Frank Herbert’s Dune that I finally realized what all the fuss was about. Society had told me, like many women, that I probably wouldn’t like science-fiction.

To my detriment, I’d listened.

But Dune disproved that story. It was an epic exploration of all of the things I find most fascinating — resource scarcity, conflict, spirituality, politics, and loyalty.

It was also the push I needed to see science fiction as a new lens that could help me anticipate the changing tech world.

The world’s largest companies had begun to drive huge technological advancements with immense social and economic implications. From closed-door meetings at Harvard about creating synthetic human genomes to Facebook manipulating the national political consciousness to automation job loss, the stakes have never been higher.

Well-deployed, technology can fight climate change, relieve suffering and make our lives easier. Followed blindly though, it exacerbates inequality and can be used as a tool for oppression. Avoiding these traps, Brett and I realized, was going to take an unprecedented level of strategic foresight.

But the more excited that we grew about these kinds of conversations, the more obvious it became that there was no good place to have them and no clear format for understanding what those implications might be.

It was time to upgrade our imaginations.

So last spring we launched Scout, a community that combines science-fiction and reporting to inspire better conversations about the social implications of technology.

Michael Kaemingk, now Head of Community, joined us soon after. In an extraordinary leap of faith, he quit his job in executive recruiting to build Scout with us full-time. Like Brett and I, Michael already had a sense of the growing importance of tech, but Scout gave him a framework for naming and understanding its influence on the things he was passionate about — climate, economic development, and inequality.

The Scout team soon after Michael joined. Credit: Kyle Kesterson.

In June of 2016, the three of us launched Scout’s Kickstarter campaign. Backers threw their weight behind us, helping us reach our goal in just a week. Their overwhelming support made Scout financially possible, but more importantly, it inspired us to build something that goes far beyond the average tech news site.

To help us toward that end, we recruited the incredible Dave Chenell, an illustrator, animator and full-stack developer based in New York City.

The full Scout team at Gasworks Park during Dave’s first Seattle visit. Credit: Brett’s right hand.

Over the last year, the four of us have worked together across both coasts to build Scout.ai, a powerful community of people dedicated to accelerating the creation of a better future. Doing that successfully is going to take two things — moral foresight and a disciplined imagination. Scout gives you the space, the people and the tools to foster both.

In our eyes, victory means helping the world anticipate an opportunity or threat and getting the right people together to do something about it.

That’s why, when we learned about Matter’s mission — funding ventures that “have the potential to make society more informed, connected, and empowered” — applying was a no-brainer.

We are beyond excited to join Matter’s first-ever NYC cohort and to spend the next five months taking full advantage of the focused iteration, community of fellow media entrepreneurs, and incredible network that Matter and New York City have to offer. The chance to finally bring our whole team together IRL is an added bonus.

In the meantime, we’ve been playing this on repeat at the Scout office.

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