I have an office on the twenty-sixth floor of a Honolulu high rise. The view out my window, predictably, is stunning. One evening recently, I saw something very different from the normal fare of humpback whales and ships heading to Pearl Harbor. A blur of motion. A small red light. I swiveled around, and saw it: hovering just a few inches from the glass was a drone. Its camera watched me watch it. After a moment, it slowly hummed off. I have no idea what it was doing there, or who was controlling it. I suppose there is probably no way to find out.
That moment would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. Just as it would have been impossible to imagine, twenty years ago, that something I routinely carry in my pocket could allow governments or hackers to track my movements or eavesdrop on my conversations.
But this is the world we live in now. A world of veiled surveillance and targeted ads. Biometric scanners, and integrated devices that silently keep tabs on us. To some extent, we’ve uploaded our memories and ourselves into our phones. Our devices have become auxiliaries of ourselves. In return, they tell us what we want before we know we want it. It’s an amazing time to be alive when you can use voice commands to have a hot meal delivered to your doorstep, and that robotic interaction is the most meaningful conversation you’ve had all day—but where is this headed? Call me a pessimist, but I’m not hopeful.
I tried to tackle some of this in my newest book, The Night Market. Set in day-after-tomorrow San Francisco, it follows Inspector Ross Carver, whose visit to a murder scene is interrupted by hazmat-suited FBI agents, who whisk him away to a decontamination trailer, and then knock him unconscious. When he wakes up two days later, there’s a strange woman in his apartment, and he has no memory of the preceding days. Wandering through the ad-lit streets of a city that seems increasingly like a waking nightmare, he tries to piece together his lost days—and uncovers a stunning conspiracy in the process.
There may be no way to stop the future from coming, but there might be time to get ready for it.