Cory Doctorow, of Boing Boing, wrote a short story called “By His Things You Will Know Him” for an anthology about the potential science and technology of the near future, An Aura of Familiarity. The story is available for free online. Here’s a sample:
“Oh,” he said. “Right. Got ahead of myself. The system’s called Infinite Space and it comes from a start-up here in Virginia. They’re a DHS spinout, started out with crime-scene forensics and realized they had something bigger here. Just run some scanners around the room and give it a couple of days to do the hard work. If you want more detail, just unpack and repack the drawers and boxes in front of it—it’ll tell you which ones have the smallest proportion of identifiable interior objects. You won’t need to inventory the cutlery; that shows up very well on a teraherz scan. The underwear drawer is a different matter.”
I sat there for a moment, thinking about my dad. I hadn’t been to his place in years. The docs had shown me the paramedics’ report, and they’d called it “crowded,” which either meant that they were very polite or my dad had gotten about a million times neater since I’d last visited him. I’d been twenty before I heard the term “hoarder,” but it had made instant sense to me.
Purnell was waiting patiently for me, like a computer spinning a watch cursor while the user was woolgathering. When he saw he had my attention, he tipped his head minutely, inviting me to ask any questions. When I didn’t, he said, “You know the saying, ‘You can’t libel the dead’? You can’t invade the dead’s privacy, either. Using this kind of technology on a living human’s home would be a gross invasion of privacy. But if you use it in the home of someone who’s died alone, it just improves a process that was bound to take place in any event. Working with Infinite Space, you can even use the inventory as a checklist, value all assets using current eBay blue-book prices, divide them algorithmically or manually, even turn it into a packing and shipping manifest you can give to movers, telling them what you want sent where. It’s like full-text search for a house.”
Cory and I are similar writers, in that we enjoy exploring ideas in particular. That drive is common in normal science-fiction, but here in the “near-future” subgenre, it’s even more obvious, because the idea — in this case, the concept that we can search our physical possessions as if they were a Word document — is the only thing separating the story from reality. No ray guns, no spaceships, no three-tongued alien languages. Unless, of course, that’s the idea that’s being explored. At any rate, this is the type of story I like: a genre on the fringes of the typical speculative fiction wheelhouse.
The organization sponsoring the anthology, the Institute for the Future, is holding a contest centered on allowing people to ‘remix’ Cory’s story. As they put it:
You’ve read Cory’s story—now it’s your turn to remix his future. Where else would you use the Infinite Space scanning drones that Bruce used to scan his father’s house? If our houses, schools, offices, stores, warehouses (anywhere!) had the Infinite Space service continuously scanning all of the stuff inside—and a fully-searchable online model of the rooms and objects—how could we re-design these spaces to be more efficient, exciting, or social? How could we think about space in fundamentally different ways than we do today? How would our relationship to stuff change?
Tweet your remix ideas to #FanFutures by Friday, June 21 for a chance to win! We’ll select one awesome Infinite Space remix idea to receive a limited edition hard copy of An Aura of Familiarity and a t-shirt.