What Sci-Fi Can Teach Computer Science About Ethics

This story is part of a series on how we learn—from augmented reality to music-training devices. The protagonist of Rebecca Roanhorse’s short story “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM” is a bit of a sad sack. A guide for a VR tourism company in Sedona, Arizona, he leads “vision quests” in a digital guise taken straight from Little Big Man. He’s Native American in our corporal realm as well, just not the sort tourists wish to commune with, he argues—until one does, stealing his job and his life story. Heartbreaking yet ambiguous, the story won a bunch of top sci-fi honors, including a Nebula and a Hugo. For the students in Emanuelle Burton’s ethics class, the story is tricky to …

Why the Momo Challenge Film Might Beat the Meme Movie Curse

Momo is not coming for your children, but she may be coming soon to a theater near you. The creepy face, which became the center of a viral hoax that petrified thousands of parents earlier this year, is reportedly about to be the basis of a horror movie from Orion Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment, and producer Taka Ichise. It's easy to see why. It's Pennywise wishes he could stretch his smile that wide. There's a freakishness to Momo's over-taut skin and bulging eyes, and she's not even moving. Oh, and did we mention she has bird legs? Momo won't be the first meme character to make her way to the movies, but, for a lot of reasons, she might be the …

Social Media Could Make It Impossible to Grow Up

Several decades into the age of digital media, the ability to leave one’s childhood and adolescent years behind is now imperiled. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, it is evident that a majority of young people with access to mobile phones take and circulate selfies on a daily basis. There is also growing evidence that selfies are not simply a tween and teen obses­sion. Toddlers enjoy taking selfies, too, and whether intentionally or unintentionally, have even managed to put their images into circula­tion. What is the cost of this excessive documentation? More spe­cifically, what does it mean to come of age in an era when images of childhood and adolescence, and even the social networks formed during this …

In Defense of Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is the internet’s favorite condiment villain. The egg, oil, and vinegar emulsion is a symbol not only for blandness, but for whiteness and all its attendant cultural appropriation and entitlement. It symbolizes the whitewashing of culture. It looks like something extruded from a teenage pimple or a long festering wound. Plus, haters love to point out, it’s terrible for you. It’s all fat! And salt! And because of the eggs, it's dangerous! If you leave a potato salad made with it out too long at your BBQ, everyone could get salmonella and then you're literally a murderer. Do you really love mayonnaise enough to murder a Fourth of July party for it? Yes, I do. And it's worse than …

While You Were Offline: The President Is Running for President, FYI

Wow. So, what all happened last week? Well, former vice president and presidential hopeful Joe Biden can't seem to get out of his own way, and people are starting to wonder if smartphones give you horns. So there's that. Also, Roy Moore is inexplicably back in politics. Meanwhile, Slack went public; Radiohead's Thom Yorke is making musicals now; the Senate surprisingly voted to block President Trump's attempts to sell arms to Saudi Arabia; the US team is still dominating the Women's World Cup; and the NBA Draft happened. Really, it's been quite the week. While You Were Offline is here to catch you up on the rest. Semantic Disputes What happened: There are detention centers inside the US for immigrants …

What Online Chess Taught One Teen About Digital Life

A few weeks ago, I was out to breakfast with a bunch of my guy friends and my boyfriend, crammed into a leather booth at Orphan Andy's, a diner a couple miles from where I live. We were off school that day, and one of my friends had a recurring dream about pancakes, so there we were. Per usual, I was vaguely annoyed by the omnipresent phone-checking of my friends, though this time it was accompanied by lighthearted banter of the “You dumbass, I'm going to beat you” sort, which oddly made me feel better. “What could possibly be so interesting?” I asked. This was met with a bombardment of mock disgust and the commandment to download Chess Time or …

While You Were Offline: Ted Cruz Wants the Space Force to Fight Space Pirates

You know it's been a rough week when Britney Spears apparently withdraws from performing, Grumpy Cat dies, and a sparkly vampire turns into a bat—and those aren't even the worst stories out there. Elsewhere, the Mueller investigation is still in the news and investigators have finally determined the cause of California's deadly Camp Fire. (Short version: It was electrical transmission lines.) Oh, and the Trump administration is trying to undo birthright citizenship for the adopted children of LGBTQ couples. Already feel like you've missed a lot? While You Were Offline is here to help. Generation Offred What Happened: For anyone who cares about whether or not those with wombs have any level of control over their own bodies, last week …

I Tweeted Out My Phone Numberand Rediscovered Humanity

The calls come in during twilight. At first, the tone is a whisper. They’re trying to see if I’m someone they’re comfortable with. I look for a common interest: food, film, music—anything that connects us as humans. After that, I let them lead. I’ve been taking phone calls from strangers for a few months now. This practice started after I was digitally shamed on Twitter. I had written an op-ed in The New York Times worrying about our culture of shame. I empathized with a white teen growing up in a conservative, Midwestern home. In my heart, I know a couple things to be true. We’re all human beings that deserve the opportunity to change or grow. Speaking our truth …

How the Videogame Aesthetic Flows Into All of Culture

When the science fiction film Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman, came out in 2014, WIRED called it “the best videogame you can’t play.” The film’s main character, Bill Cage, repeats the same day again and again—a day of futuristic combat with aliens. Each time he dies, Cage wakes up again on the previous day. Everything is as before, with the crucial difference that he remembers all the previous versions of that fatal next day. The repetitions are the film’s equivalent of a videogame’s replayability, and Cage’s battle skills improve, just as a player’s skills improve through replay. But Cage is not a player. He is a character in a narrative film, so the repeated days are in fact …

While You Were Offline: Was the Mueller Report Worth the Wait?

Congrats, you survived another week! And this last one was a helluva week to witness. As measles made an unwelcome comeback, Ann Coulter suggested she’d vote for Bernie Sanders, a journalist got killed during a riot in Northern Ireland, and scientists got into the business of reviving dead pig brains. What’s going on? How is it the end of April already? The days are flying by. In case you blinked and missed it, here’s what else happened in the past seven days. Sing the Bells of Notre Dame What Happened: A literal piece of history was nearly destroyed last week when Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames as the result of an electrical short-circuit. What Really Happened: The …