Sunday, January 17, 2021

Review: The Future Is Yours

The Future Is Yours The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.

Imagine if you could see what was in the news a year from now? Considering how the last year is gone, I’d guess it would be more than any sane person could bear.

Adhi Chaudry and Ben Boyce became friends in college even though they couldn’t be more different. Adhi is an introvert and a brilliant computer engineer. Ben is a charismatic salesman type who dreams of making it big. When Adhi develops a theory that would use quantum computing to enable a PC to show data from one year in the future, Ben immediately sees it is an opportunity to start a company that will make Apple and Amazon look like small potatoes. In fact, they even get confirmation that this is what they will do once Adhi gets the machine working and they look ahead a year to see that their corporation, The Future, has made them rich even before they start selling everyone their own machine. There are troubling aspects to the technology, but with the knowledge of what they will do in hand, Ben and Adhi press on even as problems pile up and begin to take a toll on their friendship.

There’s a lot I liked about this clever sci-fi book, and one of the best things was that it's epistolary novel told in texts, emails, and transcripts that bounce around from Ben’s testimony told in front of a congressional hearing just before The Future starts selling the machines to the public to flashbacks about how it all came about. It’s not just a clever gimmick either because there’s actually a reason why it’s told this way that becomes clear late in the book.

The idea of the glimpsing ahead to the future via a quantum computer was also intriguing and very well done. It could have been a concept that came across as wonky or even magical, but Adhi’s theory along with the development process grounds it more than enough to seem feasible.

Once the set-up is established, author Dan Frey then does some very nice work in a way that shows he thought through the implications of this technology even if his main characters haven’t. Adhi and Ben do a few tests that convince them that the future cannot be changed by them knowing the future. Although Adhi is more cautious we see how Ben’s enthusiasm blows past any notions that this is a bad idea.

This is where Frey’s themes become clear, and it couldn’t be more timely than this moment when social media companies who made fortunes by allowing anyone to say pretty much whatever they want have now been forced to reckon with the consequences because it turns out there’s a lot of people who are shameless opportunists who will lie constantly, and there’s even more people ready to swallow everything they say.

That’s why Ben’s character really struck me because he talks a good game about how letting everyone share the information about the future makes for a fair and level playing field and that it would actually make the world better. Yet, the story also shows time and again how he uses that argument to beat down rational concerns and criticisms about the technology he’s trying to sell and how much responsibility he bears for it. Sound like any tech billionaires you know?

Frey uses this to turn what could be the book’s biggest plot hole into a strength. Because if Adhi and Ben can see the future, why wouldn’t they just keep it secret and play the stock market to get rich without taking the tech public and open the Pandora’s Box of letting everyone see the immediate future?

Part of the answer is that it isn’t enough to just be rich, they want to become famous as world changers like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg. Or at least that’s Ben dream, and he can persuade Adhi that it’s his too. Which means they have to let the public know about it so the excuses about doing it for the good of the world start up. Plus, they know that they’ve already done it by looking ahead so why worry about it? They’ve set up a logic loop that demands that they do this even as the warning signs start flashing faster and faster.

On top of all this, it reads like any of those real stories about how some friends started a business, made it big, and then when disagreements come about it, everything falls apart. As you read their emails and texts you can see the cracks starting to form, and there’s a real sense of impending doom because readers can see what’s happening even if they can’t. This has impact because Frey built a real and believable bond between Adhi and Ben so that I was still rooting for these guys even as I was thinking that this was all a terrible idea.

Combine all this with a fantastic ending, and you’ve got one of the better sci-fi books that has extremely relevant themes.

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