Four Messages From the Art World to Our Corporate Society


One of fiction’s core purposes is to serve as a tool for social, political, and technological awareness and debate.


Art does not replicate life. But it can forecast or anticipate emerging realities. 

One of fiction’s core purposes is to serve as a tool for social, political, and technological awareness and debate.

Let’s look at contemporary art and the artist community. A rarely discussed, but surprisingly effective, method of futuring is done by looking at this group. Popular culture can tell corporate culture something. I think contemporary art and artists are society’s “canaries in the coal mine.”

For example, Daemon a novel by Daniel Suarez explores the unthinkable consequences of a malevolent computer program running without human supervision. A daemon taking control unnoticed. In the words of the Chicago Sun-Times “Daemon does for surfing the Web what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean.” 

The evil protagonist here is a technology executive who creates a program that violently, yet secretly, takes over the business world by stealing and exchanging proprietary corporate information.

The movie Live Free or Die Hard, also known as Die Hard 4.0 outside of North America, staring Bruce Willis presents a "fire sale" scenario where cyber-terrorists take control of the transportation grid, stock market, and telecommunications infrastructure. The evil protagonist here is a disgruntled ex-government infosec executive.

In Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, by P.W. Singer and August Cole, 2015 computer and phone systems are compromised, leaving the U.S. military at a major disadvantage when it comes to deploying advanced weapons and systems. The evil protagonist here is a cyber-savvy nation-state.

These popular writers, producers, and actors are trying to send us these messages:


Message 1: We Live in a Digital World

We live in a world totally dependent on a complex set of technologies. Technology has become embedded in modern existence. Paul Saffo, friend and fellow technology forecaster reminds us: “Apply for a mortgage lately? A bot determined your FICA score and thus whether you got the loan. Call 411? A bot gave you the number and connected the call. Highway-bots collect your tolls, read your license plate, and report you if you have an outstanding violation.”

The implication of smart cars, smart homes, and smart cities gives transportation, habitation, and civilization a dependency on digital technology. An interesting and important exercise organizations have to undertake is to imagine what would happen if critical pieces of the technology infrastructure “just stopped working.” What would we do? What would the impact be? What can we do to make sure that this does not happen?


Message 2: Machine Agency is Happening

“Agency” is the capacity of an agent to act in any given environment. Computers are “acting” in just about every environment. Currently, machine agency is benign since machines are acting efficaciously on our behalf. Popular artists are increasingly examining what happens when machines DO NOT act on our behalf.


Message 3: Generations Differ in How They Think About Technology

In each piece of fiction mentioned above, positive outcomes are only achieved when digital natives and those less digitally inclined are able to come together and collaborate.


Message 4: The “Bad Guys” are Evolving

Those who would do harm have evolved from individual actors to groups to nation-states.


When Wired Magazine interviewed Doug Morris, the chairman and chief executive of the Universal Music Group in 2007, Morris explained that the music industry was very “aware” of the problem. “They just didn’t know what to do.” They “didn’t know who to hire.”

At the time, the industry wanted to sell CDs, while the customers wanted digital to play on MP3s. According to Morris these MP3 players were “repositories for stolen music.”

In 2015, the management teams at just about every organization in the Global 5000 are “aware” of the security problem. How many know what to do, whom to hire, or what technology to use? 

Bertolt Brecht, East German poet, playwright, and theatre director reminds us, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” Have your senior management read these books and watch this movie and start hammering.

Thornton May is a futurist, educator and author. His extensive experience researching and consulting on the role and behaviors of “C” level executives in creating value with information technology has won him an unquestioned place on the short list of serious thinkers on this topic.

More Information: The next wave of the Internet creates unprecedented opportunities for countries, cities, industries, and businesses to become digital. Learn more how you can be prepared.