Computing Utopia: The Horizons of Computational Economies in History and Science Fiction – Science Fiction Studies – article

Computing Utopia: The Horizons of Computational Economies in History and Science Fiction

Stainforth, Walton | Science Fiction Studies

2019-10-15

This article connects the recent flourishing of economic science fiction with the increasing technicity of contemporary financial markets, to pose questions about computational economies, both historical and fictional, and their ambiguous utopian currents. It explores examples of computational economies and societies in which economic resources are largely defined and allocated by computational systems to challenge—if not entirely dispel—assumptions about the inextricability of computation and the dystopian specters of capitalism, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism. The article puts insights from the histories of cybernetics, computer science, and economics into dialogue with sf novels that experiment with different sociopolitical configurations of computational economies. The novels that are the primary focus of the discussion are The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin and If Then (2015) by Matthew De Abaitua. The article concludes with some thoughts about the use of history and fiction for expanding the imaginative horizons of the computable in economics.

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