Award-winning author and NIU economist discuss sci-fi and economic fact at next STEM Cafe

In National Book Award Winner M.T. Anderson’s latest satirical novel, Landscape with Invisible Hand, humans are invited to participate in a galactic economy but struggle to adjust to a market run by aliens and ruined by alien technology.

Anderson’s books, such as Landscape, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing and Feed, often use humor and satire to explore how people deal with societal disruptions. He turns a comedic and critical eye to everything from the American Revolution to the history of science to social media.

M.T. Anderson

In a recent interview with NIU STEM Read Director Gillian King-Cargile, Anderson said that he sees his role as a science fiction writer as “mixing elements of reality with strangeness” to help readers see reality more clearly and critically. “I do see myself as someone who’s trying to say, ‘let’s use this symbol or metaphor of a weird world to displace ourselves just enough to see clearly.’”

Many of the stories that play out on the pages of his books and other works of science fiction relate to real concepts in economics. “What will happen,” Anderson asks, “when part of the human race will get enhanced, and most humans won’t be able to afford to get enhanced? And what are we going to do as human (blue collar, then white collar) jobs can be done by computers, but at the same time we have an economy based on the fact that you have to work to live? What will we do when there’s no labor needed?”

Dr. Tammy Batson, director of NIU’s Center for Economic Education, is looking forward to offering an economist’s perspective to these questions, and others, in her upcoming discussion with Anderson at the next STEM Café. Batson and Anderson anticipate a lively and wide-ranging discussion of economics, technology, extraterrestrials and the invisible hands that control our lives.

“During this café, we’ll be discussing the impact of technological advances on existing markets,” Batson says. “How is it that some advances can lead to significant improvements in our society while at the same time outdating or replacing some of the existing human capital?”

Batson hopes to provide perspective on the issues faced by displaced workers from changes in technology and trade—issues Anderson addresses through the image of an invading alien economy in Landscape with Invisible Hand. She says, “I hope the audience takes away that these types of changes in an economy are not new. The timing of a change or which industry is impacted is unpredictable. But the idea that in the long run changes are in a way ‘predictably unpredictable’ may help us prepare for our future.”

Batson and Anderson will be speaking at the next STEM Café, which will take place Thursday, Nov. 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Fatty’s Pub and Grille in DeKalb. The event is free and open to the public, with food and drinks available for purchase.

For more information, call 815-753-4751 or email jdymond@niu.edu.

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