Student Podcast Explores Future Tech and Policy Scenarios

Top row: Eddie Lopez, Ishita Ghai, Swaptik Chowdhury; Bottom row: Jim Mignano, Brian Wong

June 8, 2021

Based on a pilot they developed in Pardee RAND's fall 2020 Tech and Society class, five students recently launched a Tech + Narrative Lab (TNL) podcast, "Emerging in Perpetuity." Set ten years in the future, the series is a "design fiction" that explores the societal applications, implications, and ethics of emerging technologies on policy.

The podcast team includes Swaptik Chowdhury, Ishita Ghai, Eddie Lopez, Jim Mignano, Brian Wong, all members of Cohort '20.

Prof. Todd Richmond, who co-taught the course with Osonde Osoba and is mentoring the students, said the idea arose in response to their asking “what if/why not?” questions, which “is part of the worldbuilding process and serves as an assignment prompt in the Tech and Society course. It allows students to think more expansively and creatively while maintaining and honoring intellectual rigor.”

“Credit for the idea goes solely to Ishita,” Mignano said when asked who came up with the project. “She’s organized our involvement since day one. First, she inspired us to use the podcast format to complete a couple of assignments during the class. All who participated loved it, including the five of us who met during that class. Then, under Ishita’s leadership—and with Todd’s support—those of us who were interested in continuing podcast work formalized it into the standalone TNL ‘Emerging in Perpetuity’ podcast.”

The first episode, Shift.co, provides a brief introduction to the fictional company Shift – what it is, how it works, and what types of benefits/costs it may result in, for the two sides it serves (namely, the hourly wage workers, and the businesses who hire them. Giulio Mancini (Mignano) is Shift's chief executive officer, and Barkley Wesley (Wong) is an economist at the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Mirabelle Baker (Ghai) is the podcast host.

“Through this podcast, we hope to explore the complexity in technology policy.”

—Ishita Ghai

Ghai explained, “Through this podcast, we hope to explore the complexity in technology policy. The multi-stakeholder staging brings in the important act of probing deeper to identify and balance interests, expertise, and impact. Given the uncertainty involved with emerging technology, this is crucial for finding an objective solution that works for everyone involved.”

Richmond added, “Setting the podcast in the future and having students create characters gives the freedom to engage technology and policy concepts in a playful way from a variety of attitudes and viewpoints. While the narrative is fictional, the questions posed are very real, and provide an opportunity to think and speak with a different and exploratory voice.”

The second episode, The Gig Economy, features Zachary Noyer (Chowdhury), the leader of Working Together, and Frederick Wharton (Lopez), a policy analyst at BLAND, and looks to unravel the costs associated with Shift, especially those to Shifters. Baker (Ghai) has them examine the policies introduced in 2020 that enabled the company's creation.

Chowdhury explained that the name of the podcast, Emerging in Perpetuity, relates to the fact that the team is discussing tech that is constantly changing. “Through this podcast,” he said, “we attempt to understand the phenomenon of emergence in technology-related policies and to elucidate the nuances involved.”

The third (and most recent) episode, Competition and Monopolies, again features Mancini (Mignano), Wesley (Wong), and Baker (Ghai), as they explore monopoly and competition questions associated with Shift. They also look further into the policies introduced in 2020 that enabled Shift's creation.

Richmond noted that new technologies are dramatically changing the way people live, work, play, and even think, but those changes are often misunderstood or not fully explored.

"While the impacts of technology on users and developers may be immediately felt, America is only beginning to grasp the consequences for society at large," he said. "Through the podcast, the students ask, what does it mean for our analog humanity to thrive in an increasingly digital world?"

"We don’t claim to be experts in designing policy solutions—yet—but offer fresh, diverse perspectives on emerging technology and bring in current findings from our work," Mignano said. The podcast curates captivating trends in technology and extrapolates them 10-15 years into hypothetical but plausible future scenarios. “With each episode, we hope to inspire listeners' curiosity and leave them feeling as we do, that we need thoughtful policy to make the analog-digital relationship work."

— Monica Hertzman