Spring 2023 - CMNS 487 E100

Special Topics in Communication (4)

Technofutures:Or,Where Are The Flying Cars?

Class Number: 1423

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 4 – Apr 11, 2023: Tue, 4:30–7:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    Depends on topic; published before enrollment.



Intensive analysis of a particular topic in communication and/or attention to the work of a particular writer or school of thought. This course can be repeated for credit up to a maximum of three times, if topic studied is different.


What happened to the flying cars? The teleportation devices? Terraforming? Or even, video calls that don’t screw up half the time?

It is generally presented as common sense that our society is driven by technological innovation, and that innovation is happening faster all the time. Yet there is, thus far, no scientifically robust way to measure innovation. We aren’t even sure when or how innovation happens, exactly. When we look behind us, though, we find many reasons to think twice. Many of the most influential future visions about technological change – for example, that the internet would lead to a ‘global village’ without cultural differences or wars – turned out to be bunk. What, exactly, are our best available theories of how technologies change, and how technologies change us?

This class tries to figure some of it out. We will read across not just communication and media studies, but science & technology studies (STS), history and philosophy of technology, and other disciplines. We will read about nanotechnology; biohacking and cryogenics; self-driving cars, flying cars, and sometimes flying self-driving cars; cybernetics; GPT-3, DALL-E, and other hot AI breakthroughs in the last 10 years. But we’ll also read about microwaves and washing machines, railroads and telegraphs – because if we want to understand what is going on with technology and innovation today, we should probably learn from what happened the last few times we got excited about automation, or sentient robots, or instant communication.

This course will be useful to you if you are interested in things like innovation, information & communication technologies, AI and algorithms, surveillance, the future of work, and so on. We will do a fair, but not undue, amount of discussion, writing and research to learn more about these topics. And I promise – in a non-binding way – that it will be fun, or as fun as coursework can ever be.


  • Weekly Participation 25%
  • Writing Assignment: Defend 25%
  • Writing Assignment: Critique 25%
  • Research Paper: Synthesis 25%


Grading breakdown is provisional & subject to change.



No textbooks; all readings will be available online via instructor.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html