Its book review time!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I mentioned earlier that I was reading “Radical Evolution” by Joel Garreau.  I just finished it last night.

It was interesting.  He presents three possible scenarios - the “Heaven scenario”, prominently advocated by Ray Kurzweil, the “Hell Scenario”, foretold by Bill Joy, and the “Prevail Scenario”, which he learns about from Jaron Lanier.

The Heaven Scenario is where technology moves us past such problems as sickness, hunger, and death, and into a utopia.  The Hell Scenario is where technology moves forward without us, and we’re all eaten by rogue self-replicating nanomachines or wiped out by a bio-engineered super plague.  The Prevail Scenario is where we take control of the rush of technology and use it to find new ways of connecting people.  The key element of the Prevail Scenario is that we are in control.  The other two predict that the rapid rate of change in technology, which is currently increasing, is going to be too fast for us to have any input on where it’s going.

As I read the book, I went through a few phases.  First, I read about the Heaven Scenario, and envisioned myself enhanced and posthuman, immune to disease, constantly connected to an ever-present network, and immortal.  It was pretty sweet.  Kurzweil thinks we’ll have significant changes in what it means to be human in the next 2-3 decades. Then I read about the Hell Scenario, which seems less likely.  Maybe I do still have a little faith in humanity that we won’t totally destroy ourselves just yet.  Probably we will before the sun goes out, but that at least gives us a little time.  Although, if we do have a man-made global killer, it’s going to suck pretty hard.

The Prevail Scenario is less concretely defined.  It’s almost like an extension of the web 2.0 user communities into all aspects of life.  Instead of people being kept physically apart, sitting at computers in basements, new technology would allow richer connections between people than are possible now, combining the best of online communities with the best of physical communities.

In all, it’s a good read.  Even those who don’t know much about the tech side of things should be able to follow along.  The writing style is accessible.  And it’s exciting.  The idea of transcending humanity is really fascinating, and it doesn’t sound that far-fetched.

Next on my list is Glasshouse by Charles Stross, which is actually a novel about posthumans.  In the first chapter, we already have a duel for making eye contact and a no-strings-attached orgy just for fun.  The future is awesome!

Posted in: Technology