Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Captain's Book Review: "Radical Evolution"

"Radical Evolution : The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- and What It Means to Be Human" by Joel Garreau

I wanted to read this book for two main reasons:
1) I have read a lot about the book on the internet when I was also looking for information on the first book I read - "The Singularity is Near" (reviewed here)
2) I heard an interview with the author on the Diane Rehm show on NPR

The author, Joel Garreau, writes this book from the view point of a report - which he really is, for the Washington Post. He present three views on the future of the human race and focuses on three individuals who seem to best represent each view - the "champions" of each scenario.

The Three Scenarios of the Future are:
1) Heaven - championed by Ray Kurzweil
2) Hell - championed by Bill Joy
3) Prevail - championed by Jaron Lanier

Heaven Scenario
It's the scenario where the technological Curve that has been driving our economy for the past several decades will continue its exponential expansion. We will see technology so wonderful that it will solve all the world's problems and propell humanity into a new era that we cannot possible begin to imagine.
Ray Kurzweil, famous inventor and author of many articles and books (2 of which I have read and reviewed), is the most vocal advocate of this scenario. He seems qualified to make predictions because he helps make them happen - he's the inventor of speech regonition, optical character recognition, the flatbed scanner, and a bunch of other technologies that have changed the way technology interacts with our lives.
Kurzweil belives that humans will overcome any challenge and is extremely optimistic.

Hell Scenario
It's the complete opposite of the Heaven Scenario (no surprises there). Technology will bring about powers so awsome that it will either completely destroy us (either with a "super-bug" or with nanobots run-a-muck turning everything into "gray goo") or it will completely enslave us (ala the Matrix). Either way, it will make our lives uterly miserable.
Bill Joy, cofounder and former Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems, is the most popular advocate of this scenario. He agrees that technology will continue on an exponential Curve - but will lead us right off a cliff. He is scared to death, it seems, and is trying to raise the alarm. He hasn't been able to write a book yet, but he got his message out in a 2004 article for Wired magazine.

Prevail Scenario
This scenario is a sorta compromise between Heaven and Hell. It acknolewdges that technology is increasing exponentially, but human culture is not. This means that we may reach a point on the Curve where all of humanity says "slow down so we can catch up". Prevail also means that humans will shape technology, not vice-versa.
Jaron Lanier is probably best known for coining the term 'virtual reality'. He has also written some books, given lectures and interviews, and is an artist and musician.

Captain's Thoughts
From what I have read, it seems that the Heaven Scenario is the most feasible. I think the Hell Scenario is possible, but given the fact that people are actively discussing it and are taking measures to help prevent it, I am pretty confident that we will avoid total disaster. Even if disaster does strike, humans will emerge stronger and will be able to jump right back onto the Curve and ride it towards the Heaven Scenario.
As for the Prevail Scenario - I think that it does not really qualify for being a real future scenario. Prevail sorta just keeps the human race in limbo - it says that humans will use technology to increase the intensity of links between people. But it does not take that to its logical end - which is the Heaven Scenario. It seems that the Prevail people acuse Kurzweil and the Heaven people of relying too much on computers and artificial intelligence. I think the Prevail camp is either not able to see very far in the future or they completely underestimate humanity's potential (or just don't want to see it). Prevail is Heaven, but on a much simpler and limited scale.

One thing I did not like about the book is the seemingly endless pages of description and details Garreau uses to introduce each "champion" - I felt like I was reading a novel (which why I don't read novels).

"Radical Evolution" is a good book to read. It presents all sides of the story on the future of humanity. Though I don't agree with the Hell Scenario, I think it is important to have people like Bill Joy to bring up these alarming issues so that we can do something about it. Read the book for yourselves and see which camp you feel you belong to.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Multiply the traffic to your website... FREE
 Blog Top Sites