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

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

by Joel Garreau

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Overview

Taking us behind the scenes with today’s foremost researchers and pioneers, bestselling author Joel Garreau shows that we are at a turning point in history.  At this moment we are engineering the next stage of human evolution.  Through advances in genetic, robotic, information, and nanotechnologies, we are altering our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities, our progeny–and perhaps our very souls.  Radical Evolution reveals that the powers of our comic-book superheroes already exist, or are in development in hospitals, labs, and research facilities around the country–from the revved-up reflexes and speed of Spider-Man and Superman, to the enhanced mental acuity and memory capabilities of an advanced species. Over the next fifteen years, Garreau makes clear in this New York Times Book Club premiere selection, these enhancements will become part of our everyday lives. Where will they lead us? To heaven–where technology’s promise to make us smarter, vanquish illness, and extend our lives is the answer to our prayers? Or, as some argue, to hell–where unrestrained technology brings about the ultimate destruction of our species?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767915038
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 05/09/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 454,247
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

JOEL GARREAU is a student of culture, values and change. The author of the bestselling Edge City: Life on the New Frontier and The Nine Nations of North America, he is a reporter and editor at The Washington Post, a member of the scenario-planning organization Global Business Network, and has served as a senior fellow at George Mason University and the University of California at Berkeley. He has appeared on such national media as Good Morning America, Today, The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, NBC Nightly News, ABC’s World News Tonight, and NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. He lives in Broad Run, Virginia.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Prologue

The Future of Human Nature

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
–Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

This book can’t begin with the tale of the telekinetic monkey.

That certainly comes as a surprise. After all, how often does someone writing nonfiction get to lead with a monkey who can move objects with her thoughts?

If you lunge at this opportunity, however, the story comes out all wrong. It sounds like science fiction, for one thing, even though the monkey–a cute little critter named Belle–is completely real and scampering at Duke University.

This gulf between what engineers are actually creating today and what ordinary readers might find believable is significant. It is the first challenge to making sense of this world unfolding before us, in which we face the biggest change in tens of thousands of years in what it means to be human.

This book aims at letting a general audience in on the vast changes that right now are reshaping our selves, our children and our relationships. Helping people recognize new patterns in their lives, however, is no small trick, as I’ve discovered over time.

For example, there’s the problem you encounter when asking people what they’d do if offered the chance to live for a very long time–150 years or more. Nine out of 10 boggle at this thought. Many actually recoil. You press on. Engineers are working on ways to allow you to spend all that time with great physical vitality–perhaps even comparable to that of today’s 35-year-olds. How would you react if that opportunity came to market? There’s a question that gets people thinking, but you can tell it is still quite a stretch.

We live in remarkable times. Who could have imagined at the end of the 20th century that a human augmentation substance that does what Viagra does would sponsor the NBC Nightly News?

Discussing this sort of change, however, can be hard. Take the United States Department of Defense program to create the “metabolically dominant soldier.” In one small part of that agenda, researchers hope to allow warriors to run at Olympic sprint speeds for 15 minutes on one breath of air. It might be indisputably true that human bodies process oxygen with great inefficiency, and this may be a solvable problem, and your taxpayer dollars unquestionably are being spent trying to remedy this oversight on the part of evolution. Nonetheless, it takes effort to hold some readers with this report. It just sounds too weird.

One fine spring evening, I found myself at a little table outside a San Francisco laundry, pondering how to bridge this divide between the real and the credible. The laundry, called Star Wash, is on a lovely but quite ordinary street. In the window there is an American flag and a sign that tastefully spells out “God Bless America” in red, white and blue lights. It is run by a woman named Olga, from Guatemala City. I was traveling, interviewing the people who are creating the vastly enhanced human abilities that Radical Evolution discusses, and was waiting for my shirts to be finished.

Most of the prospective readers of this book, it occurred to me, are probably like Olga. They don’t care about gee-whiz technology. Why should they? Neither do I, truth be told.

What they care about is what it means to be human, what it means to have relationships, what it means to live life, to have loves, or to tell lies. If you want to engage such people, you have to tell a story about culture and values–who we are, how we got that way, where we’re headed and what makes us tick. That’s what has always interested me; it’s what my reporting has always been about. The gee-whiz technology is just a window through which to gaze upon human nature.

Four interrelated, intertwining technologies are cranking up to modify human nature. Call them the GRIN technologies–the genetic, robotic, information and nano processes. These four advances are intermingling and feeding on one another, and they are collectively creating a curve of change unlike anything we humans have ever seen.

Already, enhanced people walk among us. You can see it most clearly wherever you find the keenest competition. Sport is a good example. “The current doping agony,” says John Hoberman, a University of Texas authority on performance drugs, “is a kind of very confused referendum on the future of human enhancement.” Extreme pharmacological sport did not begin or end with East Germany. Some athletes today look grotesque. Curt Schilling, the All-Star pitcher, in 2002 talked to Sports Illustrated about the major leagues. “Guys out there look like Mr. Potato Head, with a head and arms and six or seven body parts that just don’t look right.” Competitive bodybuilding is already divided into tested shows (i.e., drug free) versus untested shows (anything goes).That’s merely the beginning. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania who created genetically modified “mighty mice” have been deluged by calls from athletes and coaches who want to try this technology themselves. These mice are shockingly large and muscular. They are built like steers, with massive haunches and necks wider than their heads. Could such gene doping work in humans–assuming it isn’t already? “Oh yeah, it’s easy,” H. Lee Sweeney, chairman of Penn’s Department of Physiology, told The New York Times. “Anyone who can clone a gene and work with cells could do it. It’s not a mystery....You could change the endurance of the muscle or modulate the speed–all the performance characteristics. All the biology is there. If someone said, ‘Here’s $10 million–I want you to do everything you can think of in terms of sports,’ you could get pretty imaginative.”

Then there’s the military. Remember the comic-book superheroes of the 1930s and 1940s, from Superman to Wonder Woman? Most of their superpowers right now either exist or are in engineering. If you can watch a car chase in Afghanistan with a Predator, you’ve effectively got telescopic vision. If you can figure out what’s inside a cave by peering into the earth with a seismic ground pinger, you’ve got X-ray vision. Want super strength? At the University of California at Berkeley, the U.S. Army has got a functioning prototype exoskeleton suit that allows a soldier to carry 180 pounds as if it were only 4.4 pounds. At Natick Labs in Massachusetts, the U.S. Army imagines that such an exoskeleton suit may ultimately allow soldiers to leap tall buildings with a single bound.

“My thesis is that in just 20 years the boundary between fantasy and reality will be rent asunder,” writes Rodney Brooks, director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Just five years from now that boundary will be breached in ways that are as unimaginable to most people today as daily use of the World Wide Web was 10 years ago.”

We are at an inflection point in history.

For all previous millennia, our technologies have been aimed outward, to control our environment. Starting with fire and clothes, we looked for ways to ward off the elements. With the development of agriculture we controlled our food supply. In cities we sought safety. Telephones and airplanes collapsed distance. Antibiotics kept death-dealing microbes at bay.

Now, however, we have started a wholesale process of aiming our technologies inward. Now our technologies have started to merge with our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities, our progeny and perhaps our souls. Serious people have embarked on changing humans so much that they call it a new kind of engineered evolution– one that we direct for ourselves. “The next frontier,” says Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at the UCLA School of Medicine, “is our own selves.”

The people you will meet in Radical Evolution are testing these fundamental hypotheses:

• We are riding a curve of exponential change.

• This change is unprecedented in human history.

• It is transforming no less than human nature.

This isn’t fiction. You can see the outlines of this reality in the headlines now. You’re going to see a lot more of it in just the next few years– certainly within your prospective lifetime. We have been attempting to transcend the limits of human nature for a very long time. We’ve tried Socratic reasoning and Buddhist enlightenment and Christian sanctification and Cartesian logic and the New Soviet Man. Our successes have ranged from mixed to limited, at best. Nonetheless, we are pressing forward, attempting once again to improve not just our world but our very selves. Who knows? Maybe this time we’ll get it right.

In 1913, U.S. government officials prosecuted Lee De Forest for telling investors that his company, RCA, would soon be able to transmit the human voice across the Atlantic Ocean. This claim was so preposterous, prosecutors asserted, that he was obviously swindling potential investors. He was ultimately released, but not before being lectured by the judge to stop making any more fraudulent claims.

With this legal reasoning in mind, flash forward a decade and a half from today. Look at the girl who today is your second-grade daughter. Fifteen years from now, she is just home for the holidays. You were so proud of her when she not only put herself through Ohio State but graduated summa cum laude. Now she has taken on her most formidable challenge yet, competing with her generation’s elite in her fancy new law school. Of course you want to hear all about it. It is her first time home in months. But the difference between this touching tableau and similar ones in the past is that in this scenario–factually grounded in technologies already in development in the early years of the 21st century– changes in human nature are readily available in the marketplace. She is competing with those with the will and wherewithal to adopt them.

“What are your classmates like, honey?” you ask innocently.

“They’re all really, really smart,” she says. But then she thinks of some of the students in contracts class–the challenging stuff of One L fame. And she stops.

How does she explain what the enhanced kids are like? she wonders. She knows her dear old parents have read in their newsmagazines about some of what’s available. But actually dealing with some of her new classmates is decidedly strange.*

• They have amazing thinking abilities. They’re not only faster and more creative than anybody she’s ever met, but faster and more creative than anybody she’s ever imagined.

• They have photographic memories and total recall. They can devour books in minutes._

• They’re beautiful, physically. Although they don’t put much of a premium on exercise, their bodies are remarkably ripped.

• They talk casually about living a very long time, perhaps being immortal. They’re always discussing their “next lives.” One fellow mentions how, after he makes his pile as a lawyer, he plans to be a glassblower, after which he wants to become a nanosurgeon.

• One of her new friends fell while jogging, opening up a nasty gash on her knee. Your daughter freaked, ready to rush her to the hospital. But her friend just stared at the gaping wound, focusing her mind on it. Within minutes, it simply stopped bleeding.

• This same friend has been vaccinated against pain. She never feels acute pain for long.

• These new friends are always connected to each other, sharing their thoughts no matter how far apart, with no apparent gear. They call it “silent messaging.” It almost seems like telepathy.

• They have this odd habit of cocking their head in a certain way whenever they want to access information they don’t yet have in their own skulls–as if waiting for a delivery to arrive wirelessly. Which it does.

• For a week or more at a time, they don’t sleep. They joke about getting rid of the beds in their cramped dorm rooms, since they use them so rarely.

Her new friends are polite when she can’t keep up with their conversations, as if she were handicapped. They can’t help but condescend to her, however, when she protests that embedded technology is not natural for humans.

That’s what they call her–“Natural.” In fact, that’s what they call all those who could be like them but choose not to, the way vegetarians choose to abstain from meat.

They call themselves “Enhanced.” And those who have neither the education nor the money to even consider keeping up with enhancement technology? These they dismiss as simply “The Rest.” The poor dears– they just keep falling farther and farther behind.

Everyone in your daughter’s law school takes it as a matter of course that the law they are studying is changing to match the new realities. The law will be upgraded, The Enhanced believe, just as they have new physical and mental upgrades installed every time they go home. The technology is moving that fast.

In fact, the paper your daughter is working on over the holidays concerns whether a Natural can really enter into an informed-consent relationship with an Enhanced–even for something like a date. How would a Natural understand what makes an Enhanced tick if she doesn’t understand how he is augmented?

The law is based on the Enlightenment principle that we hold a human nature in common.

Increasingly, the question is whether this still exists.

I call the scenario above “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” It is not a prediction–I have no crystal ball, alas. But this scenario is a faithful rendition of what our world could well be like if some of the engineering currently being funded turns out to work. “Forget fiction, read the newspaper,” notes Bill Joy, the former chief scientist at Sun Microsystems. Scenario planning is intended to prod people to think more broadly and view events with a new perspective. How did I arrive at this scenario? Let me give you some background.

In the late 1990s, when this book started, the rules of cause and effect seemed to have become unhinged. The problem was that the world was going through astounding change. First came the Internet, and then the World Wide Web. Cell phones the size of candy bars, palm computers the size of a deck of cards, and music players not much bigger than credit cards proliferated and merged in a primordial evolutionary silicon stew. A walk through a dark house in the middle of the night became an easy navigation. All the tiny lights marked the way in festive red or green, winking and shining from microwaves and clocks and phones and televisions and music players and video players and fax machines and laptops and printers and smoke detectors and docking stations and recharging stations and game players. Each signaled the presence of yet another microprocessor– part of that march in which the average American inexorably is becoming surrounded by more computers than she has lightbulbs, as is already the case in as utilitarian a vehicle as a Honda Accord.

The raging argument back then was whether this Cambrian explosion of intelligence marked the biggest thing since the printing press or the biggest thing since fire. And yet socially, the decade was a snooze. From my perch as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post, it seemed like the headlines, such as they were, involved little except peace, prosperity and Monica.

How could this be? I asked myself. Where is the social impact of all this change? Where is the Reformation? Who are the new Marxists? After all, human organization is always influenced by the technology of the time. “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” as Churchill put it.

During the Agrarian Age, for example, the family was the fundamental economic and social unit. Commercial enterprises were basically family-run, even the big ones in Renaissance Venice. Governments descended through family in the case of kingdoms. The French army or the Spanish navy was quite literally a band of blood brothers. Nations were defined by people of genetic kinship.

All this changed, however, with the rise of the telegraph and the railroad in the mid-1800s. Suddenly vast swaths of time and distance had to be managed. Entire continents and oceans had to be spanned. To handle the challenge, new kinds of organizations were forced to emerge. The Ford Motor Company, for example, ripped the planet’s very dirt for its iron ore at one end of its operations. At the other end it sold finished Model T’s. Such a globally complex enterprise was impossible to run as a mere family enterprise. How could you produce enough trusted cousins? Thus the Industrial Revolution created fertile ground for steeply hierarchical corporations to blossom. It changed us. By the 1950s an employee of one of those corporations thought of himself as “The Organization Man” and “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit”–cogs in the machine. The Industrial Age’s contradictions also created a reaction to it–Marxism. Indeed, the entire 20th century can be described as an era of ideological, economic and military warfare over how to handle the great social upheavals created by this shift in technology and social affairs.

Ahem. So, okay? This technological change in the nineties is supposed to be the biggest thing since fire, and the best we can do for headlines is a tawdry Oval Office sex scandal? You can see the reason for my confusion. Where was this social upheaval that history taught us to expect?

As it happens, this is not the first time I’ve found myself covering worlds that do not seem to add up. In fact, I’ve come to welcome such assignments. They allow us to examine what’s going on really. My previous books on what makes our world tick–The Nine Nations of North America and Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, which identified realities already in play that were not yet obvious to everyone–were similarly preceded by bouts of unsettling perplexity.

This time, two “aha” moments occurred in the course of my reporting. The first was the reminder that innovation arrives more rapidly than does change in culture and values. Perhaps, it occurred to me, the nineties were like the fifties. The fifties were a period of great technological upheaval– missiles with nuclear warheads, mass-produced suburban housing, mainframe computers. From television to Sputnik, the list was endless. And yet the fifties were the boring Eisenhower decade. The cultural upheaval of sex, drugs and rock and roll–enabled by The Pill, synthetic psychedelics and the transistor–did not occur until the sixties. You see similar upheaval in the earlier half of the century with the dawning of the age of automobiles, refrigeration, radio and telephones. The twenties, too, were a frivolous decade, promptly followed by the social upheaval of the thirties.

Perhaps that is the way history works. Perhaps because culture and values lag technology, when upheaval occurs, it is often of seismic proportions. If that is so now, then the cultural revolution for which we are due is just beginning to emerge. That’s how tracing the outlines of that transformation became my beat during the early years of the 21st century.

The second “aha” moment was more formidable. I remember it as being like the scene in Jaws where the captain finally glimpses the shark. He responds, famously: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Such a moment came as I realized that this story was not about computers. This cultural revolution in which we are immersed is no more a tale of bits and bytes than the story of Galileo is about paired lenses. In the Renaissance, the big deal was not telescopes. It was about realizing that the Earth is a minor planet revolving around an unexceptional star in an unfashionable part of the universe. Today, the story is no less attitude-adjusting. It is about the defining cultural, social and political issue of our age. It is about human transformation.

The inflection point at which we have arrived is one in which we are increasingly seizing the keys to all creation, as astounding as that might seem. It’s about what parents will do when offered ways to increase their child’s SAT score by 200 points. It’s about what athletes will do when encouraged by big-buck leagues to put together medical pit crews. What fat people will do when offered a gadget that will monitor and alter their metabolisms. What the aging will do when offered memory enhancers. What fading baby boomers will do when it becomes obvious that Viagra and Botox are just the beginning of the sex-appeal industry. Imagine that technology allows us to transcend seemingly impossible physical and mental barriers, not only for ourselves but, exponentially, for our children. What happens as we muck around with the most fundamental aspects of our identity? What if the only thing that is truly inevitable is taxes? This is the transcendence of human nature we’re talking about here. What wisdom does transhuman power demand?

It’s been a long time since the earth has seen more than one kind of human walking around at the same time. About 25,000 years if you believe that Cro-Magnons were critters significantly different from “behaviorally modern” Homo sapiens. About 50,000 years if your reading of the fossil evidence suggests you have to go back to the Neanderthals with their beetle brows and big teeth to discover an upright ape really different from us. The challenge of this book is that we may be heading into such a period again, in which we will start seeing creatures walk the Earth who are enhanced beyond recognition as traditional members of our species. We are beginning to see the outlines of such a divergence now. In 2003, President Bush signed a $3.7 billion bill to fund research that could lead to medical robots traveling the human bloodstream to gobble up cancer or fat cells, for those who can afford the procedures. At the University of Pennsylvania, male mouse cells are being transformed into egg cells. If this science works in humans, it opens the way for two gay males to make a baby, each contributing 50 percent of his genetic material–and blurring the standard model of parenthood.

As you get further into these pages, you will meet real people with real names and faces working today toward just such modifications of what it means to be human. The powerful driver of this roller coaster is the continuing curve of exponential change. Evolution is accelerating so fast, some claim, that the last twenty years are not a guide to the next twenty years, but at best a guide to the next eight. By the same arithmetic, the last fifty years perhaps are not a guide to the next fifty years. They are, some guess, a guide to the next fourteen. As I type this, the evening news is airing yet another report describing some advance as “science fiction coming close to reality.” Remember that phrase. You’re going to be hearing it a lot in the coming years. When that occurs, I would like you to remember this book.

At least three alternative futures flow from this accelerated change, according to knowledgeable people who have thought about all this, as you will see in ensuing chapters. The first scenario is one in which, in the next two generations, humanity is rapidly replaced by something far more grand than its motley self. Call that The Heaven Scenario. The second is the one in which in the next 25 years or so, humanity meets a catastrophic end. Call it The Hell Scenario. You will find chapters on each, because both scenarios are plausible, and either would lead to the end of human history as we know it, and soon. The third scenario is more complex. It is the one we might call The Prevail Scenario. In this scenario, the future is not predetermined. It is full of hiccups and reverses and loops, all of which are the product of human beings coming to grips with their own destinies. In this world, our values can and do shape our future. We do have choices; we are not at the mercy of large forces. We can prevail.

I approach these three scenarios with an open mind, but critically. I try not to advocate any of them–I report them. Nor am I aiming this book at the 90-percent-male alpha-geek population who devours Wired magazine, that talisman of the digitally hip. If they find merit in my work, I am honored. But I hope for a broader audience. I try to speak to some very bright people I know–my mother, my daughters–who care far more about humans than they do machines. Me too.

If my interest in that third scenario–Prevail–marks me as an optimist, so be it. Heaven and Hell each might make a good summer blockbuster movie, featuring amazing special effects. But they tend toward the same story line: We are in for revolutionary change; there’s not much we can do about it; hang on tight; the end. The Prevail Scenario, if nothing else, has better literary qualities. It is a story of struggle and action and decision. In that way, it is also more faithful to history, which can be read as a remarkably effective paean to the power of humans to muddle through extraordinary circumstances.

Scenario work shows that the future is usually a combination of all the stories you can construct to anticipate it. So I have done my best to present entertaining but accurate depictions of people who hold wildly different views. These are important thinkers and pioneers who deserve to be taken seriously. Most of them. Some are in there because I just couldn’t resist telling their tales.

I hope this book serves as a road map and a guide to what we’ll all be living through, pointing out significant landmarks along the way, as well as the turns and forks we can expect in the road. At the very least, however, I hope Radical Evolution ends up saying something about the present. George Orwell’s most renowned work was entitled 1984 because he was really writing about 1948. Scenarios are always about the present, really. The fact that they exist today teaches us something about who we are, how we got that way, what makes us tick and, most of all, where we’re headed.

There’s one thing that I’ve already learned writing this book.

If you have a choice between starting your story with a telekinetic monkey or an attractive teenager in a wheelchair whose life might be changed by the technology the monkey represents, you have to lead with the bright young woman every time. For that’s what people care about. And that’s why the focus of this book is not on engineering–it is on the future of human nature.

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Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- And What It Means To Be Human 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As I blew through this book in two days, my view of my future and my children's were radically changed. Garreau challenges our ideas of technology and our tomorrow by discussing how this will affect our families, love, and personal lives. Although this is a book about technology, it focuses on a personal level, making the topic very accessible, thus producing a profound and moving book that everyone should read. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Radical Evolution.
devilwrites on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by my mentor at Seton Hill University, and the recommendation was sealed when he said, "Everyone who writes science fiction should read this book."So I literally went DIRECTLY to Barnes & Noble and bought this. And started reading. And while I don't agree with all the ideas and scenarios presented in this book, it's certainly fodder for an SF-inclined mind, and certainly interesting to everyone else. So yes, I agree with my mentor: all SF writers should read this. Just cause it makes you think about the future of the human race.The book focuses on the evolution and transcendence of the human race through what Garreau terms as GRIN technologies: genetic, robotic, information, and nano technologies. He talks about various things the human race might achieve through such technologies, including things that are deemed magical and/or impossible based on today's standards and understanding of science (telepathy, anyone?). Scarily enough, it makes sense from a certain point of view, but unlike some of the people interviewed in the book, I'm more inclined to believe some of these scenarios (Garreau divides them into three categories: Heaven, Hell, and Prevail) are simply going to take TIME. And yes, I can easily identify my thoughts and fears with some of the categories of people named in this book (if you read it, know that I consider the "Heaven Scenario" absolute hell), but if there's one thing I know for certain, it's that the human race is a strange complex thing that easily defies labels and categories and neat theories. So by this book's standards, I don't believe in heaven, and hell sure is familiar, since that's all Hollywood gives us, but prevail makes the most sense, because it accounts for the biggest variable of them all: the human race itself.It's a good book. Smooth read, easy to get into because the scenarios sound so fictional, despite the talk that backs them up. The greatest thing about this book is the sheer size of the list of resources and notes, which provides anyone wanting to more research into any of the subjects mentioned in this book a great diving board for research.So if you write SF, read this book. Like me, you may not agree or even adhere to the visions and ideas presented, but it makes damn good fodder for fiction. Exploit it while you can, folks. :) And everyone else, this is worth the read: I should note how this book discusses the betterment of the human race by helping people with disease live better and fuller lives through technology, and that's not even the half of it. Interesting stuff, trust me. :)
KevinJoseph on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well-researched, and beautifully written, Joe Garreau brings his well-honed journalism skills to bear on the most vexing question humankind has ever faced: what to do now that our genetic, robotics, information and nano technologies have begun to give us the ability to enhance our own evolution? Garreau offers a glimpse at the mind-boggling technologies DARPA is already developing in support of our national defense, then convincingly extrapolates how the ever-quicking pace of technological innovation will likely lead to a Singularity event when humans invent something more intelligent than themselves. The remainder of the book considers whether the Singularity will lead to a Heaven state (technological nirvana), a Hell state (destruction or degradation of humankind) or a Prevail state, in which humans develop control mechanisms to avoid becoming slaves to technology. The Heaven and Hell scenarios are set up as obvious strawmen for Garreau to knock down en route to the more likely middle outcome. Yet his analysis of the Prevail scenario loses focus, as the discussion veers off on a number of philosophical tangents and seems to conclude that adopting an iHippy group-love mentality will prove the key to our survival. While I found this to be a stimulating read and especially liked how Garreau organized his material around key thinkers in the relevant technical fields, I wish he had more fully explored some practical ways of containing threatening technology, such as the adoption of more powerful international governing bodies with the regulatory teeth to outlaw certain technologies and the use of new media tools to blacklist undesirable practices. (The current push to be green, in reaction to the Global Warming crisis, shows the possibility of forming international positions on key issues.) I don't mean to suggest that it's possible to define the Prevail endstate with any real specifics, but I came away with the impression that Garreau turned away from his considerable analytical ability in the later parts of the book.
TomSlee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Takes a long time to say not very much.
Septimius More than 1 year ago
And Joel Garreau tells us why it is both frightening and promising at the same time. Focusing on the "GRIN" technologies, Genetics, Robotics, Information Systems, and Nanotechnology, Mr. Garreau describes how technology will not only change the future, it will change what it means to be human. This is an excellent primer in the GRIN technologies, and if you have not been following how technology is rapidly guiding us towards a new meaning of humanity, this is a must read. If you have, this book will only heighten your awareness. A thoroughly enjoyable read, I heartily recommend it for anyone interested in technological advancement and what it means to humanity.
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Reading Radical Evolution is like reading a ¿How to¿ column - you are always surprised what can really be done. The book opens with a number of mind boggling bits of research talking about things from telekinesis to a device that gives soldiers x-ray vision the funny thing is that these things are really occurring in laboratories as we speak. The purpose of the book is to provide an understandable, digested version of the work that is happening in Futuring land. Futuring, for those who are not in the know, is simply the study of trends and projections in an effort to forecast the future. Much like a meteorologist predicts the weather, futurists attempt to predict the social, political, technological, and economic climate 50 to 100 to a 1,000 years in advance. The book tries to stay neutral, explaining the possible horrors and terrors of advancing technology, but it clear from the first page to the back cover that its author, Joel Garreau, is a big supporter of advancements in technologies. Beyond the first couple examples, he goes further to describing how technologies can affect every bit of our being. Surveying the thoughts and opinions of numerous, credible futurists, he talks about how little robots can allow us to live in to our 200 hundreds and how we may have space colonies on the moon before we know it. The title, Radical Evolution, comes from the idea that through these advancements in technology, we, as humans, are creating a radical chain of evolution that is pushing past any boundaries that nature had set for us. It is even argued that we are actually transcending our humanity through these changes. In the middle of the book he presents a point/counter-point discussion of the future technology, appropriately labeled ¿Heaven¿ and ¿Hell¿ the greatest possible outcomes pinned against the most devastating consequences force the reader to ponder the benefits of new technology. As a compromise, Garreau offers a scenario in which humans simply prevail, this is neither a scenario of humanities grandeur or it¿s defeat, but rather a median between both extremes. Finally, Garreau admits the limited view that even the greatest researchers have in terms of looking at the future. People can make predictions to their hearts content, but in the end chance happenings and unplanned events can transform the course of any one prediction. All that any futurist can do is take the best information available and make a thorough forecast off with that data, supporting the argument until the next trend arrives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Radical Evolution is a great informational book by Joel Garreau. Overall this book is one of the best I have read having to do with the future of technology, especially that technology in relation to humans and the human body. While this book is almost 400 pages long, over 100 pages of it are notes, sources, and an index. If you read any book review on any book like this, you will notice that people send to throw this out as just fluff to make a book or novel longer. This adds so much to the experience of this book. His sources are proof of the extensive research that has been done to make well informed predictions of the future and add much creditability to his work. If you¿re looking for a book on this topic to pull points out of to debate or write about, this index will be your best friend. Almost any topic you can think of involving the evolution of technology and humanity is in here, and able to found in seconds. Now to discuss the book itself. Garreau divides this book up into three basic future scenarios. These are Heaven, Hell, and Prevail. The Heaven scenario is one where the progression of technology is a smooth and peaceful one. Technology is imbedded into humanity and society without any negative outcomes. This leads society to appear as a sort of perfect society where everyone and everything is harmonious. The Hell scenario is the complete opposite. The Hell scenario is one like that of the Terminator involving SkyNet. Machines turn on us and provide problems that we recklessly choose to ignore in order to advance technology. It is in this situation that we begin to hit that breaking point Garreau mentions repeatedly where humanity begins to lose the very essence of what makes us human. This leads us to his Prevail scenario. This is not a middle ground so to speak but an entirely different outcome. He believes that humans, throughout history, have survived against insurmountable odds and prevailed. So, there is always the chance we will in a sense forge our own paths to the future and not just one of the two extremes. This book is ideal for the aspiring or beginning futurist. It is a good introduction to futurist scenarios and ideas and includes many ideas from not only Garreau, but other leading futurists as well including Lanier and Kurzweil. It is a very well written statement of many futurist ideas of what humanity will become and does exactly what is says it will. It provides an in depth look at the ¿promise and peril of enhancing our minds, our bodies, and what it means to be human.