Okay, that's not a very kind thing to say about our former vice president. After all, even paranoids have real enemies. But it turns out that Dick Cheney -- who has had a lot of technology loaded into his chest to keep him alive -- had his implanted defibrillator's wireless capability disabled lest a terrorist hack it and send him a fatal jolt. Joel wrote once in The Washington Post about how cyborg technology may affect the recipient's psychology and personality, and it included some speculation about Cheney. It is here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/11/AR2007081101390.html
A Robot Video If You're Into Cute
On September 29, Joel co-directed an event at The New America Foundation in Washington on how robots are incresingly eating white collar jobs. Scary as hell. As something of an antidote, his colleague Alicia Fremling put together two videos to run while people were gathering. This is the one that underscores the adage that the street finds its own purpose for any new technology.
A Robot Video to Calm Your Nerves About Them Taking Over Soon
This video by Alicia Fremling for the New America event demonstrates once again that even the zeitgeist is subject to immutable delay.
For those of you who just can't get enough Big Dog videos, check out his new big sib, Alpha Dog. Particularly interesting is the scene at the end where the big bot figures out how to pick himself up after falling down.
Profile of Jaron Lanier
The New Yorker has a profile of Jaron Lanier, the poster boy for The Prevail Scenario. It goes into his background in fascinating detail.
A Real Radical Evolution Machine
George Church, the distinguished geneticist at Harvard, is developing a device that forces lifeforms to evolve in weeks in ways that historically took millennia. It is literally a radical evolution machine. Right now it is only aimed at rapidly evolving bacteria that are immune to viruses. (A pause-giving thought. Do we really want bacteria in our gut that can't be attacked by viruses? Where's the off switch?) But this process has the potential to rapidly evolve people, as Arthur Caplan, the thoughtful bioethicist at Penn, points out in this article in New Scientist. "If you learn to do this in microbes and then in animals, you'll find yourself wondering how we got to humans so fast," he says. "You've got to pay attention to what's going on in lower creatures because that's the steady march to people."
Eyes Grown From Stem Cells
In a test tube, mouse embryonic stem cells self-organized into the most complex part of an eye. If it works in humans, it holds the promise to regenerate damaged or lost eyes. This emergence of complexity from no pattern, "truly is stunning," says a scientist not involved in the breakthrough. "I never thought that I'd ever see a retina grown in a dish."
Check out the video of the amazingly lifelike, flapping wing, gliding, indoor/outdoor seagull bot. No word on whether it makes rocks white.
A Spy Bot That Can Hide
"Lockheed Martin's approach does include a sort of basic theory of mind, in the sense that the robot makes assumptions about how to act covertly in the presence of humans," says Alan Wagner of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
Love Is Better Than Drugs in Reducing Pain
Say scientists. They apparently have not studied its ability also to cause it.
The Genetics of 'Nice'
Siberian researchers have created foxes as tame and friendly as golden retrievers. An amazing accomplishment, given how few wild animals have been successfully domesticated. Especially since this has been done in a relatively short period of selective breeding. Now the question is what does the genome of these creatures tell us about the origins of "niceness" in other creatures, including humans?
Check out the video of this newly operational DARPA flying bot designed to resemble a hummingbird. Lots of remarkable things. No tail, it's got enough battery to fly and yet it's that small, transmitting video all the way, including into and out of a building. Imagine what a flock of those could do to your privacy.
What's Being Born: Cooperation
If our challenges are increasing exponentially, and our responses are more or less flat, we're obviously toast. Thus, the Prevailish question is whether there is a second curve -- an increase in bottom-up, flock-like, humanistic responses to our challenges, and whether that curve can be bent upwards. This article, by Greg Ferenstein, suggests that's exactly what we're seeing.
What if "Watson" Wins at Jeopardy?
If "Watson" wins the Jeopardy challenge, what does that mean? Will "artificial intelligence" increasingly replace information workers as ATM's displaced tellers? Or will "intelligence augmentation" -- I.A. -- make us exponentially smarter? Probably both, but I'm hoping John Seely Brown is right, "The essence of being human involves asking questions, not answering them."
How the Egyptian Youth Movement Really Organized Itself
Hats off to David Kirkpatrick and David Sanger of The New York Times for this tick-tock on how the Egyptian youth revolution actually did organize itself. Much more sophisticated and fact-based (as distinct from theory) than much of the blather about the role of the Internet. Yes, the ability to network certainly helped, and Facebook and the Google marketer played their roles. But more important was the power of ideas and the creation of group discipline. The "Academy of Change" set up by Egyptian expats in Qatar channeling the thoughts about non-violence of an American is a particularly Prevail-ish, bottom-up mind-blower.
Entangled Between Past and Future
In the weird world of quantum physics, two linked particles can instantly share a single fate, even when they’re galaxies apart. Now, two physicists have mathematically described how this spooky effect, called entanglement, could also bind particles across time. This apparently means that not only can you quickly send messages across the universe, but from the past to the future.
The PaleoFuture Blog
Endlessly amusing site about "The Future That Never Was" -- marvelously antique futures that were predicted but never quite worked out that way. Although to be fair, a lot of the gizmos they make fun of just didn't come on schedule. Picture phones? Ever heard of Skype?
Why Humans Can No Longer Grasp the Stock Market
Trading algorithms have created an environment so volatile, unpredictable and complex that it is increasingly an alien artifact -- impossible to contain, control, or comprehend, according to this fascinating and scary Wired piece.
The Machines Really Are Getting Smart
We have created a rich beastiary of gizmos that actually do approach intelligence. They just are little like the human mind. This report in Wired makes the case.
Some Thing to Watch Over Me
Cheap ubiquitous machines can now read your face and behavior better than humans -- registering your emotions, and health -- and enabling super stalking.
Aging Reversed in Mice
Including new growth of the brain and testes, improved fertility, and the return of a lost cognitive function.
Where Military Robots Now Stand
A catalog of what actually exists.
Stem Cells From Your Own Fat Heal Hearts
The cascade of organs repaired with the patient's own stem cells begins.
The Future of Genetic Information and Health
Sequencing the genome has not produced practical health results as fast as initially hoped. But at Yale recently, Lee Hood, president of the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, gave a vision of the coming decade in which dramatic price drops in the study of proteins, genes and other pieces of the cell's machinery opens the way to "P4 medicine" -- predictive, preventative, personalized and participatory.
Enhancing Minds -- Or Clouding Them
The Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing (this is the first Joel hears of them) is inviting research proposals in a six-year, $49 million neuroscience and biotechnology effort. One suggestion is to use “external stimulant technology to enable the airman to maintain focus on aerospace tasks and to receive and process greater amounts of operationally relevant information.” Another asks scientists to look into fusing “multiple human sensing modalities” to develop the “capability for Special Operations Forces to rapidly identify human-borne threats.” But the real attention getter is: “The chemical pathway area could include methods to degrade enemy performance and artificially overwhelm enemy cognitive capabilities.”
The Sexual Identity Discussion and Radical Evolution
It says here: "The queer cyborg has developed in opposition to rigid masculine/ feminine doctrines to create hybrid genders: part alien, landscape, sea turtle, pencil holder, the cosmology of our identity extending deeper into the rays of the phantasmagorical World Wide Web. But with radical evolution comes the threat of market takeover. Our bodies are more sculpted than ever before by technological advancements and the conditions of mass cultural consumption. With this in mind, I would like for us to consider the queer female body in the 21st century, a body that exists both within and outside the limits of subversion and exploitation."
Boobs Take the Lead
In the drive to commercialize stem cells that enhance, heal, or rebuild injured or damaged organs, if you're looking for a mass market, it turns out there is one obvious place to start. If cancer surgery has mutilated your breasts, grow a new pair. Forget implants. This is "all natural."
Fem Bot Pop Star
Check out the video of this robot girl singer/dancer. A generation of young males living in their parents' basement may never be the same.
Fashion Moves Toward the Radically Evolved
According to the Financial Times: "Part of the reason for the prevalence of the hourglass shape is surgical: the extreme body reconstruction many women have been undergoing, with breast and bottom augmentation, alongside hours of Pilates and yoga, has created a figure as contrived and Barbie-like as bullet bras and waist cinchers (or “waspies”) did 60 years ago. 'Just look at Victoria Beckham,' says Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty, London. 'She is the hourglass girl.' "
State of the Art Battle Medicine
In Afghanistan, medevac choppers save wounded soldiers with a fascinating mix of advanced technology like powdered porcelain that advances clotting, and devices nearly as old as war such as tourniquets. This reflects how all our lives wind up being a comparable mix.
Evidence That Groups Can Create Collective Intelligence
And the more women in the group, the higher the group's collective IQ, reports our friend Tom Malone of MIT, in this stunning report in Science.
Now All the Machines Implanted in Your Body Can Talk to Your Phone
Your pacemaker, your defibrillator, even your brain's electroencephalograph can report how your organs are doing and instantly tell you -- and your doctor -- if something is going wrong. Your body becomes a wireless network.
Environmentalism as Religion
Joel's piece in The New Atlantis looks at environmentalism as the latest and most successful religion. Not that there's anything wrong with faith-based hopes and convictions. They frequently help humans do the right thing -- as was demonstrated during the civil rights era. But climate change will put a premium on rapid and flexible adaptation. Surprises are inevitable. That's why rationalism and democracy were invented -- to help people change their minds. Simply creating a new front in the culture wars, by contrast, could be an unfortunate challenge.
Voice Recognition Finally Hits the Big Time
Now *this* is a killer app. The end of keyboards. Voice to text and voice to command finally seems to work, and is commercially available from Google. On your phone. In dozens of ways. Check out the video. Oh, and btw, you no longer need to be literate.
Those Crazy Humans
Wall Street Journal book review on how we react to our computers as if they were human.
A Robot That Eats Its Way Across the Landscape
This robot is designed to be self-sufficient for long periods, eating 150 pounds of vegetation, wood, leaves, what have you, as fuel, per hundred miles. Wonder what a flock of these will do to a forest. Or a desert. Or a garden.
Telescopic Vision, For Real
The FDA has approved the first telescopes implantable into the eye.
Decoding the Genetic Secrets of Radical Life Extension
New genetic discoveries predict with 77 percent accuracy whether someone can live to be at least 100. These people seem to have genetic traits that protect them from disease. Ninety percent of centenarians are disability-free at the average age of 93. These findings could lead to treatments that might help extend life spans, the researchers say.
A Bittersweet Tale of First Sound
The first eight minutes of the June 25, 2010 edition of "This American Life" is devoted to the tale of Scott Krepel, who was born deaf and as a kid got cochlear implants that allowed him to hear for the first time. He thought sound was marvelous at first, but his brain never really figured out how to handle it, so he abandoned them after five years. Some poignant stuff.
Cat With Bionic Legs
For the first time in human history, developing technologies are aimed inwards, at our minds, our bodies ... and occasionally our pets, after they're awoken from their naps by a combine harvester. Touching video. especially when Oscar the cat comes straight out of anesthesia and starts leaping about on his new legs.
What Synthetic Life Means
Joel has been getting a lot of questions about the meaning of Craig Venter's accomplishment, creating self-replicating life, more or less. Joel's been responding -- this is like the creation of the laser. Who knew that the most important application would turn out to be music playing? Meanwhile, if you want a technical discussion of where this fits, check out our friend Jamais Cascio's analysis.
DNA Nano Bots
Researchers are one step closer to creating molecular robots that may eventually perform complex tasks, such as building nanomolecules or delivering drugs to target tissues. They have constructed DNA-based robots that can walk along a specific path unaided or collect various nanoparticles along an assembly line, according to two studies published this week in Nature.
European Shift in Genetically Modified Crops
Europeans appear headed toward letting local jurisdictions decide whether to ban or plant genetically modified foods.
Setback for Longevity Drug
Clinical trials of the most-ballyhooed drug promising radical life extension have been halted due to safety concerns. Called the "red wine drug" because it is a reformulation of resveratrol, found in low doses in that beverage, it is the flag-ship product of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals (see mention below) which was recently sold with great fanfare to GlaxoSmithKlein for almost three-quarters of a billion dollars.
Maybe It Is Over for the Human Race, After All.
The American Bar Association Journal, and the liability lawyers, have discovered robots.
"Machines Just Took Over"
"Today ... caused me to fall out of my chair at one point. It felt like we lost control," said a chief investment officer about the May 6 lightening-fast stock market crash driven by trading bots.
Lash Enhancers With Weird Side Effects Boom
Did you know that your eyelash-growing prescription drug can permanently turn your blue eyes brown, and grow hair on your cheeks? One always sees enhancement technology most rapidly adopted wherever there is the most competition -- the military, sports, and the sex-appeal industry. But Lstisse is being so widely sold outside the usual medical channels, with scary effect, according to The New York Times, that it raises questions about how -- or if -- coming enhancement products can be managed.
Dodging the FDA to Use Stem Cells
Joel has been waiting to see appear a way to test emerging biotech that would be faster and cheaper than the hopelessly creaky FDA model. He thought it would come out of China or India. Nope. Colorado. This outfit is offering stem cell therapy for orthopedic damage and has so far bypassed the FDA by saying it is not engaged in interstate trade. This is essentially the Microsoft business model applied to bio. Microsoft releases beta versions of its software to consensual early adopters and waits to see how many computers crash. This outfit is giving its novel biotech a similar limited release into the wild and seems to be reporting the results professionally. The long-term risk assessment, of course, is sobering. So is the comparison to in vitro fertilization.
"Future Tense" Project Launched
"Future Tense" is a project in which Joel is deeply involved that aims to help real people, as well as powerful players, come to grips with the impact of emerging technologies on culture, values and society. It is a partnership with Arizona State University, where Joel has an appointment, The New America Foundation, where Joel is a fellow, and Slate. It features all sorts of projects, including a television series.
In an effort to bring together the top academic robotics labs under one roof, a project called EXPO21XX has created an online exhibition to showcase the diversity in today's robotics research. At one website, robotics researchers and enthusiasts can view the projects underway in more than 100 university robotics labs from around the world.
Even the Zeitgeist is Subject to Immutable Delay
Consumer response to genetic testing outfits like 23andMe is tepid, according to The New York Times. The problem: What are these tests telling me that I can do anything about?
Amazing Hopping Bot
Watch this bot vault a tall chain link fence topped with triple-strand barbed-wired and imagine what it could do with an Olympic fiberglas pole.
Cultural Revolution Hits the Air Force
The rise of its flying robot wranglers and the declining need for fighter pilots is creating such profound change that the U.S. Air Force is confronting the question: "Why does the country need an independent Air Force?," The Washington Post reports. It is even forcing a reassessment of what the word "valor" means.
Just Like Mombot Used to Make
If you want humans to like robots, make robots that offer them food, figure the researchers at Carnegie Mellon. This helps explain the explosion of robot chefs and servers. There's only one thing standing in the way of them taking over the culinary world, says The New York Times. None of them can taste.
Genetic Diseases Already Dropping
Some of mankind's most devastating inherited diseases appear to be declining, and a few have nearly disappeared, because more people are using genetic testing to decide whether to have children. Births of babies with cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs and other less familiar disorders seem to have dropped since testing came into wider use. More women are being tested as part of routine prenatal care, and many end pregnancies when diseases are found. One study in California found that prenatal screening reduced by half the number of babies born with the severest form of cystic fibrosis because many parents chose abortion. This decline is remarkable because it has happened so soon after genetic testing became available -- well before genetic engineering is capable of producing cures.
Is the Rise of Super Athletes Ruining Sports?
Suppose you could get your golf score down to 18. Would there be any point to playing? From the Guardian.
Where Bioethicists Fell Apart
The field started out so high-minded. Make philosophy relevant! And it has succeeded in employing a lot of people. Too bad the very idea of “right” answers to complex moral and philosophical dilemmas such as euthanasia, embryonic stem cell cloning, or organ remuneration is not possible. Which is why you can find a bioethicist who will take any side of any argument if you shop around. A review/essay in The New Republic.
"Prevail Project" Launched by Garreau at ASU
How do you govern accelerating change? Our top-down hierarchies -- like Congress -- are far too slow to be up to the job. Discovering the answer to that question is the goal of the new "Prevail Project: Wise Governance for Challenging Futures," at Arizona State University. It will be lead by Joel Garreau, who has been named the Lincoln Professor of Law, Culture and Values at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at ASU. The Prevail Project is grounded in Radical Evolution's Prevail Scenario. It is the scenario in which humans figure out ways to shape their futures, rather than have their futures controlled by their technologies.
First Brain Implant That Produces Speech
A brain implant reads the thoughts of a person who is paralyzed and translates them into synthetic speech in real time for the first time.
Cool Art That Vibrates Off "Radical Evolution"
A phrase from "Radical Evolution" has been linked to art in an intriguing way by Los Angeles artist Folkert Gorter. His project, he says, "aims to showcase artists and connect visual art with ideas in interesting ways. The post in question presents generative art created by Leonardo Solaas, constructed with the use of software algorithms.... Your quote in my experience emphasized the notion that producing art in an environment without barriers between ideas and their 'physical' incarnation is one of the most interesting activities to be engaged in."
Synthetic Telepathy Via a Helmet
Mind-to-mind silent communication via a helmet has moved out of science fiction and into the fifth horizon -- well-funded research.
Dubious About Long Life
Humans are not wildly enthusiastic about radical life extension, this research shows. Even those who can see the benefits also see the downside. As commercial pharmaceuticals to reverse aging approach the market, such ambivalence will have to be dealt with.
A Really Good Mind-Controlled Artificial Hand
The human hand is by far the most complex appendage. It is extraordinarily hard to make an artifical one. One that is controlled by your mind is even harder. One that also allows you to feel sounds like science fiction. Here it is.
Impressive Robot Mountain Climber
Stanford is building a robot designed to negotiate the treacherous Pike's Peak trail at speeds approaching 130 miles per hour.
Thought-Provoking New DARPA Challenge
In the interests of investigatng how broad-scope problems can be solved using Internet technologies (and to remind everybody that they invented the Internet 40 years ago), DARPA is offering $40,000 to the first person who can solve the following problem. On Dec. 5, 2009, for one day, DARPA 1s going to put out a large red weather balloon in each of 10 locations, in plain sight, across the continental U.S. First person to identify the locations of all 10, wins.
Beach Blanket Big Dog
Our favorite robot, Big Dog (see previous items), kicks back at a beach in Thailand in this video. Wet sand, salt water, no problem. Would love to think he's carrying fruity drinks and paper parasols.
Blob Bots -- Just in Time for Halloween
"Blob bots" -- the latest from iRobot and DARPA -- are soft and squishy and easily shape-shifting. They can squeeze themselves through tiny cracks in a wall and emerge on the other side, restored to their original robust configuration, ready to do business. The blogosphere is becoming totally unglued.
Lab Grown Human Bone Tissue Wedding Rings
Nothing says "I love you" like being a bone cell donor. Take the bone cells from the two beloved, seed the bioactive scaffold, and voila, rings that you'll never forget.
NSA Spy Centers That Require City-Sized Power
If you're going to examine all phone calls, emails, and web site clicks -- a trillion trillions of pages of text -- that requires a lot of juice, not only politically, but electrically.
Cancer Detector Chip Works in 30 Minutes
Labs on a chip that detect diseases quickly and cheaply now include the cancer detector, the bacteria biosensor, and the cancer breathalyser. When these disease detectors on a chip collectively start flagging things going wrong in the body weeks, months, or years ahead of symptoms, it means the end of our current medical model, which waits for disease to get out of control before responding heroically and expensively. This raises questions about the future of hospitals. Will the go the way of the music and newspaper industries?
Enhancing -- or Eliminating -- Memories
Neuroscience with major implications for erasing traumatic memories, ending addiction, improving learning and curing memory loss.
Anti-Aging Drugs Go Mainstream
Harvard -- and The New York Times -- wake up to the pharmaceuticals helping creatures avoid and even reverse the degenerative effects of aging. These are now in human clinical trials. They should be commercially available by the middle of the next decade.
Breakthrough in Synthetic Life Getting Closer?
Craig Venter says he is "within months" of the breakthrough in creating synthetic life forms that he hopes will produce critters that eat carbon dioxide and poop fuel. ExxonMobil has committed $600 million.
Creating Meat Computers
IBM succeeds in using "DNA orgimai" to grow devices that can compute. This won't replace silicon for years, but if and when it does, the size and price of devices will drop dramatically.
Jobs That Don't Yet Exist -- But Will
Including "Personal Enhancement Advisors," "Genomics Developer / Architect / Baby Designer," and "Nano-Medic."
Turning Point in Robot History
The Air Force is training more minders of aerial robots this year than pilots to fly fighters or bombers. Jaw dropping for such a traditional organization. Will unmanned aircraft ever completely replace manned bombers or fighters? "Yes, you bet," says Lt. General David Deputa, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, when it comes to delivering bombs. But we will still have manned aircraft as long as a human brain needs to be physically present to dominate the airspace, he says.
Augmented Intelligence Going Mainstream
Our pal Jamais Cascio introduces the readers of The Atlantic Monthly to "intelligence augmentation" in the July/August issue. The historic way humans have dealt with increasing threats is by getting smarter, he argues, and now we're doing it with our technology. What's more, this increase in sophisticated foresight, detailed insight, and augmented awareness is happening so incrementally that we will continue to take it for granted as it increases formidably. Until we run into people who are not comparably enhanced.
Making All of Life Our Own Domain
On July 24, 2009, a small group of scientists, entrepreneurs and writers that included architects of some of the leading transformative companies of our time (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, PayPal), came together to glimpse the future, guided by renowned geneticists George Church and Craig Venter. In this future, the underpinnings of which are already here, we read genetic sequences directly into computers. "We can program these cells as if they were an extension of the computer," Church announced. The topics included: What is life, origins of life, in vitro synthetic life, mirror-life, metabolic engineering for hydrocarbons and pharmaceuticals, computational tools, electronic-biological interfaces, nanotech-molecular-manufacturing, biosensors, accelerated lab evolution, engineered personal stem cells, multi-virus-resistant cells, humanized-mice, bringing back extinct species, and safety/security policy. The entire Master Class is available online in high quality HD Edge Video (about 6 hours), here:
Enhancements That Do Not Stir
Our favorite Pulitzer-winning fashion critic, Robin Givhan, objects on esthetic grounds to the super suits that turn Olympic swimmers into fish. "They covered the swimmers up and made them look less like the incredible human beings that they are and more like machines assembled from the best that technology has to offer... Those superhero get-ups distorted the relationship between the ideal and the dreamer."
Art Meets Radical Evolution
At a November symposium in Melbourne, The Australian Network for Art and Technology presents "Super Human: Revolution of the Species," asking some intriguing questions:
*How do scientific and artistic bodies of knowledge intersect with human, social bodies?
*Does art serve simply as a representational tool for the sciences or is there more to the picture than that?
*Does research into bodies and their systems offer an insight into aesthetics, or is it confined to the purely functional?
'Seeing' With Your Tongue
About to go commercial is a device for the blind that translates a signal from a camera mounted on sunglasses to a "lollipop" with 625 stimulators that your very sensitive tongue can "read". Think Braille for simple images. Interestingly enough, it is the visual part of the brain that processes the signal from the tongue. Just the beginning, researchers say.
A research team of the University of Zaragoza has developed a prototype of a brain-actuated wheelchair.
The Army's Remote-Controlled Beetle
A giant flower beetle with implanted electrodes and a radio receiver on its back can be wirelessly controlled, according to research presented this week.
Ray Kurzweil's relentless Singulatarian publicity machine proclaiming his version of the Heaven Scenario as a prediction of the inevitable is beginning to attract blowback. Newsweek magazine asks whether he's losing his mind in a spectacular mid-life crisis.
Multi-generational Glow-in-the-dark Marmosets
In the first successful germ-line intervention in a primate, scientists gave marmosets a gene that made their feet glow green. All succeeding offspring will also have this trait. It was a milestone, experts said, that should make it easier to produce animals with versions of human disease for medical research. But it is also close to the start of genuine engineered evolution in which we can splice into our human genome whatever attributes we wish.
In The Works: A Four-wheeled Robot Able to Hop Two Stories
Boston Dynamics -- those wonderful people who brought you "Big Dog," see below -- has been awarded a contract to build "The Precision Urban Hopper." The machine is designed to have "one mighty leg" in addition to its four wheels." This is supposed to allow it to jump over small buildings with a single bound.
Your Cell Phone Will Soon Allow You to Order Pizza in Arabic
Breakthroughs in machine translation are finally causing the Tower of Babel to rise again, Joel reports in The Washington Post.
How "Good Enough" Is This Machine's Translation?
You decide. Here's a portion of the Tower of Babel story translated in a heartbeat from King James English to Arabic to modern English.
Controlling Physical Objects With Your Thoughts
It really has come to this. Mattel and Uncle Milton Industries are bringing out the first toys featuring brain-computer interface. They allow you to levitate ping pong balls with your mind. In The Washington Post Joel plays with the machines as well as the idea that decades from now, we will look back and say this is where it all began. The accompanying video by Akira Hakuta is terrific.
Check Out Her Legs!
No, really. Aimee Mullins, double amputee athlete/actress/model here shows how she has made her legs into more-than-human art objects. She says she is intentionally provoking the senses and igniting the imagination. Among her dozen or so prosthetic leg augmentations is the pair that allows her to increase her height from her normal 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-1 as she shows in this video. And check out her performance as she gives her talk at TED while artfully gliding around sideways.
A Mermaid's Tale
Check out how Nadya Vessey, a double-amputee swimmer, had created for her a beautiful, functional mermaid's tale augmentation.
Networked Robotics Tends Networked Biology
The plants tell the robots when they need water and nutrients.
Video report from Rob Spence, who, like Tanya Vlach, is leading a small team of hackers trying to build a camera eye to replace the real eye he lost.
Bionics Status Report
An overview of where we are on body part replacement, from New Scientist. (Working penises have been grown for rabbits, fyi.)
Overview of the rapidly advancing status of replacement limbs from New Scientist.
"Imagining the Future"
This article by Yuval Levin is a good outline of the bioconservative critique of transhumanism. It lead to a book by the same name also available at this site.
New Blog From Father of Nano
Eric Drexler, author of "Engines of Creation," wherein the phrase "nanotechnology" was spawned, has started a new and characteristically insightful blog.
"You Become an Artist"
Touching and thought-provoking response to Joel's article on Tanya Vlach and her quest for a new eye from Michael Chorost, author of "Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human," who has two cochlear implants: "How does the need for, the creation of, and the use of a prosthetic change oneself? One answer is, it lets one go from being a victim to being a creator. In using your body as a platform for the creation of technology, and exploring what that technology lets you say about the human condition, you become an artist. And in doing so, you gain the power to define what the prosthetic means, instead of having it define you. By writing a book about my implant, and using the implant to explore what it means to hear and communicate, I became primarily a writer, instead of primarily a deaf person." Mike's web site is here:
Prosthethic Arms and Legs Better Than the Original?
New Scientist surveys how far we've come, how fast, in creating artificial legs, feet, arms and hands that can transmit feeling and be wired directly to the brain. It then raises the disturbing question -- how long it will be before people have cosmetic surgery to replace perfectly good arms and legs with more beautiful or powerful ones?
A Prevail Christmas Anthem
The lyrics of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- the bittersweet, adult carol that had its roots in the depths of World War II -- evolved over the years. From a stone downer that initially began "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last," it changed to the Judy Garland version that ended "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow," and then to the Frank Sinatra defiant punchline, "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough." In this way, it has become the all-time Prevail anthem. And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
Spooks Take Note of Radical Evolution Trends
The National Intelligence Council projects that in 17 years, robots may disrupt the menial labor market, including that provided by migrants. Also widespread, the NIC believes, could be "human cognitive augmentation technologies" — wearable devices that can help improve vision, hearing and memory.
DARPA Hoping to Build Brain As Good As a Cat's
Within six years.
Culture War Over Heaven and Hell Scenarios
In a test, people who were not informed about nanotechnology, when given fair and balanced information about it for the first time, promptly split dramatically into pro and anti camps, based on what they had previously thought about relatively unrelated issues like climate change or social equity.
Did Artificial Intelligence Cause the Economic Meltdown?
No, but it couldn't have gone so fast and so deep without it, say an impressive collection of thought leaders on technology assembled by Tom Edsall of The Huffington Post. This emerging Hell Scenario is about the secondary effects of our creations that we barely understand on the primary level. A chilling cautionary tale.
An Environmental Movement on *Human* Nature
The legendary iconoclast Lionel Tiger -- who is also a witty and talented writer, especially for an anthropologist -- here calls for the creation of a new environmental movement. He takes to task all those academics who for decades have been afraid to admit that "nature" exists when it comes to human nature. He calls for an understanding of our nature "in here" just as we have stretched and learned to comprehend the nature "out there." Good idea.
Health Foods From Biotech
The supposed health benefits of popular herbal remedies have been debunked, such as echinacea as a cold remedy and black cohosh for hot flashes. Yet, a distrust of big pharma and doubts about drug safety are driving consumers toward a middle ground between drugs and foods. This piece from Nature Biotechnology surveys the territory.
BBC's "Visions of the Future"
The BBC recently produced a three-part series on "Radical Evolution" topics in which Joel appeared. It is hosted by Michio Kaku of string-theory renown, has extremely good production values, and a quick Web search will reveal it is available for download.
$25 Billion a Year U.S. Anti-Aging Market
That's what Fortune magazine calculates is the ballpark figure for non-prescription pills that fight aging by mimicking caloric restriction. If they work as they seem to, their boost to life expectancy would "far exceed" that from totally eliminating cancer, according to Jay Olshansky, who is not nuts.
Breakthrough in Your Own Cells Curing Disease
A breakthrough in stem cell research raises the tantalizing prospect that patients suffering from diabetes, heart disease, strokes and many other ailments could eventually have some of their cells reprogrammed to cure their afflictions without the need for drugs, transplants or other therapies.
Garbage to 95-Octane Gasoline
For under $2.00, in under two years, from Texas A&M.
More on the Magic Handkerchief
Stretchy transistors that wrap around irregularly shaped objects -- like the human body.
Bots With Brains -- Really
This bot is controlled entirely by living rat neurons. And it has several spare sets of brains with different personalities! Well bring it on -- who couldn't use a little more help?
An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube
A fascinating presentation at the Library of Congress -- no, really -- about how YouTube is linking people in ways they've never before been linked. And -- it's changing every six months.
Solar Power Soon That Competes With Coal?
In under five years, according to this article in IEEE Spectrum -- the journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, "the world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology."
Fitness Just a Pill Away?
One drug, in mice, increased endurance 45 percent with just four weeks of treatment and no exercise. The other, combined with exercise, increased endurance by 75 percent.
Serious Life Extension Possibility
GlaxoSmithKline last month paid $720 million for a company that has two drugs in clinical trials that promise to entend robust lifespan. One of them could be sold as a nutraceutical in health food stores without FDA approval. Mice on the drugs generally remain healthy right until the end of their lives and then just drop dead.“If they work in people that way, one would look to an extension of health span, with an extension of life as a possible side effect,” Dr. Guarente said. “It would necessitate changing ideas about when people retire and when they stop paying into the system.”
The Magic Handkerchief
The consumer electronics item Joel has been most impatiently awaiting is the computer as magic handkerchief. Ever since the patents were filed for flexible computer screens that you could bend and fold, Joel has been wanting one with voice recognition so you wouldn't need a keyboard. Imagine reading The Washington Post in the smallest room of the house, where you get your best reading done, but a laptop is awkward. We're not quite there yet, but we're closing in.
Prevail Bang for the Buck
The Copenhagen Consensus is controversial in some quarters for suggesting that, when it comes to saving the world, there are high-cost questionable-impact plans like cutting the emission of greenhouse gases, and then there are relatively low-cost, high-impact plan like educating women and making sure every child on the planet has enough vitamins and minerals. Their latest list of what to do is fascinating not least because so much of it involves bottom-up, innovative group behavior that would be a hallmark of the Prevail Scenario.
A monkey controlling a robotic arm with its thoughts, feeds itself marshmallows and grapes. DARPA, which is spending on the order of $100 million to make these arms available to amputee soldiers, thinks it is going to have practical versions for humans a lot faster than suggested in this article. "Years," yes, but only a few.
Another Cool Video
Dean Kamen's robotic arm, paid for by DARPA. Not mind-controlled, but still pretty amazing.
Moore's Law for Solar
The increases in production and decreases in price are occuring on a curve that makes it look like solar electricity is beating coal and nuclear in some regions within as little as five to ten years.
Getting Leaders to Act
Veteran scenario-planners are driven nuts by people who say “Who could have foreseen the devastation of New Orleans?” or “Who could have foreseen Muslim extremists driving jumbo jets into the World Trade Center?” or “Who could have foreseen the fiasco in Iraq?” The answer, of course, in each case, is lots of people did. That’s why, after the third drink, the big topic of conversation among these veterans is not how to create better scenarios, it’s how to get leaders to wrap their minds around game-changing scenarios and act now. This piece, by such veterans, doesn’t conquer that problem but does begin to address it. It defines strategic surprises as “game-changing events. They do not happen every year or even every decade. But when they occur, the rules of the game that were previously in place no longer apply.” Sound familiar?
Can We Reunite Reason and the Spirit?
As noted in the Transcend chapter, our greatest challenge is not technological, it is spiritual. We no longer have an agreed-upon narrative of how the world works, and that is intolerable to a story-telling pattern-seeking species. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the clash between science and spirituality. Comes now Stuart Kauffman, one of the towering figures of the study of complexity, with a new book, "Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason and Religion." In this excerpt, he boldly proclaims "My aim is to reinvent the sacred." The provocative question is whether our understanding of self-organization and emergence can lead to a reuniting of our understandings of the physical and spiritual worlds.
Rearming America, So to Speak
Now that Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine has been created, with a budget of $250 million in the first five years to "harness stem cell research and technology … to reconstruct new skin, muscles and tendons, and even ears, noses and fingers," the obvious question is -- why stop there?
You Will Want This 'Big Dog'
In a previous piece about what we're learning from troops in battle about how humans readily make emotional connections to robots -- see "Robot Loooove," below -- Joel suggested that the best definition of a robot may be, "any machine that the human nervous system recognizes as animate." Well check out this video of "Big Dog," the would-be robotic pack mule -- especially when it is struck from the side, or starts slipping on ice, or kicks up its heels. What do you want to bet this is going to set new records for speed of transfer to a consumer product?
The builders of the world's biggest particle collider are being sued in federal court over fears that the experiment might create globe-gobbling black holes or never-before-seen strains of matter that would destroy the planet.
Sounds Like Telepathy
New device allows you to have cell phone conversations without speaking. It picks up and transmits your brain's signals to your vocal cords without you having to say a thing. Check out the video.
Both Heaven and Hell
Craig Venter, who sequenced the human genome, thinks that by next year, he will have engineered a critter that eats CO2 and poops gasoline. If it works as advertised, huzzah, we can save the atmosphere and abandon oil simultaneously. He better make sure it never goes wild, however, or it could turn our blue orb into a sea of uninhabitable octane.
Curing Muscle Fatigue
Do muscles have to get tired? Perhaps not.
'How do you mark the turning on of an ear? Activation is a momentous event, biblical in scope: a thing that was dead is brought back to life.'
Michael Chorost, author of "Rebuilt," muses on the activation of his second cochlear implant. The procedure is so antiseptic, so anticlimactic. There should have been ritual. He did have a party. I wish I'd been there so I could have put him in a circle of fireworks launchers, to mark his ability to hear in all directions.
Add Vanity to the Enhancement List
Wherever the competition is greatest, from sports to the military, that's where you see the most rapid uptake of human enhancement technologies. Now the beauty industry joins the ranks of early adopters, from stem cells to skull lifts.
DARPA's Strategic Plan
Among the human enhancement technologies described are a machine weighing less than 1.5 pounds and running on AA batteries that will sense an enemy through 12 inches of concrete (page 21); machines that user seismic, acoustic, electromagnetic, optical and chemical sensors to figure out where an underground facility is, what its function is, and its vulnerabilities (page 26); computers that learn, reason, apply experience, and respond well to new and unforseen events in order to "know what they're doing" (page 31); and real-time universal language translation (page 33). Especially interesting is Section 3.8, "Bio-Revolution," page 34 and onward that includes robots that behave like mules only without the attitude problems; optics that work like eyes; conquering disease by creating millions of doses of a complex therapeutic within weeks of identifying the bug; delivering within four years artificial limbs that are brain controlled and provides full sensory feedback to the patient; and coming up with the Fundamental Laws of Biology -- akin to Einstein's breakthroughs in physics. Also stuff about producing jet fuel from bacteria (page 39), insect-sized robots (page 39), three-dimensional computer chips that would extend Moore's Law (page 40). and practical ray guns (page 42). With links to budget estimates.
Genuinely Radical Evolution
In a watershed event,the line is being crossed in which we create entirely artificial life forms, forcing a rethinking of what it means for a thing to be alive. "This raises a range of big questions about what nature is and what it could be," said Paul Rabinow, an anthropologist. "Evolutionary processes are no longer seen as sacred or inviolable."
The Wisdom of Clouds
What is Google's cloud? It's a network made of a million cheap servers. It stores staggering amounts of data, including numerous copies of the World Wide Web. This helps ferret out answers to billions of queries in a fraction of a second. Google's system never ages. When its individual pieces die, usually after about three years, engineers pluck them out and replace them with new, faster boxes. This means the cloud regenerates as it grows, almost like a living thing. How would you like to use it to solve global warming, or the mysteries of the sea?
Growing Insect Bodies Around Spy Gear
DARPA's plans to create insects that can carry surveillance equipment is making progress.
The Longevity Pill?
Calory restriction is the only method to extend longevity proven to work. Unfortunately, semi-starvation makes critters mean. Hence the significance of human clinical trials soon to start on pills that mimic calory restriction without actually forcing you into hunger. The key component is 1,000 times more potent that resveratrol, the active ingredient in red wine.
Power and Love
Adam Kahane is renowned for the Mont Fleur scenarios that brought down apartheid in South Africa. Here he discusses how his thinking has evolved in the 15 years he's been working in very tough places. Any system is perfectly designed to produce the results it is now producing, he argues. If you want to change it, you must be bilingual in the languages of power -- and love.
If Everything Is Up for Grabs
What if we're headed into a world changing so quickly that Enlightenment ideas like individualism and democracy are anachronistic? This is a thought-provoking piece by Brad Allenby of Arizona State University. He argues that if there is no solid ground beneath our feet -- even as to what constitutes meaning, truth and values -- you either flee into fundamentalism, or come up with entirely new questions.
Lance Armstrong Mice
They run forever, eat prodigiously, stay lean, live longer, breed longer, and oh, by the way, are really mean.
Is There Anything Good About Men?
If, in any species, males are expendable, and females are not, that has consequences for the group. A thought-provoking piece of work that addresses why, among other things, there is a shortage of good men for our great women.
Do We Want Robots More Ethical Than Us?
Will soldiers trust a weapon that won't shoot at a cemetery?
Immortality for the Elite
"The Immortalists," by David Friedman, sounds like bad sci-fi: In a spooky lab, a hero pilot and a brilliant surgeon vie to save the West from inferior races by unlocking secrets of eternal life. Except this is non-fiction: the pilot is Charles Lindbergh; he and his collaborator are Nazi admirers; and their science may have only been premature.
Freeman Dyson lays out a Heaven Scenario vision of rescuing poor rural tropical areas from poverty when genetic technology literally becomes child play.
The Maps of Prevail
In the kind of bottom-up response that is at the heart of the Prevail Scenario, millions of people worldwide are creating a new kind of atlas of everything that is both richer and messier than any in history.
As Baseball Turns
The premiere baseball writer Tom Boswell notes that the slugging statistics this season have returned to pre-steroid-era standards. Is this a turn toward a scenario in which enhancement becomes a matter of shame? Or is it a pause before a turn toward more sophisticated enhancements that are less detectable and harbor fewer negative health effects?
DARPA's exoskeleton program has gotten to the brain-controlled steam-driven bionic arm stage.
Enhancement Surgery Reaches the Masses
High-school teachers, truck drivers and jail wardens now borrow money to attempt perfection.
A Change of Heart?
In response to the "Tin Heart" article below, Peter Houghton has written this article, in which he now thinks his battle is for quality of life, not defeat of death. The interesting psychological adjustments of a cyborg.
"Their discovery could ultimately lead to frictionless micro-machines with moving parts that levitate. But they say that, in principle at least, the same effect could be used to levitate bigger objects too, even a person."
Great phrase. Daunting possibilities.
Lasik as Enhancement
Athletes, including Tiger Woods, are going for laser eye surgery that makes their eyes significantly better than normal. It helps them win.
Harvard Creates Robotic Fly
The Very Model of a Modern Singularitarian
Funny Gilbert and Sullivan takeoff on Youtube. Shoutout to Janna Anderson of Elon for bringing it to our attention.
Thinking About His Augmentation
Our friend and colleague Jamais Cascio meditates on his new hearing aids, and the path to Enhancement. *Great* kicker.
Summer Beach Reading I
At his best, Vernor Vinge is one of our most compelling future-fiction writers. "Rainbows End" -- the lack of apostrophe is part of the plot -- is Vinge at the top of his game. His central characters are comparable to people we know today in their 50s or 60s. Yet their learning and successes have been rendered obsolete by The Curve of accelerating change. His key character is a poet (!). Who has been brought back from Alzheimer's (!!). Who is now in the business of trying to become a decent human being -- something he failed to achieve in his previous life. Vinge's images will stay with you.
Summer Beach Reading II
If you want to read "Radical Evolution" as a techno-thriller novel, you may want to take a look at "Breakpoint," By Richard A. Clarke. Set in the next presidential administration, it's got everything -- bang-splat attacks on the GRIN technologies, humans referred to as Enhanced, Ray Kurzweil as a saint-like smart guy, a thinly disguised Bill Joy as a bad guy, and a lot of the DARPA stuff deployed. Especially fun is the baseball game between exoskeleton-equipped Army vs. Marine troops. The Marine left fielder makes a throw to the plate for the third out that goes 2,408 feet. Clarke does not write badly for a guy who has done national security work for every president since Reagan. His biggest success is in making the day after tomorrow of living as an Enhanced credible.
Regrowing a Damaged Heart
"We are now at a point where we can engineer first-generation prototypes of all cardiovascular structures: heart muscle, tri-leaflet valves, blood vessels, cell-based cardiac pumps and tissue engineered ventricles," researcher says.
Bionic human parts replacements are making significant strides. Here are a baker's dozen in existence or in the pipeline. The one at the end is perhaps the most startling.
Handicapped or Enhanced or Just a Great Athlete?
A boy is born with malformed feet. First interesting question: Do you let him spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, or do you amputate the feet and replace them with mechanical prostheses on which he will learn to walk at an early age? These parents chose to go with the artificial feet. Flash forward two decades. The lad has become a world-class sprinter, on artifical limbs that look like scythes. Second interesting question: Should he be allowed to compete against the world's best in the Olympics?
The Companies Working on Anti-Aging Pills
Small but well funded companies appear to be closing in on molecules that control -- and possibly reverse -- aging, according to MIT Technology Review.
Nanoparticles to Start Fighting Cancer
2007 is the year nanoparticles that attack tumors specifically will enter clinical trials.
Biotech Rapidly Replacing Oil
The more pressing our problems -- e.g., the ones caused by our oil consumption -- the more rapidly we turn to the GRIN technologies for solutions. The pace at which genetic technology is increasingly turning cellulose into automobile fuel is amazing even the venture capitalists.
Excellent Anti-Aging Trick
A component of red wine recently shown to help lab mice live longer also protects animals from obesity and diabetes and boosts their physical endurance, researchers reported yesterday.... "The idea of giving someone anything to improve their longevity until very recently would have been considered snake oil or crockery," said Stephen L. Helfand of Brown University.
Dramatic Change in Pace of Altering Life
A significant report from The Economist on how our ability to create new life -- and engineer our species' own Radical Evolution -- is advancing even faster than information technology.
Cell Phones Undermining Tyrants
The Washington Post reports:
"Cellphones and text messaging are changing the way political mobilizations are conducted around the world. From Manila to Riyadh and Kathmandu protests once publicized on coffeehouse bulletin boards are now organized entirely through text-messaging networks that can reach vast numbers of people in a matter of minutes.
"The technology is also changing the organization and dynamics of protests, allowing leaders to control, virtually minute-by-minute, the movements of demonstrators, like military generals in the field....
"This tool has changed the balance of political power in places where governments have a history of outmuscling dissent. In April, Nepal's King Gyanendra ordered authorities to cut cellphone service after protesters against his absolute rule used text messages to help assemble street protests by tens of thousands of democracy advocates.
"The Philippines, widely called the text-messaging center of the world, has led the way. When President Joseph Estrada was forced from office in 2001, he bitterly complained that the popular uprising against him was a 'coup de text.' "
The eminent biologist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner E.O. Wilson reaches out to the community of faith for help in saving Creation.
New F-35 Fighter Being Reengineered to Fly Pilotless
The Curve of robotic weapons is accelerating with striking rapidity.
The Change in Human Evolution of the Last 100 Years
Nice New York Times piece on how, over the past 100 years, humans in the industrialized world have undergone “a form of evolution that is unique not only to humankind, but unique among the 7,000 or so generations of humans who have ever inhabited the earth.”
Seeing With Your Tongue
Another example of "science fiction turning into reality": Army Rangers with 360-degree unobstructed vision at night and Navy SEALS who can sense sonar underwater while maintaining normal vision underwater.
Life Forms That Help at the Pump
The bigger the problem, the more we reach toward the GRIN technologies for solutions. In this example, genetically engineered life forms transform waste into automobile fuel -- and electricity. From MIT Technology Review.
How to Invest in Nano
Still an industry exhibiting extreme volatility, says Business Week, but opportunities exist.
Imagine an introductory English course taught as if making reading interesting matters. Click on "Radical Evolution."
Artificial Intelligence Turns 50
Robots can now navigate the desert all by themselves, but will they ever beat the best poker players?
Artificial Intelligence: The Next 25 Years
Ray Kurzweil's explanation of why he believes we will see greater-than-human machine intelligence within 25 years.
Hindu and Buddhist Values and Enhancing Humans
Are cloned human embryonic stem cells "recycling" life just as reincarnation does? Good report in The New York Times regarding the Asian biotech superpowers whose traditions are not evangelical Christian, and how they see the ethics of human enhancement.
The Craziness of Posting the 1918 Flu Genome
Not every day that the poster boys for the Heaven and the Hell Scenarios agree on something. But in this case, Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy join on the op ed page of The New York Times to warn against too much information.
Avian Flu a Real Test of the Prevail Scenario
Scenario planners view as a given the avian flu virus mutating into one that can be transmitted human-to-human. When that happens, The Hell Scenario is a real attention-grabber: 3 billion dead in 12 months, young adults hardest hit. The Prevail Scenario is intriguing however. If the world comes together very very quickly to blunt the impact, this could be a model for handling future challenges.
"Nature" reports on a way to control computers with your thoughts that does not require surgery.
Life-Lengthening Hormone Found in Mouse Research
Identifying an "aging suppressor gene" that holds out the prospect of adding 20 to 30 percent to your life expectancy is one of those "holy shit" moments that Aubrey de Grey and others have been predicting.
Reason for Guarded Optimism That Co-Evolution May Be Working
In this case, genetic technology possibly keeping pace with the threat of a viral holocaust:
Vaccine Appears to Ward Off Bird Flu
Sunday, August 7, 2005
An experimental vaccine appears to be effective against a strain of flu virus that experts fear could spark a devastating pandemic, offering the first evidence that any inoculation could provide a powerful weapon against the deadly microbe, a federal health official said yesterday.
Could it be that the Chinese are trying to hide their successes -- or failures -- in gene-doping? University of Pennsylvania researchers think that the 2004 Olympics were the last without genetically modified athletes.
U.S. Coach Is Suspicious Of China's Swim Program
Concerns Center on Drug Testing
MONTREAL, July 31 -- Shortly before the U.S. team concluded one of its most successful swimming world championships in history, U.S. men's team coach Dave Salo expressed surprise that China was not more competitive, saying the nation's sluggish performance raised suspicions that it was keeping its best swimmers sequestered in China so they could avoid international drug testing.
What to Do With Your Life
Shortly after the shock of 9/11, people's lives were on tumble-dry. They were asking existential questions about where they should live and what they should do. That's when Joel wrote this piece for The Washington Post detailing how one can use scenario planning to make personal life decisions.
Articles About Radical Evolution
EnlightenNext Interviews Joel
"Associate editor Joel Pitney speaks with Washington Post reporter Joel Garreau, author of the bestselling book Radical Evolution, about some of the new technologies that he says could not only help us tackle some of our most difficult challenges but may also dramatically alter what it means to be human."
John Tierney on The New York Times op ed page
"Garreau argues that the new breed of interconnected people will be collectively wiser than ever before - he actually makes a persuasive case that cellphones and e-mail are a force for social good. (If you doubt this, read "Radical Evolution" and join the discussion of it at my book club at nytimes.com/tierney.)"
"The point of 'Radical Evolution' is to try to let the ordinary reader in on a conversation that right now is really only occurring at the top level of scientists and engineers around the country."
The National Geographic sits down with Joel.
"Stopped Me in My Tracks"
This is a live chat with readers that was remarkably thoughtful.
Home Town Boy Makes Good
A local profile.
Related Articles by Joel
Your Daughter's Future
Joel was asked to imagine the world your second-grade daughter will be facing in 15 years as she competes with the Enhnaced kids in her prestigious new law school. This article appeared in the March 2009 issue of the august Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery.
A Kiss is Just a Kiss
For Valentine's Day, Joel takes a light-hearted but exhaustive look at the evolutionary advantages of kissing, and the worrisome decline in its practice.
Can the Smithsonian Survive?
The world's greatest museum complex asks itself a profound question: Is it our job to be smart and be the best? Or is it our job to share knowledge? The subject comes up as the Smithsonian views the future, and confronts how hard it is for an organization to transform itself. Especially if that change means letting go of a cherished identity as a priesthood. Joel investigates in The Washington Post.
Artificial Eyes on the Kitchen Table
You used to need hubris, millions of dollars and the support of a great research university to imagine building a replacement for the human eye. Now it's become dream and quest material for artists and tinkerers, Joel reports in The Washington Post.
Readings for the President
What two books would you recommend to President Obama as he enters the White House? Especially when you campaign on change we can believe in, and suddenly you're facing change we can't believe is happening? Joel was offered this thought-provoking assignment by The Washington Monthly.
The First Complex Organ Being Regenerated
Turns out to be teeth. The Boomers are the first generation in human history that will go to the grave with most of their teeth. But if we no longer lose our teeth, will we lose our dreams of losing our teeth? Joel inquires.
Upheaval's Search for Meaning
At the beginning of every year, John Brockman, the literary agent and maitre d' of the worldwide thought salon called Edge, asks a "big question" to which he invites response from designated heretics. This year he asked about "game-changers" coming our way. Joel's response is that we are turning environmentalism into an elaborate moral narrative. We are doing the same for neurology. And possibly globalism. Does this mean we are creating the greatest eruption of religion in centuries, if not millennia—an epoch comparable to the Great Awakening, if not the Axial Age? If so, this will change everything. (While you're there, check out all the other responses.)
This has been the year computers began to deliver feelings to us in a mainstream way, Joel reports in The Washington Post. Following their uncanny ability first to interact with our eyes via screens and then our ears through speakers, now tens of millions of them are acquiring touch feedback. You touch the machine, it nuzzles you back. The multibillion-dollar goal is for smart devices to make our fingers feel as if they are actually working with the good old three-dimensional physical objects that evolution has taught us to trust. After all, there are some occasions when only touch will do, aren't there?
Looking for Comfort in Abysses Past
At the bottom of a North Dakota missile silo, Joel is reminded that the unthinkable future that you've thoroughly thought about for decades is not what bites you in the butt. It's our unexamined faiths that are causing the ground to move beneath our feet.
Upheaval Defies Measure
Money, for example, is far too human an invention to be neatly described by the laws of mathematics, Joel explains in The Washington Post.
The Future of the Future
Why is the real future such a tough sell? Why have the master storytellers of Disneyland given up? Joel inquires in The Washington Post.
Who's Got Your Back?
The heart of The Prevail Scenario is the possible existence of a second curve -- the rise of startling, creative bottom-up solutions arrived at by millions of people coming together in unexpected ways. YouTube and eBay seem to be early indicators. But what is the strength of ties so weak as to be nearly nonexistent? What does it matter of you have a zillion friends on Facebook, if there's no one there who will bail you out of jail? In The Washington Post, Joel inquires as to what a "friend" means in the early 21st century.
A Great Device for Being Human
We have crossed a line. There is now more than one cell phone for every two humans on earth. This is the fastest global uptake of any technology in human history -- faster even than the polio vaccine. Joel examines what this means in The Washington Post.
"We want to confer life and intelligence on everything. We want to see fairies under trees."
Turning technology into consumer desires five Christmases from now.
The Invincible Man
Aubrey de Grey may be wrong but, evidence suggests, he's not nuts. This is no small assertion, Joel writes in The Washington Post. De Grey argues that some people alive today will live in a robust and youthful fashion for 1,000 years. (Amazingly, this piece has apparently set a record for number of one-day page views at washingtonpost.com.)
Do Museums Have a Future?
In the age of the networked computer, museums are being fundamentally challenged in the same ways that other bastions of education and entertainment are being rocked to their cores, Joel writes in The Washington Post.
One Far-Sighted Geezer
William Gibson, in an interview with Joel in The Washington Post, talks about being a cool-hunter and an edgy world-inventor and a best-selling hipster forever -- or at least as he approaches 60.
"We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with," says Sherry Turkle. Including such unlikely things as ballet slippers, vacuum cleaners, and yellow raincoats, Joel reports in The Washington Post.
His Tin Heart
Peter Houghton is grateful for his artificial heart. He's just a little wistful about emotions. He wishes he could feel them like he used to. Joel reports in The Washington Post.
All Athletes Are Now Enhanced
Now that all athletes are as dependent on technology as they are on talent, dedication and spirit, what are the rules? Joel inquires in The Washington Post.
What Are the Bees Trying to Tell Us?
How the humans are reacting to the disappearance of the bees reveals more about our hopes and fears for the future than it does about the bees, Joel writes in this Washington Post piece.
The uncanny way the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are bonding with their bots is offering us a new understanding not only of the machines, but of humans, Joel writes in this Washington Post piece. The new definition of a robot, we learn, is whatever the human brain recognizes emotionally as animate.
Every year, Edge, the intellectual watering hole for the digerati, asks a provocative question. For 2007, it was "What Are You Optimistic About?" Joel's response is at the bottom of this link.
An Emotional Vacuum
Note to a future historian: This is the Christmas that useful consumer robots went mainstream. Even the liberal arts grads bonded with them, Joel reports in The Washington Post.
Liar, Liar, Brain on Fire
To examine the future of truth, Joel put his head into a magnet that was one of the most powerful to which anybody at the University of Pennsylvania had dared expose a human brain. The results were thought provoking.
Three Hundred Million
Some counterintuitive thoughts by Joel in Smithsonian Magazine on U.S. population hitting 300 million. The question is always -- compared to what? Whose situation might you find more attractive? China? Russia? Europe?
A Dose of Genius
The boom in "smart pills" has begun, Joel reports in The Washington Post.
Oxford Symposium on Radical Evolution
In March 2006 there was a week-long symposium at Oxford University structured around the Radical Evolution scenarios of Heaven, Hell, and Prevail. Here are the proceedings. For Joel's keynote presentation go to the webcast of the Opening Plenary and Keynote Lecture, and advance to minute 51:00.
Twenty-three years ago, an American philosophy professor named James Flynn discovered a remarkable trend: Average IQ scores in every industrialized country on the planet had been increasing steadily for decades. Despite concerns about the dumbing-down of society - the failing schools, the garbage on TV, the decline of reading - the overall population was getting smarter. And the climb has continued, with more recent studies showing that the rate of IQ increase is accelerating. Next to global warming and Moore's law, the so-called Flynn effect may be the most revealing line on the increasingly crowded chart of modern life - and it's an especially hopeful one. We still have plenty of problems to solve, but at least there's one consolation: Our brains are getting better at problem-solving.
New Orleans Is Not Going to Be Rebuilt
Not strictly speaking a "Radical Evolution" topic, except as a bellwether response to radical change.
Harry Potter is Our Kids' Guide to Magical Change
The technologies that our children will develop offer powers exponentially greater than those of Dumbledore and Voldemort. Yet through these books, our children are learning very old lessons about love and community and how to be human in the face of overwhelming magic. And by providing a means of coping with the inexplicable and magical, the Harry Potter books provide a code for coping with real life. Our children recognize their own technological age in this magical place.
Page One News
If the news about the transformation in what it means to be human is indeed the fifth or sixth biggest "holy shit" story of the last 10,000 years, depending on how you rank the birth of Jesus Christ, let the record show that the story ran on the front page of The Washington Post first.
You're not good enough!: Human evolution is now being engineered. Choose to enhance yourself or face inferiority
The Sunday opinion section of the Los Angeles Times featured this article by Joel as its main cover piece on July 17, 2005. It was picked up widely by other papers and became a matter of great debate in the blogosphere.
Conspiracy of Heretics
The Global Business Network was founded in 1988 as a think tank to shape the future of the world. It's succeeding.
Disconnect the Dots
The essence of this first war of the 21st century is that it's not like the old ones because it's not against a nation.
Could there be a correlation between a region's high-tech success and the concentration of gay people living there?
Flocking Together Through the Web
It seems that the fastest-growing outdoor activity in North America by far is bird watching, according to the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment. More than 71 million Americans -- one in four -- watch birds, according to the NSRE.
A whole new industry is booming that vows to slow, halt or actually reverse aging. The lure is not just achieving advanced years. It is doing so vigorously and even, dare we say it, youthfully.
The Great Awakening
In trials on healthy people like Army helicopter pilots, modafinil has allowed humans to stay up safely for almost two days while remaining practically as focused, alert, and capable of dealing with complex problems as the well-rested.
Hinges of Opportunity
Hinges in history. These are pivots on which our lives move from one world to another.
Home Is Where the Phone Is
By embracing the technologies of the past 10 years, today's economic elite who have leading-edge careers in computers, consulting, media and investing have become mondern day nomads.
The Next Generation
Throughout the cohort of yesterday's superheroes, one sees the outlines of technologies that today either exist, or are now in engineering.
PC Be With You
The New Technology Doesn't Just Want to Be Your Friend. It Wants to Be Your Brain..
Point Men for a Revolution
In a darkened room on this vast base, Lance Cpl. Jason Pautz, 19, of Fulton, Mo., is preparing to hit the beach in Monterey, 400 miles up the coast.
REBOOT CAMP: As War Looms, the Marines Test New Networks of Comrades
The drive-by massacre was a thing of beauty, the militiamen rejoiced as they roared back to the village. The arrogant infidel Marines had been caught lounging. It was as if those young Americans had dismissed the 15 wool-capped warriors of the Furzian Liberation Army on a truck full of garbage cans as no possible threat.
Redheads. They are the mystery. Where do they come from? What do they want from us? Why do we want them so much now?
Science's Mything Links
Have we entered an era in which mind-sizzling technological leaps virtual reality, genetically altered rabbits that glow in the dark, digital actors, laboratory animals bred to grow human organs, stock-trading in your back yard, clones are now so common that even respected members of the scientific world are finding it increasingly difficult to separate miracles, magic, myths and madness?
Thinking Outside the Box
The End-User View of Techo-Nirvana: Blink, Blink, Blink.
Bearing Gifts, They Come From Afar
For Christmas, she wants a "CD burner." She will jack this thing into her computer, she explains. And voila, she will be able to make her own records. She will simply copy all the music she has downloaded off the Net for free.
The Call of Beauty, Coming In Loud & Clear
A torrent of books, articles and exhibits during the past decade, surging particularly in the past year or two, suddenly shouting the news about the passing of the Industrial Age: Beauty is back.
"Swarming" is transforming lives worldwide, especially among the young. It is the unintended consequence of people, cell phones in hand, learning that they can coordinate instantly and leaderlessly.
Closeness at a Distance
Can Virtual Technology Ever Achieve That Human Touch?
—The New York Times Book Review
A guide to the big ideas about the future of our species…. The stakes in thinking all this through are enormous.
—The Washington Post Book World
Today's the day I blow big sunshine up your ass by telling you I just finished "Radical Evolution" and loved it. Even started taking the VRE to work for more time to read. This, coming from a former PE major and airborne ranger who's a slow learner anyway. Shit-hot read.
—Richard Spearman, DARPA
The focus of Garreau’s book … is not on the nuts and bolts of the technology itself but rather on what it will all mean for us humans…. Garreau is constantly on the lookout for the human story behind the ideas.
Am enthralled…. This is the perfect "beach read" .… Deserves serious attention for its potential to turn the world upside down and inside out in the relatively near future…. Great news: It's extremely readable!
—Tom Peters, tompeters.com
One of my favorite cutting-edge thinkers.
—John Tierney, The New York Times
An eye-opening exploration of how cutting-edge 21st-century technologies, in embryonic form right now, pose the stark alternatives of a real-life Utopia or Brave New World…. Collectively, they could produce ‘the biggest change in 50,000 years in what it means to be human’…. Garreau has an eye for the anecdote that throws much of this .. into compelling human terms…. Excellent.
Mr. Garreau is a zesty storyteller, a gonzo futurist who builds alternative universes from solid science, and he’s neither a technology booster nor a Luddite. The questions his moral quandaries raise are among the deepest questions we know how to ask: What kind of creatures are we — the apelike animals from which we evolved, or the angels we imagine we can become? If we accept the Darwinian explanation of our origins, where do we want to go next, now that we’re harnessing the very engines of evolution? Is there a “too far” for biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence? And what would anyone be able to do about it if there really is a line that technology shouldn’t cross — a line that could mean the end of Homo sapiens?
—'Strategy+Business' Top Business Books
Provocative…intriguing…compelling and important and could change our world forever. There's no one better than Joel Garreau to explain this…. Garreau is an underappreciated national treasure.
We already have one foot into the next stage of human evolution…. [Garreau] poses courageous questions for a brave new world.
—Barnes and Noble
One of the most provocative, entertaining and, yes, frightening science books in years…. [Garreau] is a solid researcher with a fine sense of storytelling.
—San Jose Mercury News
Garreau functions as a prophet and a seer.
—Zygon, Journal of Religion and Science
Clarifying and companionable … the technoscenarios Garreau explicates are riveting, and of acute importance, as is his reminder that there is much more to life than technology, no matter how amazing it gets.
Given Garreau’s accurate track record for predicting change, I take Radical Evolution very seriously. In his two previous books, The Nine Nations of North America and Edge City, he brilliantly predicted the influence of emerging urban and political changes.
—Politics and Prose
Science buffs fascinated by the leading edges of societal and technological change and readers concerned by the ethical issues that change presents will find much to ponder in Garreau's nonjudgmental look into our possible futures.
The truly outstanding feature of Garreau’s highly literate work is its scope and complexity.… Radical Evolution doesn’t just present the Big Ideas of pundits as diverse as transhumanist Raymond Kurzweil or rogue techno-luddite Theodore Kaczynski, but puts them in context with thoughts from Blaise Pascal, Henry David Thoreau, and Mark Twain.
A magnificent job…. We’d better start deciding, now, what kind of world it will be.
—Georgia Straight, Vancouver
Self-consciously fair, and very readable.
—The Washington Times
So cutting edge it seems mind-boggling.
—National Geographic Online
Page-turner…. Provides the framework for a ‘conversation’ about the social, political, religious and cultural implications of technological advances that continue to unfold at warp speed.
Fascinating and disturbing.
—New York Sun
How weird, how soon? That’s the question that dominates the debates about the coming of ‘post-humanity.’ With his customary journalistic acumen and wry humor, Garreau has the answer: much weirder than you imagine, much sooner than you expect.
Joel Garreau lives well ahead of the curve – even the really big Curve he describes in these pages. One of our foremost chroniclers of change and historians of the future, he’s done it again.
Joel Garreau has hit upon something critical here, something most of us see daily and struggle to make sense of: that human technology may be advancing faster than our ability to adapt, leaving us ill-equipped to measure and manage the comsequences. This is a timely, important book, and a fascinating read.
It isn't often an author gets to herald the biggest news in the last 10,000 years. But you'll get the full, uncensored, mind-blowing report here in this entertaining and surprisingly deep book. Meet soldiers who don't sleep, animals controlled with joy sticks, computers controlled by merely thinking, the blind driving cars, and parents designing their kids -- and that is just what is happening right now. Veteran scout Joel Garreau prepares ordinary readers for the ultimate question of this century: Who do you think we should be? He makes it clear that as of today, human nature is now under the control of humans, and we ARE doing something about it -- but we aren't aware of it. To guide you through this boggle Garreau offers astonishments, conundrums, and sanity.
[Garreau] has a knack for asking questions that deliver unexpected answers. I have known some of the people in this book for over two decades, and yet I caught myself surprised again and again. Alone, these details would not amount to much, but collectively they are “ground truth” in a map that Joel builds of this emergent landscape of techno-human co-evolution.
—Paul Saffo, Global Business Network
Am enthralled by Joel Garreau's Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human." [Garreau] takes on a hair-raising tour of the life sciences—focused on amazing stuff that's already well underway. This is the perfect "beach read" ... which deserves serious attention for its potential to turn the world upside down and inside out in the relatively near future (next 2 decades, per Garreau). Great news: It's extremely readable!
An eye-opening exploration of how cutting-edge 21st-century technologies, in embryonic form right now, pose the stark alternatives of a real-life Utopia or Brave New World. Information power has been doubling every 18 months or so, at an exponential rate of change, and computer breakthroughs are also producing innovations in biology. The result is that four interrelated technologies-genetic, robotic, informational and nano processes-hold the potential to modify human nature itself. Collectively, they could produce "the biggest change in 50,000 years in what it means to be human." Forget stem-cell research or steroid-boosted athletes: Technologies now being developed privately or by government agencies could soon bring about such possibilities as children boosting their SAT scores by 200 points, the aging being outfitted with memory enhancers, or soldiers being made able to hoist 180 pounds as if it were 4.4 pounds. Society might then be divided between the "enhanced" (those with physical and mental upgrades) versus the "naturals." Drawing on a series of interviews with scientists and other futurists, Washington Post editor and reporter Garreau (Edge City, 1991, etc.) spells out three scenarios: "Heaven," a biological utopia where poverty, disease and ignorance are eradicated; "Hell," a dystopia that could include bioterror, inequality based on biological advantage, control of mankind by machines and nuclear catastrophe; and "Prevail," the author's preference, in which the future doesn't arrive by a predetermined curve, but in a series of starts and stops, with humans acting to forestall disaster. Garreau has an eye for the anecdote that throws much of this Buck Rogers technology intocompelling human terms (as when an administrator in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency labors on human enhancement research in the hope that it will someday help his daughter, a cerebral palsy victim). Excellent scientific journalism on the challenges arising from a real tipping point in human relations.
We are facing "the biggest change in 50,000 years in what it means to be human," writes Garreau, of the Washington Post, thanks to the swiftly evolving GRIN technologies, that is, genetic, robotic, information, and nano. To get a sense of the possible implications of these paradigm-altering developments, he speaks with scientists who fall roughly into two opposing mind-sets: those who view technology as a stairway to a heaven in which humans perfect the body and greatly extend the mind, and those who see a grimly hellish future in which self-replicating microbes, nanobots, or "enhanced" humans turn viciously against their creators. Clarifying and companionable, Garreau explains astonishing discoveries, ponders just how intimately connected we are to our digital tools, surveys speculative fiction classics, and profiles such visionaries as heaven-inclined Raymond Kurzweil, hell-fearing William Joy, and Jaron Lanier, the virtual-reality guru, who offers a less extreme, more commonsensible vision of the future based on humankind's muddled but powerful instinct to do the right thing. The technoscenarios Garreau explicates are riveting, and of acute importance, as is his reminder that there is much more to life than technology, no matter how amazing it gets. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
POLITICS & PROSE BOOK STORE IN WASHINGTON DC
Washington Post journalist Garreau is a perceptive observer of change. Describing the remarkable progress being made in biotechnology, he warns that science is poised to make striking advances in human potential through genetic enhancement. Given Garreau’s accurate track record for predicting change, I take Radical Evolution very seriously. In his two previous books, The Nine Nations of North America and Edge City, he brilliantly predicted the influence of emerging urban and political changes. In reporting the astounding advancement being made toward our scientific ability to transform human beings, Garreau points out that our progress is increasing exponentially. He predicts scenarios of Heaven and Hell, and suggests ways of controlling change so that the most hellish scenarios do not occur. Religion can help establish an ethical basis for decision-making. Religious groups that try to outlaw change in the United States will only shift the conversation to other nations. Carla Cohen
BARNES & NOBLE
Technologies are accelerating so rapidly that they are changing us in essential ways. Even today, advances in technology are being perfected that will alter our minds, our memories, our metabolism, our personalities, our progeny; even our genetic makeup. According to Washington Post cultural correspondent Joel Garreau, we already have one foot into the next stage of human evolution. The author of Edge City maintains that these inward-turning innovations raise serious questions about the future of our culture, society, and humanity itself. He poses courageous questions for a brave new world.
Washington Post reporter Garreau takes readers on a cross-country trip into the future as he interviews scientists and other thinkers grappling with the implications of our newfound-and, to some, frightening-knowledge of the genome. Highlighting what he calls "the Curve"-the rate of exponential change in technology-Garreau (Edge City: Life on the New Frontier) breaks the central part of his book into four scenarios. In "Heaven," genetic engineering will make us stronger and healthier, help us live longer and metabolize our food more efficiently. "Hell" resembles the island of Dr. Moreau: science runs amok, we cripple the genome of our food supplies, and babies are born with unexpected deformities instead of the improved characteristics promised by gene therapies. The "Prevail" scenario might also be called Muddling Through: even if we make a mistake now and then, we will figure out how to slow potentially harmful changes and speed up potentially beneficial ones. Last, "Transcend" considers that humans might conquer the difficulties that lie ahead and emerge into a new age beyond our wildest dreams. Science buffs fascinated by the leading edges of societal and technological change and readers concerned by the ethical issues that change presents will find much to ponder in Garreau's nonjudgmental look into our possible futures.Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Joel Garreau's provocative new book, RADICAL EVOLUTION, begins with a thought experiment. Sometime in the future, your young daughter returns from her first year at law school. She comes home talking not about torts or civil procedure or the Rule in Shelley's Case, but about her classmates. And these classmates, as it turns out, are a bit different. Many of them have been, in some way or another, "enhanced." She ticks off the various ways that the enhancement takes effect --- internal wireless modems that download any piece of information needed directly into the brain, something akin to telepathy, self-healing, and (at least in theory) immortality in its own self.
Garreau uses this thought experiment to ask the serious questions about the coming revolutions in genetics and technology that are radically changing human evolution --- and whether such radical changes are beneficial or possibly ultimately harmful to the very idea of humanity itself. My question is more basic: why are all these smart, talented, "enhanced" people choosing to go to law school?
Garreau doesn't answer that one (as well he might not). Instead, he makes the point that if anyone in the real world really had these sort of powers, we would actually have a referent for it in the pages of Marvel Comics, in the person of Captain America. Garreau visits the super-secret defense laboratories of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where they're working on super-suits that could do for the soldiers of the future what Captain America got with an exposure to "vita-rays." And since the most well-known product from DARPA research is this Internet on which you are reading this very book review at this very moment, it's a good bet that at least some of the gee-whiz technologies they're working on will pay off, and pay off big.
The best and most intriguing parts of RADICAL EVOLUTION are the parts about laboratories and the people who work in them, and the different applications that the new genetic and nanotechnology scientists are coming up with. The research --- which is either promising or horrifying, depending on your point of view of any given issue --- is compelling and important, and could change our world forever. There's no one better than Joel Garreau to explain this.
Garreau is an underappreciated national treasure. His first two books were landmarks in their fields. THE NINE NATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA is more timely now than it was when it was published in the early 1980s; it does more to explain the so-called "red state/blue state" divide than pretty much all the political commentary written since the 2000 election. And EDGE CITY described the ongoing revolution in city and suburban planning. RADICAL EVOLUTION purports to do the same for the technologies that promise to change our bodies, our genomes, and possibly even our nature as human beings.
That RADICAL EVOLUTION doesn't quite meet the gold standard of Garreau's earlier works may have more to do with the unsettled nature of the technology than anything else. Both NINE NATIONS and EDGE CITY had to do, largely, with maps, with tracking the course of the shifting borders between East and West, North and South, downtown and suburbia. There aren't any maps to speak of with the emerging technologies --- or if they are, they're of the fragmented, medieval variety. Here there be monsters.
Garreau's work is divided into different scenarios. One that he calls "Heaven" is largely the vision of Ray Kurzweil, one of the founders of modern assistive technology. (About half of the technologies discussed in RADICAL EVOLUTION are designed to be assistive technologies to help make people with disabilities more independent.) Kurzweil imagines a future where the positive aspects of the new technology are available freely to everyone, allowing each of us to customize our own selves to the point where immortality --- or complete spiritual freedom from the body, if that's what you want --- is more than a promise or a legend or a fable. Countering Kurzweil's vision are the prophets of doom, led by Silicon Valley pioneer Bill Joy, who worry that unrestricted experimentation with self-replicating nanobots could result in the entire planet --- you, me, and everything around us, right down to the core --- turned into food for invisible, ravenous robots. This "grey goo" nightmare is cataloged by Garreau in his "Hell" scenario, along with other dystopias of the "Brave New World" variety.
C.S. Lewis wrote that the greatest evil "is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, well-lit offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices." This is almost entirely the environment in which RADICAL EVOLUTION takes place, in the laboratories, in the offices, in the academies.We do not, as of yet, know the nature of these technologies or what they will do for us --- or to us. The promise is that they will help us, cure us, or possibly even assist us in transforming into something beautiful and splendid. The danger is that they will destroy us totally or take away some of that which makes us human.
Garreau brings up two other scenarios --- "Prevail" and "Transcend," which posit that there will be a struggle in dealing with the new technologies, but that the worst of the "Hell" scenarios can be avoided. But there is no way, now, to know which of these scenarios will win out. Perhaps the most frightening thing about the impact of these new technologies is that they leave Garreau --- one of the brightest, most perceptive people out there --- not knowing what will happen next. RADICAL EVOLUTION, if it does nothing else, helps us realize that there's a lot left to understand, and an uncertain future ahead.
--- Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds
What It's About
In Radical Evolution, bestselling author Joel Garreau, a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, shows us that we are at an inflection point in history. As you read this, we are engineering the next stage of human evolution. Through advances in genetics, robotics, information, and nanotechnologies, we are altering our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities, our progeny--and perhaps our very souls.
Taking us behind the scenes with today's foremost researchers and pioneers, Garreau reveals that the super powers of our comic-book heroes 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, 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 will they lead us, as some argue, to hell--where unrestrained thechnology brings about the ultimate destruction of our entire species? With the help and insights of the gifted thinkers and scientists who are making what has previously been thought of as science fiction a reality, Garreau explores how these developments, in our lifetime, will affect everything from the way we date to the way we work, from how we think and act to how we fall in love. It is a book about what our world is becoming today, not fifty years out. As Garreau cautions, it is only by anticipating the future that we can hope to shape it.
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, as well as 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, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, ABC's World News Tonight, and NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. He lives in Broad Run, Virginia.
Ch. 1: Prologue
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. read more
Ch.2: Be All You Can Be
AT A CERTAIN ANGLE, seated behind the dining room table in her ponytail, khaki slacks and pinstriped shirt, Gina Marie Goldblatt does not appear in any way remarkable.
This particular January, she is a college sophomore home for the holidays from the University of Arizona. In Gina’s serious moments, she wants to go on for a master’s degree in business administration and a law degree and someday run her own company. But this week she’s focused on going skiing with her friends for the first time. So finding a good time to visit with her is an experience in teenage time management. “We’re the most last-minute people you’ll ever meet,” she says of her posse’s complicated lives. To find pattern in the way her crowd swarms, it helps to remind yourself that college kids, like the proteins that underlie much of human nature, really are much more organized than a tangle of spaghetti. There is logic in the complexity. Events do work out. read more
IN NEW MEXICO, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro—
the course of the Rio Grande. Through the clear, dry air from El Paso del Norte toward the Sangre de Cristo—beyond the cotton, chilis and pecans of its fertile plain and below its gliding sandhill cranes—poke abrupt, strange mountain shapes. Spooky, spiky, funky and wild, they are hard not to imagine as Paleozoic reptiles awaiting the incantation that will bring them back to life. In this very ancient place, along this path of dreams, lies a small town called La Mesilla. read more